The Real Reason Couples Fight at IKEA, According to Relationship Experts

Couple arguing at the kitchen table

 courtneyk/Getty Images

When I told one of my girlfriends I was finally going to IKEA for the very first time, she told me that she and her partner almost broke up during a trip to the furniture store. Sure, it was partially a joke, but there is some truth to it.

Simply put, the IKEA break up scare is real. I mean, who hasn’t seen that emotionally charged episode of 30 Rock.

“The same way ‘hangry’ creates problems amongst couples where there is none, IKEA rage is a thing,” explains Margaux Cassuto, relationship expert and matchmaker at Three Matches.

Meet the Expert

Margaux Cassuto is a relationship expert and professional matchmaker at Three Matches, a family-owned and operated matchmaking agency working with eligible Jewish singles around the world.

So what’s the deal? What makes IKEA so different from any other store? How can you keep conflict at bay? Below, three experts share their theories—and how you can shop at IKEA without compromising your relationship. (Spoiler alert: It pays off to be prepared.) 

The Mysterious Maze 

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been to IKEA, the store’s layout is extremely overwhelming. And of course, adding a significant other doesn’t make the experience any easier. 

“The maze-like design of IKEA harbours stress, frustration and makes individuals tired,” says Cassuto.  “Even if couples, under regular circumstances know how to compromise and listen to each other, with their irritability at an all time high, they are likely to butt heads and feel their personal taste and style is being disrespected.”  

Instead, come up with a game plan. If you know what you’re shopping for, you can breeze through some superfluous sections and focus on what you really need. 

“The best way to avoid an IKEA conflict is to come in with an exact idea of what they want and shop in a goal-oriented way rather than browse and contemplate in a less than ideal state,” she recommends. 

 And if you get lost, stop and ask for directions. It’s okay, we won’t judge. 

Conflicting Missions 

Whether you go into a store with a mission or like to browse around, everyone has a different shopping. However, you and your partner’s conflicting shopping strategies may come to ahead at IKEA.

“If one person in the couple is more of a 'browser' and one is more of a 'get in and get out' shopper, IKEA's conditions are absolutely perfect for an argument,” says Rebecca Ogle, a relationship expert and clinical social worker in Illinois. “Same thing applies if one person in the couple is more of a big spender, while the other is a saver.” 

Meet the Expert

Rebecca Ogle is a relationship expert. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a Master of Social Work, with a specialization in mental health, in May 2014, and became licensed as a clinical social worker In July 2017.

Again, it's important to come up with a game plan.

“Come up with a game plan for the shopping trip,” Ogle recomends. “Which sections of the store do you need to visit? Which should be avoided? Will you stop for food or ice cream?”

Or—if you want to breeze around, but don’t want to spend your full day in IKEA’s hallowed halls—agree on a time you must leave by. That’s a win-win in our book. 

Too Many Choices

In the market for new furniture? IKEA is filled to the brim with different styles and price points to choose from. Shopping for sheets? Well, you’ll have to decide between linen, flannel, and sateen. 

While every store is packed with options, the problem with IKEA is that it sells everything under the sun. (Even meatballs!)

“As much as we want to have choice in our lives, too many choices creates doubt and anxiety and stress,” says Tamar Chansky, director, of Children's and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety. “And we avoid them, or turn them into conflict. So bring in two people, [especially] a couple, and you have decision-making anxiety times two. But it’s more than that because you the couple are ‘on display’ at IKEA too— and there are these great expectations that in that public space you should agree."

Meet the Expert

Dr. Tamar Chansky founded the Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety in in 1998. She earned her Masters in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, and received her Doctoral Degree in the Temple University Clinical Psychology Program.

If you want to minimize conflict, shop online beforehand.

“Look at the catalog or online first at home—make your ‘rational’ punch list of measurements and features you need and then try to narrow it down to a couple choices,” Chanksy explains.

Related Stories