California Couples Therapist Uses Ikea Furniture to Solve Relationship Issues

A psychologist asks clients in couples therapy to build Ikea furniture together.

ByABC News
April 30, 2015, 2:53 PM

— -- A psychologist in California asks her clients in couples therapy to build Ikea furniture together to help work on their relationship issues.

Ramani Durvasula, a licensed psychologist in Santa Monica, California, said she knew from personal experience how trying building a piece of Ikea furniture with a partner can be.

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

Durvasula decided to apply that "pressure cooker" environment to her couples therapy clients to see if it could help build their relationship.

ABC News asked Stephanie Aguirre, 23, and Samuel Hidalgo, 29, of Orange County, California, to ask Durvasula what she had to say about their Ikea experience. The couple has dated for three years and decided this could be the experiment to help them decide whether to live together.

Hidalgo, a technician for a dental laboratory, said he was "excited" at the possibility of moving in with Aguirre, with some practical reservations.

"It's just, you know, money-wise and stuff like that," he said. "That's what's kind of holding us back."

Aguirre, a recent UCLA graduate, said she was also optimistic.

"I think he really empathizes with my needs," she said. "So I'm considering going back to grad school and we were discussing maybe I move closer to campus, which he brought up. ... That was really nice of him."

PHOTO: Stephanie Aguirre, 23, and Samuel Hidalgo, 29, assemble Ikea furniture as a part of couples therapy with Ramani Durvasula.
Stephanie Aguirre, 23, and Samuel Hidalgo, 29, assemble Ikea furniture as a part of couples therapy with Ramani Durvasula.

Durvasula asks couples to buy their own furniture that they want to keep in their home. She asks them to build it in their home, without her supervision, so it's more realistic.

"The first time I did it was five or six years ago. It was on a lark. I said to a couple, 'Let’s try this.' They laughed and thought it was ridiculous," she said. "But we learned a lot."

"Sometimes, it’s not about Ikea or shopping, but the collaboration of putting something together," she said.

Durvasula said she works with adults and couples with a "wide range of disorders," from depression to eating disorders.

She said she often focuses "on relationships with someone with narcissism. 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."

In a statement to ABC News, IKEA noted that customers aren't required to assemble their own furniture if they don't want to.

"At IKEA, our goal is to create a better everyday life at home," the statement read. "To make shopping at IKEA stress free and enjoyable, we offer a number of options. Customers ... can choose from several service options to make the final process easy. This includes IKEA picking their chosen items for them in the store, picking and delivering them to their home or a combo of three; picking, delivering and assembling their new products. All these choices contribute to having a great IKEA shopping experience."

However, Durvasula joked, putting together a piece of Ikea furniture is as real as a real-life experiment can be.

"Let’s face it, you won't have an affluent couple doing this," she said. "They will be like most of us -- the 99 percent."

Hidalgo and Aguirre chose a shelving unit and were able to finish building it in about an hour, even though they didn't have the instructions, at first. Durvasula noted that their communication appeared "collaborative," because they used questions instead of commands to finish the task and compromised.

"When she was not able to do something, you didn't criticize her," Durvasula told Hidalgo, also noting that couples can "fake" politeness only "for a minute" when trying to accomplish a task.

Durvasula added that a "busted, broken-up [piece of] Ikea furniture is forever a monument of something that went wrong." She said it's "almost like a picture of the girl your husband cheated on you with."

"No matter what, I get clinical data," she said. "It’s a win for me, though it may not be for them."

For Hidalgo and Aguirre, the exercise proved fruitful.

When asked after meeting with her how they felt about moving in together, Hidalgo said, "I feel much better. I mean, building the piece of furniture didn't seem like much. It was just fun, but now that she analyzed it, I feel much, much better about it.”

ABC News' Stephanie Mendez contributed to this report.