In therapy, so many couples mention fighting while shopping at IKEA or while assembling what they buy there that clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula has started embracing the retailer as a tool for a communications exercise. The Santa Monica, Calif., therapist often tasks couples with putting together a large piece of furniture at home and reporting back on how it went.

IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer with 367 stores in seven countries, can look like a domestic wonderland. Its walkable showrooms offer a path through sleek model bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms and children’s rooms. Shoppers are encouraged to spend time sitting on a sofa and envisioning what their lives could be in these spaces.

And that’s where couples’ trouble often starts, says Dr. Durvasula, who is also a professor of psychology at California State University Los Angeles. “The store literally becomes a map of a relationship nightmare,” she says. Walking through the kitchens brings up touchy subjects, like who does most of the cooking. Then you get to the children’s section, which opens up another set of issues. And that’s before you’ve even tried assembling anything.

Dr. Durvasula says constructing the small Nornäs coffee table is fairly undemanding. But a massive wall unit like the Liatorp? She calls that the Divorcemaker.

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