Couples Therapist Has Patients Assemble IKEA Furniture to Solve Relationship Problems

A California therapist is helping couples resolve their relationship issues in the most unusual way – by having them assemble IKEA furniture. The experience, she believes, is so frustrating that it might actually bring couples closer to each other!

“The store literally becomes a map of a relationship nightmare,” licensed psychologist Ramani Durvasula explained. “Walking through the kitchens brings up touchy subjects, like who does most of the cooking. Then you get to the children’s section, which opens up another set of issues. And that’s before you’ve even tried to assemble anything.”

“I would laugh with my ex-husband about it,” she added. “I saw what a pressure cooker it was. In the end, we hired someone to put the furniture together.”


Photo: ABC News

Inspired by her personal experience, she wondered what it would be like to recreate similar high-stress scenarios for her couples therapy clients. So she devised a technique that skips the store visit and focuses more on the at-home assembly process, which is where she says that tempers run high.

Durvasula instructs her clients to purchase furniture of their choice from IKEA and then build it in their home without her supervision. She then has them visit her office in Santa Monica with reports on how the exercise went.

While couples start out thinking that the idea is ridiculous, she says that the experience teaches them a lot about their relationship style. She’s been conducting the exercise with clients for the past five to six years, and she says it has always helped gain more understanding.


Photo: ABC News

For instance, ABC News reported that Stephanie Aguirre, 23, and Samuel Hidalgo, 29, of Orange County, California used Durvasula’s technique to figure out if they should move in together or not. While Hidalgo said he was excited about the possibility, he did have a few practical reservations. Aguirre felt the same way.

So they chose a shelving unit from IKEA, and surprisingly, they were able to assemble the entire piece within an hour even though they didn’t have the instructions. When they went back to Durvasula with their experience, she observed that their communication was ‘collaborative’ – because they used questions instead of commands to finish the task, and also because they compromised.


Photo: ABC News

“When she was not able to do something, you didn’t criticize her,” Durvasula told Hidalgo. The exercise proved fruitful for the young couple, because they were able to understand how they really felt about living with each other. “I feel much better,” Hidalgo confessed. “I mean, building a piece of furniture didn’t seem like much. It was just fun, but now that she analysed it, I feel much, much better about it.”

“Sometimes it’s not about IKEA or shopping, but the collaboration of putting something together,” said Durvasula, who works with couples with a “wide range of disorders”. She focuses on relationships with people who have narcissistic tendencies. “From a furniture perspective, in that case, it’s really hard to have someone listen to you in putting together a large piece of furniture,” she explained.


Photo: IKEA

Small items such as coffee tables, she told Wall Street Journal, presents few challenges to couples. But large-scale, wall-consuming units can prove to be more problematic, she explained. In fact, she refers to a particular wall unit called the Liatorp as ‘the Divorcemaker’.

According to Durvasula, couples may fake politeness during the psychological exercise, but it won’t last more than a minute. She added that “busted, broken-up IKEA furniture is forever a monument of something that went wrong.” And the clinical data collected from the experiment helps her analyze relationships quite accurately.


On their part, IKEA has revealed that they are aware of the domestic shopping experience being a stressful one. “While IKEA has no set philosophy on couples shopping together, we want everyone to have a good experience,” said spokesperson Janice Simonsen. She explained that 85 percent of IKEA’s stores in the US provide home-furnishing consultants to reduce this stress. And as far as the couples therapy, she said: “We’re just happy to be part of the process.”

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