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Why Ikea Causes So Much Relationship Tension

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I love going to Ikea with my wife and kids.I put everything together myself, with a little bit of help as needed, and deftly avoid most arguments.

Your comfort with IKEA is unsettling to me, because IKEA causes me stress.

I take comfort that I'm not the only one.

In this article, IKEA is a shorthand for understanding how relationships deal with stress.

If you want to know if you and a partner are compatible, Dan Ariely told me, take a canoe ride together. An experience packed with factors out of your control—weather, currents, sharks—offers telling insights about how people react to pressure.

“The question is, do people have a tendency to blame the other person, or to understand that things just happen?” said Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. (He was also part of the Harvard Business School team that in 2011 identified “the Ikea effect,” the observation that people love a thing more if they participate in some small way in its creation.) He added:

I think the same thing would happen with Ikea furniture. During the process, things happen in an unexpected way. There are pieces missing. People put things together in the wrong way. The question is, how much do we tend to blame the other person?

There’s also the problem of fundamental attribution error, Ariely said. We tend to attribute our own mistakes to external factors (“I put this together wrong because the instructions were bad”) and others’ mistakes to internal ones (“You put this together wrong because you never pay attention.”)

On a good day, maybe you’re pretty good at avoiding blame and taking an enlightened view. But we’ve already established: this is not a good day. This is an Ikea day. The showroom made you feel inadequate, you’re subconsciously battling your partner for power, and you’re embarrassed that it’s taken the better part of a Saturday for two educated adults to build a chest of drawers.