Can your relationship pass the IKEA experience test?
When I wrote “The One Trip Guaranteed to Stretch Your Marriage” for The Good Men Project I did wonder if maybe the IKEA issue was something most people already knew how to handle. Surely we weren’t the only couple who sometimes felt like the BIG idea that is IKEA was almost too much for the big idea that is our life together.
Turns out we aren’t alone, not even close. The Wall Street Journal recently ran “Can Your Relationship Handle a Trip to IKEA?” and mine weren’t the only tweets in the Storify.com thread that verified the phenomenon: a trip to IKEA is a challenge few couples navigate easily. I think it has something to do with how we view the idea of “home.”
Let’s say you are entering IKEA holding hands with the woman you love. You both have high expectations: you’re convinced IKEA will help bring beauty and order to your home. But what you may not be aware of is that this very place could prove to be the ultimate home-wrecker.
If you’re not worried, perhaps you should be. Home is bigger than the stuff; it’s a projection of the relationship within.
At its deepest level, building a home is enough work without the chaos of the infamous IKEA. But after moving 23 times in 24 years of marriage, there’s always been an IKEA wherever we’ve lived. We’ve made many legendary shopping trips to help transform a house into a home.
Indeed, home is a big idea. And even with IKEA exhibiting the conditions for a perfect storm, we’ve kept going back. Perhaps inviting the ruthless testing of our marriage gives me a sick thrill. How are we really doing? Let’s find out by spending Saturday at IKEA. Upon entering, you’ll see several hundreds of other people with their loved one trying to find their way home, too. Whether their home is whole or they’ve completely lost their way upon exiting IKEA depends on the stability of its core. So does yours.
Men, IKEA functions as a merciless blunt tool to test the core of your home: your relationship with the woman you love. IKEA isn’t to be blamed. It merely serves as the agitator in bringing your hidden issues to light. Failure to appreciate this in advance could leave you rattled as a couple because furnishing your home—which is the foundational reason you’re at IKEA to begin with—is an extension of you.
In order to not fall victim, your woman wants you to know that while she does like to nest as much as the average woman this doesn’t let you off the hook. She absolutely needs your involvement. A furnished home is a public expression of both of you, blended. With two identities under one roof, home represents a merger.
Sometimes this merger sings in harmony. We married young and broke and received Victorian hand-me-downs from various relatives. We welcomed these furnishings with open arms until children, spit-up and exploding diapers came along. Then we traded upholstery for leather. Leather cleans up well and we were unified in the abrupt stylistic change.
We both immediately agreed to reconsider IKEA’s Mydig dinnerware. Though lovely, it bounced around when cutting a steak. We exchanged it for Vardera.
Othertimes, it’s not seamless. When I see the color red, my husband sometimes sees pink-red and that item is nixed. Sometimes what I see as jazzy and dramatic he sees busy. He doesn’t want pink, busy furnishings waiting for him when he arrives home. You’ve probably guessed that IKEAS’s textile showroom is especially difficult for us.
This is why I will not shop at IKEA without my husband. I value my husband’s presence to channel his interior decorator. After all these years, I’ve found that he does have an opinion and can easily point out what he’d rather have in our home when presented with choices.
This matters because home tells a story. Its plot centers on who you are inside as a couple. As a team, your home displays what you value. As you build your home, you are building a story about yourselves. It’s a sanctuary where safety and security and belonging are foundational. It’s deeply revealing, reflecting what you and the woman you love care about the most.
At one point, we hosted a sometimes-rowdy reading group that met once a month. Many times wine glasses broke. It was more important that we carried on with our reading group than worrying about broken wine glasses. Evidence of good times, I’d tell myself late Saturday nights. On the surface, IKEA helped us keep the wine glasses a-coming. Underneath, our sense of home was expanding because ultimately we care about our friends, not our glassware. Our answer was a robust supply of wine glasses from IKEA.
You’re pushing the IKEA cart, growing heavier by the minute. But the woman you love needs you at IKEA mentally and emotionally, not just physically. Engage every step of the way, even if you’re merely grunting in agreement. Even if you’re not into it, don’t let your mind drift. Even if it doesn’t seem like she needs you there, she does. Your moral support matters immensely. Maybe it seems her mind is made up even when she’s asking your opinion. But it’s not a rhetorical question. Unless you hate it, affirm her preference using eye-contact. Don’t disengage. If she is wallowing in indecision, show leadership by making the decision. Don’t say, “Either is fine with me.” She wants you to name a winner and take her out of her misery.
When you flat-out disagree, tell her so. Kindly. Gently. It’s in her best interest, too. Eventually, if you’re not keen on something it will come out. Instead of avoiding the discomfort in real time at IKEA, be prepared to address it. Deftly maneuvering disagreements on the spot will encourage her to respond in kind.
You do both agree it’s best to stick to your list. You birthed it together, studying the IKEA website, measuring and re-measuring. It stands as a contract between you two. Honoring the list shows honor to each other. But if the woman you love has a spontaneous brilliant idea, there are few reasons not to roll with it. If her eye lands on something you hadn’t talked about and you’re indifferent? Men, strongly consider it.
You’re a superhero to the woman you love, but don’t kid yourself—you’re not going to assemble on the same day. Most likely you’ll not be in the mood. Though you will be held responsible for assembly, despite her pledge to help, don’t put yourself in the situation of having made promises about getting anything assembled the day of. Certainly don’t expect to sleep in the bed you brought home that day from IKEA.
In our experience, it consistently has taken far longer to assemble each and every piece of furniture. There have been many instances where pieces refuse to come together because the pre-drilled holes for the hardware are too small. And, be forewarned: sometimes the IKEA masterpiece you triumphantly finish after hours of labor won’t last many more hours than that. The Flaxa bed with trundle bought for the kids’ closet-like room they shared in London promptly and without warning fell apart. The pressed-wood was less pressed than it should have been.
The woman you love won’t blame you. It’s not your fault; but please, just let it go.
Throughout your visit, she needs to be reminded that above all, she is most important to you. Her IKEA-induced stress can be quieted if she knows you’re committed to her, not trying to find the quickest exit strategy. It’s stuff, yes. But this home-building stuff speaks about you. She needs you to strike that balance between showing a greater concern for her than for the stuff, while also not delegitimizing the tangible making of your home.
Whatever happens during your visit to IKEA, take the woman you love out for dinner that night. Over a bottle of wine, you’ll be able to toast your survival and decompress. Hopefully there will be laughter and good conversation about how you fared that day in order to be ready for next time. Home-building isn’t for wimps and IKEA has demanded the very soul-searching you may have needed.
Don’t be ungrateful. With your arm around the waist of the woman you love, say it. Thanks, IKEA.
Photo: Flickr/Alessandro Valli