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Can Your Relationship Handle a Trip to IKEA?

Can Your Relationship Handle a Trip to IKEA?
If you've ever been in a relationship, you know there can be times of relentless bickering.

You might have also noticed these irritating moments happen while shopping.

For example, have you ever stepped foot in an IKEA?

The numerous two-story, overwhelmingly-packed rooms of furniture can cause tension and possibly a few breakdowns. However, psychologists might be using a shopping trip to IKEA as a way to test the strength of your relationship.

What can couples learn about themselves by putting IKEA furniture together? And, how can they use this information to make their relationship stronger?

Listen in as Dr. Ramani Durvasula shares why a shopping trip to IKEA can test and help strengthen your relationship with your partner.
Featured Speaker:
Ramani Durvasula, PhD
Dr Ramani DurvasulaDr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology. Drawing upon her years of clinical experience, graduate and undergraduate teaching, and published research, she is masterful at taking all things psychological and making them interesting and understandable for a wide variety of audiences. Her versatility makes her a useful presenter for audiences ranging from adolescents to professionals, laypeople to mental health professionals.

There are a limited number of simple truths offered by the field of psychology, and psychologists often miss the point and hide these simple truths behind fancy statistics and technical jargon. Years of teaching thousands of students have equipped Dr. Ramani with a knack for cutting to the core of the issue and cutting out the filler. Understanding these truths can help people reach their full potential in their relationships, jobs, and family time. By getting past the jargon and the simplifying the statistics, Dr. Ramani keeps it real and makes psychology a useful tool for everyone.

RadioMD Presents:HER Radio | Original Air Date: May 28, 2015
Hosts: Pam Peeke, MD & Michelle King Robson
Guest: Ramani Durvasula, PhD

Dr. Pam Peeke, founder of the Peeke Performance Center and renowned nutrition and fitness expert and Michelle King Robson, founder of and leading women’s' advocate cut through the confusion and share the naked bottom line truth about all things women. It's HER Radio.

DR. PAM: Hi, I'm Dr. Pam Peeke. Michelle's off today. So, I'm reading the newspaper and in this case, The Wall Street Journal, and the title just grabbed me. It said, “Can Your Relationship Handle a Trip to IKEA?” You know what I'm talking about. Oh, my gosh. How many of us go in with our significant others, partners, spouses, whatever, and we're trying to pick things; we're trying to make decisions together, fights break out in the aisles; people are throwing things at each other. Oh, my gosh. This was such a great article and one of the experts noted in the article is Dr. Ramani Durvasula and she is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University in Los Angeles and Dr. Ramani welcome to HER Radio because we want to talk about what goes on in those aisles at IKEA. What is happening?

DR. RAMANI: You know, what's happening is, to me, like IKEA is sort of like walking through a domestic nightmare. Right? You walk through every room and in the kitchen, you don't cook enough; the bedroom, we don't have sex enough; the living room, you're a mess and so already it’s you're walking through your domestic life. Then, decisions need to be made and you're spending money, so it takes every issue in a relationship and sticks it into one very friendly store.

DR. PAM: Oh, my gosh. So, what really is this whole thing with the kind of bickering and the mini fights or maybe even big boys that break out in that kind of environment? What's really happening between two people? Here at HER Radio we're looking at a woman's role in this, a guys' role in this or partners, whatever. What's happening there?

DR. RAMANI: Furniture stores are so evocative, right? It's a place where you're going to make life the way you want your domestic life to look like and that can bring up some old themes and, the fact is, bickering is a part of a relationship. We're never going to get rid of bickering. My job as a psychologist is to help people come up with better strategies to manage that bickering. So, when you go to a place like that and you notice you're bickering, it's a great way to see what kind of stuff pushes our buttons. Is it money? Is it how we want our house to look? Is it our roles in this relationship? It's a great way to reflect on like what kind of stuff that gets us going?

DR. PAM: Oh, I love it. That's fantastic. So, let's just take a moment here and look at the whole role of bickering, fighting. I know so many couples and people who just run from confrontation. They just don't want to, you know, we're just sort of throwing it under the rug there and they just don't do that because they're incredibly fearful of it. They're not comfortable with it. They weren't maybe raised with it. They don't know what to do and on the other hand there are people that seem to kind of go from zero to fight in three seconds. What’s the answer here from a psychologist? What should we be aiming for?

DR. RAMANI: Again, like I said. Sometimes, bickering is just part of the natural landscape of certain relationships and, as you said, some people are sometimes also conflict avoidant. They'll avoid a fight at any cost but that's not always a good strategy. Sometimes the little bickers are places of communication and if one partner is always sort of laying down and compromising or giving up or not even trying that's a very imbalanced relationship. The key, then, is to turn it from a bicker or a fight or a little argument into a more respectful place of communication. Couples can agree to disagree so whether it's at IKEA and you don't want the red rug, you want the blue rug or whether it’s big ticket stuff, it doesn't have to evolve into a disrespectful argument. It can become a place where you learn how to communicate even about difficult stuff.

DR. PAM: So is it kind of a an interesting experiment or an exercise to go to a place like that and see how both of you interact, let alone go to the acid test which is can you put furniture together? You know, you and your partner, whomever, can you put it together without breaking out into a fist fight or running off, you know in tears? So, what? Is it a good exercise?

DR. RAMANI: It's a great exercise. Furniture assembly, to me, is like the ultimate relationship exercise because it gives me a way to give them a task that's very focused; that has a very definite outcome and it's a relatively high-staked outcome depending on how much money they spent on the piece of furniture. So, in order to put some of these pieces of furniture together, you have to be able to communicate. One person has to hold the enormous piece of wood while the other one is drilling into it. So, the fact of the matter is, you can't run away from this. So, it gives me a chance to give them a task to see how they handle it and what kinds of patterns they fall into. Are they calling each other names? Are they storming out the room? Are they working collaboratively? We can learn a lot just by how they approach this task and then generalize that into other areas of their life that aren't quite as neat and clean as just putting together a piece of furniture.

DR. PAM: So, I can imagine what your office looks like. You've got the, you know, one part--I did totally, it's like one of those, it's like a child psychologist with all the little building blocks and the ABC's things and you're watching them put things together. Why don't we have just like a big play pen for men and women and all of their partners together and just watch them, observe them? I think it'd be kind of wild, wouldn't it?

DR. RAMANI: You know, I listen in. My sort of couple's therapy fantasy camp model, I would actually watch them do things. I'd actually go on vacation with them—which, obviously, I can't because it's against the law--but if I could, stuff like travel, cooking a meal together, putting furniture together, driving in an unfamiliar city. That's the stuff that often hits couples pressure points but I can't follow them around like that. I can only go on their rapport but the nice thing about putting together a piece of furniture is they can film parts of it and I don't watch them. I don't go to their home or something and they can't do it in my office. How would they get the furniture home? So, they'll film parts of it or record parts of it so we can, we can look at it together and talk about some of the trickier parts. Or, they'll keep a diary and say, “This is where it went wrong,” but it gives them a task to focus on that one thing and like I said, then we can prepare them for things like when they're going to go on vacation or deciding about whether to have another child. These can be big ticket decisions but if they can learn those negotiation skills by how they put together a bookshelf, then that can generalize the other conflict in other issues.

DR. PAM: You know, I'm telling you right now, I'm going to give you a little career advice here, Dr. Ramani, all right? You need to get like a chair. You know, some kind of chair that hasn't been assembled and just throw it in the middle of the flipping room and then just watch them do it and just do it for every single couple. I think it'd be a riot. Seriously, the other thing is, why not put video cam, like a video camera or something and, literally, as an exercise have a couple do a meal together and then you review the video cam, since you can't be there anyway.

DR. RAMANI: Yes. I absolutely agree. You know, that's certainly with some couples I would suggest--something you're willing to tape. You know, there's logistics and all that but I agree and actually some of the best research that has ever done on couples’ work is they actually look at videotapes of them having a conflict and the researchers analyze every little utterance they go through. So, when you're working with couples’ video or any kind of recording of something together can speak volumes. Imagine if somebody always had a camera on you at home and watched the arguments you had with your mate and then you could bring in an expert and then they would take it apart for you. I mean, I honestly I agree that is worth the price of the furniture.

DR. PAM: I love it. I love it. You know, everyone out there in HER Radioland, we've been talking to our wonderful professor of psychology and expert in all things relationships and trips to IKEA and that is Dr. Ramani Durvasula. I'm going to give you her website. It’s, to learn more about her work and her really interesting take on how you could take that relationship of yours and put it to the test. Can you do something as simple as put a chair together? Can you go shopping for something like this? Actually, I do this all the time when I'm doing Whole Foods with my husband. It's sometimes a really interesting experience and, Dr. Ramani, you have just been wonderful and fabulous and enlightening us about can your relationship handle a trip to IKEA. Stop that bickering, stay calm and get it right.

I'm Dr. Pam Peeke with Michelle King Robson. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and please stay well.