Words by Henry Chandonnet. Photography by Malquerida Studio.
From Lovewick to Couply, Silicon Valley is pumping out apps attempting to make couples closer. But do they actually work?
The era of the dating app is alive and thriving. Whether it be Tinder or Bumble, Hinge or Grindr, almost everyone looking for love has some dating app downloaded to their phone. According to a Pew Research study, 3 in 10 adults have used a dating app, bumping up to 48% for adults between 18-29 years old. But once the doom-swiping is over, and you’ve found a partner you’d like to settle down with, what then? Enter the couples app.
For those scratching their head wondering what a “relationship app” would look like, they’re far more common than you think. While standouts like Paired and LoveWick have taken a cultural forefront, hundreds of other apps cloud the dating arena, attempting to provide that technological connective tissue for a relationship. Though the standard “daily question’ model reigns supreme, other app formats include calendar mergers, date idea prompters, and even bill-splitting software.
But do these apps actually work? Can an app spark some new level of intimacy in your relationship? For Dr. Marisa Cohen, the answer is a resounding yes. “It’s really beneficial to provide a way for couples to be intentional when they connect with one another,” Dr. Cohen comments. “Anything that couples can do together that would enhance their quality time is great.”
As a relationship scientist and family therapist, Dr. Cohen has completed significant research at the cross-section of love and technology. Partnering with popular apps such as Couply and Paired, Dr. Cohen saw firsthand just how these apps could spark a deeper connection. On comparing her personal practice to the function of these apps, Dr. Cohen stated, “A lot of the couples that come to the therapeutic setting, they’re there to enhance and strengthen their relationship. It might just make us better partners for one another. So that’s kind of a similar bucket, I imagine, to the people that are accessing these apps.”
Karli Kucko, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in love and relationship therapy, comes at it from a different angle. With a popular advice-giving TikTok (@karli.k.counseling), Kucko knows the intersection between technology and in-person intimacy on a personal level. “The downside of an app that feeds prompts for connection is that the connection is happening ‘virtually,’” Kucko comments. “There is nothing wrong with this as long as it’s not substituting face-to-face connection.” While still positive in her outlook, Kucko’s approach to these relationship apps likely varies more couple-to-couple.
Further, an issue arises in the marketing of these apps. While some apps remain narrow in their claims, others go broad: this app will save your marriage! Whether it’s ReGain’s proposal to replace in-person couples counseling or Lasting’s claim that it can maintain a marriage’s strength, the apps dream big in their potential uses.
For Dr. Cohen, this “counseling dupe” campaign isn’t much of an issue. “These apps can be used for people that are in therapy to continue to strengthen their relationships, they can be used in between therapy sessions, they can be used just by people where everything feels good in their relationship, and they just want to enhance it,” she restates. Of course, Dr. Cohen is quick to note that any couple experiencing high volatility or abuse should immediately seek in-person counseling.
Kucko, on the other hand, is more pointed in her criticism of these advertising claims. “These apps should be used as a ‘tool’ to inspire intimacy, not as the ‘solution’ for intimacy and connectivity issues,” Kucko notes. “Ultimately, these apps are offering conversation starters, whereas trained professionals are offering specialized services to support a relationship’s unique needs.”
The app model itself may also impact just how effective it is. Dr. Cohen champions the “daily question” model, noting how apps such as Paired, Coral or Couply can expose greater truths about your partner. “It’s usually a prompt to engage in deeper conversation about hot-button topics or issues, things that they may not have even thought about or spoken about, to get a new understanding of one another,” Dr. Cohen notes. With in-app responses, these programs offer couples a platform and prompt to communicate upon.
While the all-in-one couples app may work for some people, Kucko opts more often for an app that combines the digital and real world. “I always recommend the Gottman Card Deck app for my clients in relationships,” Kucko comments. “It is an excellent tool to prompt deeper conversation and encourage people to edge outside their comfort zones.” Where an app like Couply prompts users to respond within the app’s interface, the Gottman Card Deck simply provides probing questions for couples to discuss face-to-face. One can find these gamified conversation starters in other mediums, too, like the card game We’re Not Really Strangers or the famed New York Times 36 Questions That Lead to Love.
Though their outlook on how these apps should be used may differ, both Kucko and Dr. Cohen can agree on one thing: these apps provide the opportunity for greater growth and support for your relationship. And, in the current digital landscape, that may be just what we need. “For too long we focused on people who are dating, with dating sites and apps and everything. We’re helping people find relationships,” Dr. Cohen claims. “We didn’t really do anything in terms of support for those who are in relationships.” If an app is the support you need to sustain your relationship, take it.