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The Ikea Effect and Relationships




The Ikea Effect and Relationships

Jessalyn Hutto

Yesterday, NPR’s Morning Edition introduced me to a phenomenon known as the “Ikea Effect.” If you are unfamiliar with the store Ikea (which is a phenomenon in and of itself), imagine a humungous warehouse-type shopping center in which you walk around for hours (literally, that place is like a maze!) looking at all of the awesome and creative furniture, storage solutions, and home accessories. The prices seem incredibly low for the furniture items you are ogling until you check out and have a flat, cardboard box containing your dining room table and chairs brought to you–complete with assembly instructions. Suddenly the prices make complete sense. 

People around here love Ikea–I mean LOVE Ikea. They will drive hours just to get to an Ikea store. People plan road trips with their friends to roam its infamous halls. We actually picked out our first bed frame and dresser as a married couple from Ikea and were very satisfied. I anticipated this radio program would delve into the depths of why people are drawn to this store like flies, but it turns out the “Ikea Effect” has little to do with the actual store. Instead, this term is being coined to refer to the effect putting hard work into an object has on a person’s affections for that object. In the experiments referred to throughout the program, it seems to have been “proven” that people place a higher value on furniture that they, themselves put together (no matter how imperfect it is), than on a piece that is already assembled–thus the “Ikea Effect.”

The interview took an interesting turn when a rather profound statement was made:

“Most of us intuitively believe that the things we labor at are the things we love. Mochon and his colleagues, Michael Norton at the Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely at Duke University, have turned that concept on its head. What if, they asked, it isn’t love that leads to labor, but labor that leads to love?”

The program went on to explore the different ways this affects marketing and the business world, but my mind was off and running to the subject of relationships. Isn’t this concept sometimes true of our relationships? It isn’t our feelings and emotions (what the world would label “love”) that always keep us working hard at a relationship (after all feelings come and go), but working hard at a relationship does tend to produce feelings and emotions (in other words, a deeper kind of love).

But the world can’t quite grasp this concept. Popular thought encourages people to get out of relationships where there is no “love.” If there isn’t something in it for you, then leave, move on, and find something more fulfilling because after all, it is all about you. You no longer love your spouse? Don’t work at it! Find someone whom you do love and then you will be much happier. You don’t lovethat baby growing inside you, so get rid of it! Why would you want all of the work a baby brings into your life if you don’t love that baby? Is that “friend” of yours asking a little too much of you? Move on to someone who you think it will be easier to love, someone who doesn’t need as much work.

But the Word of God teaches us that love is not just emotional, it’s active. Love is sacrificing for another person, investing in them, and putting their needs ahead of your own. Biblical love doesn’t wait to be inspired by its subject, but rather, biblical love works hard for the good of its subject and reaps the benefit of emotional satisfaction in the process.

This concept is very easily seen in a marriage relationship. The emotional connection between a husband and wife can quickly “dry up” if one or both of the partners ceases to invest in the relationship. In our culture, marriage is portrayed as being a way to “meet your own needs” and to “find joy,” but in reality it is in the daily “work” that we put into our marriages that we reap the benefit of strong, satisfying emotional connections. It is in the accountability, intercessory prayer, thoughtful conversations, shared experiences (both good and bad), side-by-side worship of the Savior, conflict resolution, and physical intimacy that a marriage relationship is kept healthy and bountiful.

This takes time and effort. It takes vulnerability and humility. At times it means temporarily feeling uncomfortable in order to receive the comfort of a united marriage. Sometimes it means doing the difficult thing–riding out life’s storms together–in order to get to the longed-for bay of marital peace. If couples base their decision to stay in a marriage based on feelings of love, they will often forfeit the hard-won riches of an emotional love that has been proven and strengthened through hard work

While the hypothesis shared through this NPR program isn’t fully true (genuine, Biblical love willindeed lead to labor), I do think it is fair to say that labor can also lead to love–a concept which our culture finds hard to swallow.