Can Technology Save Your Marriage? - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Tech is partly responsible for those long work hours, and less time with your partner. Now it's also trying to fix that.

By Joshua Eferighe

  • These apps aim to help couples sync their calendars, plan their finances, and also offer sex tips and personalized counseling.
  • 12 percent of Americans say they’ve found a committed relationship through online or app-based dating services.

Shared Google calendars are so 2010s. With the scheduling app Raft, you can set up a project for others to like, add comments to and privately chat about. The project at hand? Date night.

Apps like Slack and Trello have infiltrated millions of people’s lives as the drive to streamline and manage work projects has ramped up. With that has come the urge to quantify and track leisure activities, counting steps, recording meals and fielding reminder notifications from that damn Duolingo owl. Meanwhile, a quarter of American adults say they’ve gone on a date with someone they met online or via a dating app, and about 12 percent have found a committed relationship that way. Now, apps are emerging to manage those relationships too — and they’re finding an audience.

Created in Sweden, Raft lets couples sync their calendars (with the option to keep some things private in case you’re planning a surprise), upload images, chat about events and set countdown timers to big moments. The app — launched five years ago — has 50,000 users who have used it to create 800,000 events. Lasting, another app, offers personalized counseling for married couples. Other apps focus on the difficulties some couples have in integrating their finances: Honeydue not only offers shared bank accounts but also allows for bill payments and account tracking that lets couples set their own boundaries.

It’s both ironic and beautiful that this is happening.

Ken Page, dating expert and psychotherapist

Then there’s the fun side, with apps like Kindu, which offers more than 1,000 sex ideas and even a record of your bedroom “achievements.” Couples Game, an app designed to rekindle the spark in your relationship, allows you to get flirty with your partner while answering questions.

“It’s both ironic and beautiful that this is happening,” says Ken Page, a dating expert, psychotherapist and host of the Deeper Dating podcast.

It’s ironic in part because today’s technology-driven world has lengthened work hours for most people. In the U.S., a 2017 Pew study found that 40 percent of employees work more than 50 hours a week. Little surprise, then, that time is gold when it comes to managing modern-day relationships.

“We saw that there was a really big demand for being able to plan your time together,” says Anders Ekman, who created the Raft app, making sure he designed it in a way that was colorful and friendly, alive with emojis, GIFs and images.

Relationship apps can also help users with limited access to or interest in couples therapy. Kelly Campbell, a professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino, and the host of campus radio show Let’s Talk Relationships, has found that the most taboo topic for couples is often the relationship itself. “People don’t really like talking about the relationship,” she says. “One of the good things about these apps is that it will cause the partners to talk about the relationship without making it seem like it’s a talk.”

Apps can — just like therapists — give practical and tangible help for couples struggling to connect. Lasting, a subscription-based app, offers bite-size sessions to teach skills for existing as a pair, for $12 a month. Meanwhile, Love Nudge is designed around the popular “five love languages” theory, advanced by author and radio show host Gary Chapman, that every person has certain ways of communicating affection — and that couples need to understand each other’s ways of saying they love each other.

love nudge

Campbell warns, however, that it’s important to vet any app so it doesn’t lead you down a pseudoscientific path. For example, with Love Nudge, “most of [Chapman’s] training is religious-based, and so he doesn’t have necessarily the research training in social sciences relevant to couples,” she says.

Page agrees that such tools can be tricky — the goal, he explains, isn’t to find the perfect app through which to filter your connection, but to be off your phone and spending time together. “I think they’re great to introduce people to the beauty of the world of connection and to scope their behaviors, but ultimately it’s the work of putting the damn screen down and looking at your partner,” he tells me. “The minute they become an event themselves, then they’re just a new source of disconnection.”

As with any industry, the road to relationship success is littered with the corpses of apps that didn’t make it: Happy Couple, which used a cute quizzing feature to encourage couples to talk; Couple, which catered to long-distance or clingy pairs by allowing the “thumbkiss” (in which touching your thumb to the screen when your partner did set off a little buzz); Fix a Fight, which used little cartoons to help mediate disputes. All of them have shut down.

But those that have survived may help your own relationship go the distance. Just remember to back up all your photos.

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