You enter IKEA holding hands. 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.
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!
IKEA functions as a merciless blunt tool to test the core of your home: your relationship with the man 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, communicate that though you do like to nest as much as the average woman, this doesn’t let him off the hook. You absolutely need his 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 MYNDIG dinnerware. Though lovely, it bounced around when cutting a steak. We exchanged it for VÄRDERA.
It’s not always seamless. Sometimes when I see the color red, my husband sees pink-red and that item is nixed. Sometimes what I see as jazzy and dramatic he sees as busy. He doesn’t want pink, busy furnishings waiting for him when he arrives home. You’ve probably guessed that IKEAS’ 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 given 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, security and belonging are foundational. It’s deeply revealing, reflecting what you and the man you love care about 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 worry 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.
Your man is pushing the IKEA cart, growing heavier by the minute. But more than his physical presence, you need him engaging mentally and emotionally. Unless he hates it, you want him to affirm your preference. If you’re wallowing in indecision, he should show leadership by making the decision. He dare not say, either is fine with me. You want him to man up, name a winner and take you out of your misery.
And when he flat-out disagrees, he’d better tell you. Kindly. Gently. It’s in your best interest, too. Eventually, if he’s not keen on something it will come out. Instead of avoiding the discomfort in real time at IKEA, he’d better be prepared to address it. Deftly maneuvering disagreements on the spot will encourage you to respond in kind.
Whatever happens during your visit to IKEA, go 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 arms around your love, say it: Thanks, IKEA.
This piece was originally published on The Good Men Project.