It’s not that my relationship is on the brink of collapse. I’d say that as relationships go, mine is generally smooth sailing. But 2020 is a cruel mistress. Covid has been a deal-breaker for the strongest of unions, with a poll suggesting that 23 per cent of couples feel their relationship is under pressure since lockdown started — and 36 per cent are arguing more.
For me, it was a squabble about an overfilled cafetière on month three of lockdown with my boyfriend that rapidly turned into a full-blown argument over jobs, money and “where our future was going”. It was as if lockdown had propelled our relationship 15 years into the future — I was shocked at how serious we had become about everything, and the cafetière was soon forgotten.
Of course, since then we’ve made up. But every relationship needs a little TLC, especially when you’re sharing a one-bedroom flat during the highs and (many) lows of 2020. My coupled-up friends are in similar positions, one particularly awkward example being a quarantine break-up leading to a month of him sleeping on the sofa, and separately designated fridge shelves.
Luckily, a split doesn’t have to be on the cards. More and more people are now turning to their phone for solace — and not to reinstall Hinge. From soothing support forums to saucy instant messaging services, relationship apps are promising to be the new form of emergency-access couples therapy for millennials. And, after seven months of gruelling London lockdown with my boyfriend of six years, I’m willing to put them to the test.
The name sounded promising. Strength, stability, enduring love: I logged on. It started off well, with a preliminary quiz to score your relationship and work out areas for improvement. Questions were based on a sliding scale of “how satisfied are you with…” ranging from empathy and commitment to daily chores and quality time. Apparently, my boyfriend and I needed to work on our communication. I took that on board.
One of its main features is an “emotional bank account”, where you can deposit relationship points to your other half. I ended up being overly generous, awarding 100 points for a “nice smile”. Barney wasn’t so enthusiastic, so far awarding me a measly 20 points with no reason attached. Maybe we do need to work on our communication.
There’s also a “relationship pulse” to chart how you’re feeling day to day — which is not my cup of tea, but bearable. Then I got onto the “relationship messages”; pre-made e-cards to send to your loved one that ranged from boring to plain weird. “We are getting too old for fighting. How about we make up by mud wrestling naked?” one says.
Sorry, LifeCouple — you’ve lost me there. Still, if you’re truly lost for words with your partner and want some easy — albeit strange — text prompts, this could be the app for you.
Best for: when you want to make your partner hate you even more by sending cringeworthy e-cards.
This was definitely my favourite of the apps, using the five love languages to suggest activities and goals for you and your partner. To determine your “love language”, you begin with a “would you rather” quiz, deciding between an act of service, gifts, quality time, words of affirmation and physical touch. Surprisingly, my and my boyfriend’s “languages” were almost identical: we both prioritise quality time and words of affirmation. You can then set yourself goals accordingly, ranging from “praise creative efforts” to “secret handshake” or “pat head”. It’s essentially a categorised to-do list for your relationship, and I for one love it. It’s even made its way into everyday parlance for me and my boyfriend; “Nudge wouldn’t be very happy with that,” my boyfriend said yesterday,
after I ignored him to look through Instagram. He was right. It’s the app that both Barney and I would continue to use and appreciate, if just for the satisfaction of completing our tasks for the day.
Best for: people who love lists as much as I do.
This was the first app we downloaded in my quest for relationship harmony, and it took some persuading for my boyfriend to do the same. Between sells itself as “a couples-only app where you can communicate romantically and store precious memories”. Unfortunately, it didn’t get a good response in my household. “This app is horrid,” Barney messaged me immediately. I was inclined to agree: it’s glitchy and slow to load — but it is very, very cute. The idea is that you can upload pictures as “stories”, set as a backdrop with love hearts swirling around, and message each other vomit-inducing stickers of teddy bears having a snuggle: it’s almost like a private social media platform just for the two of you. The most functional part of the app is inputting your anniversary and birthdays — sorry, guys, but there is something called a calendar which already does that.
Best for: sending each other endearing stickers of mochi. Not much else.
Relish was the app with which I had the least amount of fun — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Designed for couples who are seeking real relationship counselling, you are assigned an IRL coach upon logging in — not a chat-bot — who will then answer your specific worries and questions. I’m still awaiting a text message back from mine. Listen, Relish, if I wanted to spend days compulsively checking my phone, I’d start dating again. There’s also a portal for lessons and walk-throughs in how to improve your relationship with your partner, from how to rebuild intimacy to tips on getting over an affair. I would love it, if I were married and had two children and a mortgage riding on it. Alas, I am a spritely 25-year-old with no responsibilities. Hurrah.
Best for: people who take things seriously, unlike me.
Would I say Desire is an appropriate replacement for relationship therapy? Probably not. Do I get a huge amount of enjoyment from it anyway? Yes I do. Desire is essentially a game of dares between you and your partner, ranging from “mild” to “chili”.
The more dares you achieve, the more spice you are able to add, with themes including “horoscope dares” and, my personal favourite, “mythology” — although Barney rejected my “Zeus and Leda” dare of wearing a towel as a toga and having a pillow fight. I just can’t work out why.
Best for: keeping your relationship light-hearted — or when you’re feeling overconfident after three G&Ts.