One can get marriage lessons from the most unlikely examples and this one comes from Ikea of all places.
During a fun couples counseling session last night (yes – we have fun because I love my job) the husband complained that he and his wife don’t work well together and then said in an off handed way: “Every new couple should be forced to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture before they decide to get married. Just to see if they are compatible and are able to work together.”
We all laughed at the suggestion but then I got to thinking. It really is a great way of looking at how Marriages function. I always like finding marriage lessons in unlikely places.
Now, I’m not a fan of Ikea – my wife and I prefer well-made antiques so it’s fair to call me a furniture snob. Oh well.
But for those of you who don’t know about this phenomenon, Ikea is a place where you can buy modern (and cheap) furniture but it comes in a box and you have to put it together yourself. Imagine getting home and opening the box to find pieces of wood, hundreds of little screws and washers and a huge instruction manual. My nightmare.
Now couples will approach this project in a few different ways and I think we can learn some relationship lessons here of what to do and what not to do in regards to communication, respect and conflict management.
The Go It Alone Guy (or girl)
I confess to being this type sometimes and I’m not proud of it. With this approach, one person will usually lock themselves in the basement and curse and scream and grit their teeth through the process of putting the shelf together and then emerge triumphant with a (mostly) completed piece of furniture. Ta Da! Here is my gift to you.
Now to look at this positively, some people know that they are not team players and want to avoid losing their tempers with their partners. They must have solitude to think things through and concentrate. If they have had difficulty “playing nice with others” this can be a strategy to avoid conflict.
Also, those who communicate their love via tasks or gifts can be seen as doing this “for” their partner.
But there are pitfalls here.
- It isolates the other partner. In this situation you have the husband hammering away alone in the basement while the wife is just waiting upstairs alone.
- You miss the opportunity to be together and create something as a team. Yes, it can be hard – but there are lessons to be learned here. In counseling I always push my couples to do things differently and to get uncomfortable – this is a great way.
- It can send the message of “You can’t do this – so I’m going to have to do it for you” which can be interpreted as disrespectful and parental.
Approach # 2
Together. Comparing the good team and bad team.
Ok, so you decide you are going to assemble the shelf together. I personally think this is the way to go – but lets look at the good and bad ways of doing this.
It’s late. You are both tired. There is a deadline. And maybe alcohol is involved. I can’t imagine a better formula for a relationship nightmare.
As with all things in your marriage, it’s important to look at timing and how this sets you up for success or failure.
- Find a time that is good for both of you.
- If you are going to do something with your spouse, give them enough respect to approach it with energy and commitment.
- As far as deadlines go: anytime you can take urgency off the table – do it. Deadlines and time pressures can be your worst nightmare.
- And of course – you should already know, alcohol is just going to complicate things.
All of this can be applied to building shelves or any other activity / conversation.
One person is a “Butt –in sky” that criticizes the person who is actually doing the work. There are arguments. You make the arguments personal – (his inability to hammer is a reflection on his manhood, her inability to read instructions is a reflection on her being stupid.) Name calling. Yelling. Being disrespectful and not listening to the other person.
- Realize that doing something together can be hard – so go slow.
- Take the time to listen to what the other person is saying before you disagree. And whatever you do, don’t make it personal! Keep it about the task.
- Frustrations are natural. Deal with them appropriately. If things are getting heated – take a break. (Ask me about my famous 10 minute time out technique.)
- Avoid authoritarian pronouncements. It SHOULD be done this way. There is no should – respect the other person’s way of doing and perspective.
Doing the actual task
You argue over who is reading the instructions. Or you avoid the instructions all together. Maybe one of you is working alone on one part while the other person is working on a different part without realizing that one has to go before the other – wasting time.
- Play to each other’s strengths. If she is better at organizing – let her put the order of assembly together and read the instructions. If she is better at actual work, hand her the screw driver.
- Have a plan. Don’t just jump in the middle of doing something.
- Follow the instructions. You don’t know everything, so be open to learning.
- Have assigned duties.
Now obviously, all of the “good team” examples are ways that couples can apply to tasks, conversations, or just about any part of your relationship. It’s not just about the Ikea shelf. (And perhaps that is the greatest marriage lesson here) It’s about building a marriage that is healthy and respectful and communication that is respectful and effective. And hopefully it can be fun too.
And finally – don’t forget to celebrate. Anytime you do something well together – take a moment and say: Wow – look what we did!
To learn more about my quirky way of approaching marriage counseling – contact me through my website: