Can couples apps help you reconnect?
Reviewed by Robert Bogenberger, PhD
Written byAmye Archer, MFA
Last updated: 12/08/2023
My husband, Tim, and I have been married for 17 years and have a good thing going. We’ve been friends since we were kids and know each other better than anyone. But as our lives have gotten busier with twin teenagers and new jobs, we don’t treat our relationship with the same reverence we used to. Date nights have become trips to the hardware store, a quick bite, and an early bedtime. Our routines and preferences are well established, which takes the shine off making dinner together or picking a movie.
So when I heard about several new apps designed to keep (or bring back) the spark in a long-term relationship, I was intrigued. After six months of daily questions and quizzes, I can say with confidence that the app we chose did exactly what it promised. Now I spend a few minutes every day thinking in a focused way about my marriage, and it’s helped me learn something new about the person I’ve loved for almost half my life.
Are you looking to reconnect with your tried-and-true partner? It may be time to get back on the apps.
How couples apps work
Turning to apps to boost our romantic lives isn’t a novel idea. More than half of people under 30 report using online dating or a dating app, and one in five say they met their current long-term partner that way.1 In a natural expansion of the technology, apps are now helping us grow and nourish those relationships as well.
Jeff Guenther, LPC, known to his nearly three million TikTok followers as TherapyJeff, notes that the growing popularity of couples apps also reflects a shift in attitude toward therapy. “Since the pandemic, therapy is not as stigmatized as it used to be,” he says. “It’s almost like there’s something kind of hip about it.”
The app landscape
Couples apps work in a variety of ways, but the ones that focus on communication and compatibility tend to be designed with input from mental health experts. The app Tim and I chose, Paired, is one such company.
Paired sends us a free daily relationship question. Once we’ve answered it, we get to see each other’s responses and learn how this question can help inform our partnership. I spend about five minutes a day on the app, so it’s a low-stakes commitment. With a yearly paid subscription, users can get access to additional question packs and choose the content they want to explore.
Lasting is meant to help partners identify and respond to one another’s emotional calls. Rooted in attachment theory, this app uses techniques from emotionally focused therapy (EFT), the Gottman method, and mindfulness to help resolve conflict and build communication.
Another app, Official, stores all your favorite memories and dates, so it’s easy to look back on special moments together. Then there’s Coral, a “tool for improved intimacy, connection, and communication.” The company behind this app prides itself on thinking beyond cisgender, heteronormative experiences and providing support for all kinds of romantic partners.
Benefits of couples apps
If you’re in couples therapy, an app can be a great supplement for the work you’re already doing. If you’re not, they can still offer some tools to help strengthen your bond. Here’s how.
Several of Tim’s responses to our app’s questions prompted a conversation, like the one where he labeled me adventurous and said he thought I’d try paddleboarding. “What on earth were you thinking?” I asked half-jokingly. “I think you’re really brave,” he replied. I was stunned and proud he saw me that way, and I wouldn’t have known it otherwise.
It’s common to talk about intimacy as you get to know each other. But how many of us check in with our partners about sexual satisfaction after 5 or 10 or more years? Couples apps can help facilitate those talks, which Guenther says can have a number of benefits: “Asking sexual questions creates more closeness and intimacy, but can also boost desire.”
After you’ve been together for a while, it’s easy to forget what drew you to each other in the first place. Couples apps prompt you to be intentional about connecting with your person, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day. This effort can help keep your relationship strong, especially when life gets in the way. In one study, participants who used a similar app reported higher levels of connection, relationship satisfaction, and cohesion with their partners.2
Contributing to emotional labor
If one partner in a relationship is less able to open up, Guenther says, it becomes the other person’s job to bring up serious topics. “Let’s get gendered here for a minute,” he says. “Most of the time, it falls on the woman in the relationship to do the emotional labor. These apps do the labor for you, so there’s less pressure on one partner.”
As a neutral conversation starter, an app has no agenda and no subtext, and both partners can interact with the app without emotional stakes.
Spicing things up
Couples apps can also be plain old fun. Our app included games to test our knowledge of each other, and I enjoyed predicting what Tim might say. Other apps include date night ideas and sexual prompts, promising to make any evening together a little saucier.
Couples apps aren’t a substitute for therapy
Couples apps can be used alongside therapy, but Guenther cautions that they shouldn’t be used as a substitute for working with a mental health professional.
“A therapist gets to know you in a very intimate way where they understand your history, your traumas, your insecurities, and your specific issues,” he says. “Then they tailor therapy for you with a treatment plan and goals and intentions. There’s nothing an app can do to replace that. Apps don’t have the teeth a therapy session will have.”
There’s also some risk in navigating difficult conversations on your own, even with the support of an app. “One of the nice things about going to therapy is that the therapist is creating an emotionally safe space,” says Guenther. “So if it all of a sudden gets funky, the therapist can address it.” Without this neutral third party, comments can be misinterpreted or misconstrued, and a couple might wind up in an unproductive exchange.
If you and your partner could use a hand with tough conversations, browse our directory to find a couples therapist near you.
But apps can enhance your experience of therapy
Apps can’t replace what a therapist brings to the table, but they can give your therapeutic work a boost: for example, by helping you build communication skills or keep a hard conversation going. They can also provide a topic to work on in your next therapy session.
“If you’re not on the apps and you’re coming into couples counseling, it might be that the only time you talk is for that one hour per week—and so much stuff has to be crammed into that hour,” Guenther says. “But if you’re getting blown up on an app throughout the week, then we already know what we’re going to start with.”
Guenther has suggested or prescribed couples apps to his clients, with a few conditions. “I have to make sure the couples understand what they’re getting into, that they have some emotional intelligence or resilience or capacity,” he says.
It’s important to note that there are certain moments in a relationship where apps just can’t cut it. “If a couple comes in and they’re in crisis mode because somebody cheated on somebody, then we’re not messing around with apps at all,” says Guenther. Apps tend to work much better as homework and exercises when your relationship is in maintenance mode.
A stepping stone for therapy
Therapy isn’t for everyone. But when couples disagree about whether to go, it can create even more conflict.
If you have a partner who’s not on board with therapy, couples apps can be a way to highlight the strengths in your relationship. “I usually tell people to go ahead and talk about all the positive, lovely benefits they’re personally getting from therapy, instead of saying ‘You’d better go, or else,’” Guenther advises. “An app can help highlight those positive experiences.”
It’s never too late to learn
In preparation for this article, I asked my husband to download Paired and use it with me for a few weeks, with the promise that we could stop once the story publishes. Six months later, we’re still on the app—but to be honest, we were both skeptical at first. After almost 20 years together, how much could we have left to learn?
Quite a bit, it turns out. The highlight for me was finding out my husband thinks I’m a brave future paddleboarder. But we also discovered we have similar five-year plans, we don’t go on dates nearly as often as we both want to, and we have the same favorite memories of us as a couple. Tim values my compassion more than I realized, and he thinks I’m a better cook than he is (strong disagree). While these details may seem minor, I might not have noticed them otherwise.
Sometimes it seems like we spend so much time working through what’s wrong in our most important relationships, we forget how nice it feels to be reminded what we’re doing right. I don’t know if my marriage has been changed profoundly by using a couples app, but I can tell you I’m going to drag my heels on telling Tim I’ve finished writing this story.
About the author
Amye Archer, MFA, is the author of “Fat Girl, Skinny” and the coeditor of “If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings,” and her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction magazine, Longreads, Brevity, and more. Her podcast, “Gen X, This Is Why,” reexamines media from the ’70s and ’80s. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction and lives with her husband, twin daughters, and various pets in Pennsylvania.
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