The Foolproof Way To Avoid the Dreaded IKEA Couple’s Fight, According to Relationship Therapists

published Jul 2, 2022
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Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

A trip to IKEA should be fun: wandering through the showroom imagining you live in that minimalist bedroom, browsing the aisles of handy kitchen utensils, stopping for meatballs or cookies and filling up your cart with the items that will make your space more organized, stylish and functional. But for many couples, IKEA and stores of its ilk are hotspots for arguments and annoyances.

What is it about the big blue box that pushes buttons for couples? “Everything comes down to control,” says Emily Simonian, licensed marriage and family therapist and head of clinical learning at Thriveworks in Washington, D.C.Power struggles over creative control, budgets, and wants versus needs make these experiences so much more difficult than just picking out furniture.” 

If you find that heading to IKEA for a new BILLY bookshelf or MALM bed causes friction in your relationship, you’re not alone. IKEA’s large space, endless options, and pressure of making financial decisions just sets itself up to be the perfect breeding ground for these conflicts to play out,” says Madeline Lucas, therapist and clinical content manager at Real. “It can be helpful to practice noticing how these patterns play out, whether in the home goods section of IKEA or in your day-to-day life.”

Does sniping over silverware or storming out with big blue bags in tow hit too close to home? If so, these tips can help you make your next trip to a home store fun, not frustrating.

Make a plan before you go.

If you know these high-stress shopping trips are a pain point in your partnership, be clear about what you both should expect when you step inside the sliding doors. “When partners feel unheard, invalidated, or like their significant other is bulldozing and making all of the decisions, fights and hard feelings inevitably occur,” says Simonian. “If you don’t have a clear plan ahead of time, or don’t have great communication habits in general, shopping with a partner can become confusing and frustrating.” 

Big box stores offer so many options that making a decision can be overwhelming and lead to arguments and frustration. “​​In a store like IKEA, we can be met with a paradox of choice in that, with unlimited options, we get stuck and struggle to make any decision at all,” says Lucas. “Multiply that by two people, financial stress and commitment to home decor, and you’ll find a recipe for potential partner conflict.” Going in with a plan, whether that’s testing couches or updating your kitchen, helps reduce that endless supply of choices. 

Credit: Minette Hand

Lay some ground rules.

Stop a fight before it starts by establishing rules around touchy topics. “Consider implementing guidelines, like if you both can’t agree on buying an item, you won’t make a decision that day,” Simonian suggests. “Anything that takes the pressure off the trip can be helpful. Maybe you decide you’re going to do two shopping trips. The first trip is just to look, but you aren’t going to buy anything, and the second trip is where you’ll make decisions and purchases with clear minds.” Giving yourselves guardrails can make the whole shopping trip much more manageable.

Be honest about what you’re really looking for out of the trip. “Conflict between couples at IKEA is often an issue of communication, assumptions and interpretations,” explains Lucas. “This can look like making broad generalizations. You may hear your partner disagree with your choice on side tables and extend that to, ‘Can we agree on anything? What do we even have in common in the first place?’. In other words, you are creating a blanket statement about your relationship from a seemingly minor incident in the living room section.” Resist the urge to jump to conclusions or make generalizations about the state of your relationship based on shopping behavior.

“Get curious and honest with yourself about your hopes for the IKEA visit. Are you hoping for a close, shared experience with a partner? Help with the decision-making process? Is it their take on the sofa you want, or really someone to keep you company?” Lucas advises. “Whatever it is, this may help you stay grounded as potential conflicts arise, as you can return to what that hope is.”

Be mindful of how you respond to tension.

Do you and your partner tend to take a “tone” with one another or get frustrated because you feel like you’re not being heard? “Are you making those broad generalizations? Jumping to conclusions? See if you may need to ask more questions to clarify, as this can help course correct the situation if you are caught in one of these thinking patterns,” says Lucas.

Clear communication and mutual listening is key to shopping success. “Try to listen to your partner without feeling threatened that their opinion is going to be the final decision, taking away your ‘control,’” says Simonian. “Hear them out and speak calmly and respectfully about how you’d like to make mutual decisions.”

Have fun!

If you’re approaching an IKEA trip with trepidation, instead try reframing it as an adventure. “Maybe you make a date out of it and grab a meal before or after. Or maybe you play a game in the store and each of you point out an item or piece of furniture you think is awful and have a good laugh about it,” says Simonian. 

Lucas agrees, adding that you should never go shopping while hungry or thirsty. “Something I believe strongly is that no one ever operates well hungry, especially while shopping,” she says. “Treat yourself to an iced coffee on the way in, bring a granola bar for you and your partner, or make a plan for lunch together after your trip.” Even better, treat yourself to some of IKEA’s legendary snacks as pre-shopping fuel. It’s basically impossible to be upset when you’re sipping a lingonberry soda!