To some people, IKEA represents a maze of household kitsch as overwhelming as it is unnavigable; to others, it’s a veritable dreamland where someday sanctuaries become weekend projects. To clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula, IKEA provides a window to the inner workings of a relationship.
“A piece of IKEA furniture is like a lightning rod,” she tells Take Two. “[It’s] a great way to create a little bit of a relationship pressure-cooker. … When you really think about it, if you put a large piece of furniture together, it requires communication, collaboration and respect, which are the essential ingredients of a good relationship.”
Dr. Durvasula discovered a simple way to tell which couples will go the distance, and which ones won’t be back for the Swedish meatballs: ask them to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture and have them report back about how it went. “Most people behave well,” she says, “but when the stress is on, that’s when we snap, we insult, we attack, and that’s the stuff thats unacceptable, because it can really hurt a relationship over time.”
It’s not just the assembly that can be aggravating, however. Dr. Durvasula says that life circumstances must also be considered. Home furnishings can be very personal to people. She tells Take Two, “I always say it’s like walking through a marriage; there’s a bedroom, there’s a kitchen, there’s a children’s room, it’s all the minefields of a marriage laid out in a very interesting warehouse.”
A clinical psychologist for over two decades, Dr. Durvasula got the idea to use IKEA during a trip to the store in Burbank: “I was watching these couples going through these little imaginary rooms and imagining their lives in them, and then fighting. ‘Who wants a red couch?’ Or, “I don’t like that,” or “don’t put your mother’s picture on that.’ And that’s what led me to want to use this with my patients.”
The stress experienced by a couple often depends on what is being assembled. A simple Falster side table? Not too bad. A Liatorp storage and entertainment setup? Dr. Durvasula calls them a “Divorcemaker.”
Tensions may boil over during the remodeling process, but Dr. Durvasula contends that a little stress can also be a good thing: “It’s where a relationship learns what it’s made of,” she says.
The whole concept of doing an “IKEA test” may seem ludicrous to some, but Dr. Durvasula says the furniture giant has been a boon: “I owe a lot of thanks to IKEA. … It’s made my life a lot easier in terms of my professional work.”
Press the play button above to hear more clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula’s conversation with Ben Bergman on Take Two.