Do Relationship Apps Work?

Stressful and uncertain times can impact us in a number of ways - including our mental health, work performance, friendships and, you guessed it, relationships. Many couples have been uniquely challenged by lockdown and the associated stressors - and being confined in close quarters with a partner you may not be used to seeing 24/7 can bring relationship issues to a head.

Fortunately for us, we live in a time where relationship help is available in a number of different ways. In the past, relationship issues might fester away and eventually result in emergency sessions with an expensive and unsympathetic relationship counselor. The counselor might ask the obvious question, ‘Why did you wait so long before getting help?’ For many couples, the idea of getting help for their relationship seemed like a last resort: and the idea of talking to a stranger about these issues wasn’t too appealing.

In recent years, however, with the introduction of relationship apps and the explosion of relationship advice articles and information available online, the idea of reaching out for help for relationship issues BEFORE reaching breaking point has become dramatically more normalized. And just as we are more comfortable asking doctors about symptoms via apps or video conferencing, couples are becoming more comfortable with using apps to get some help for their relationship.

One relationship app that is used to improve relationships over time is Relish - developed to be a ‘relationship training’ app, it brings together some of the key elements of relationship therapy (evidence-based interventions, education about important topics) with solution-focused Coaching and a peer support forum. These components work together to allow couples the chance to work on specific issues (eg. communication, trust) and to learn about how to improve their relationship and also share with others what has helped them.

Below are the answers to some questions you might have about using technology such as Relish to help with your relationship - and whether it is the right time for you to try it for yourself (spoiler alert: it probably is!):

What are some of the benefits of technology-based relationship coaching such as Relish?

Fifteen years ago, we probably wouldn’t have believed it if someone said that we’d be using our phones to manage most parts of our lives - from our sleep, dating, exercise, entertainment and social. As we’ve learned, the benefits of using coaching apps include accessibility (they are literally next to us all the time), ease of use (they are usually designed for optimal user experience), cost (apps are usually less expensive than the real thing, mainly due to their ability to scale to their audience) and privacy (most technology is guided by strict data privacy guidelines). This certainly applies to Relish: it has been designed to capture all the great things about face to face relationship counselling, but distilled into a far more accessible format that anyone can use.

Members particularly enjoy being able to reach out to their coach at any time (rather than needing to wait a week between sessions), being able to engage in Coaching and lessons even if their partner isn’t on board, and having access to a huge library of lessons on areas such as communication, trust, sex and self esteem.

As well as Coaching, Relish also offers a peer support forum called Connect. Connect is a safe and supportive forum where people can post their relationship questions or stories, and others comment or share advice. Research tells us that peer support is helpful for a number of reasons, and having the opportunity to be part of a like-minded, supportive community can have a major impact on our emotional health and how we manage our relationships.

Just like we might use other apps to improve the parts of our lives that we’ve decided are important to us (eg. health and fitness, mental health, budgeting), many Relish members use it as an ongoing relationship improvement tool - something that helps them to be better partners and approach relationship issues differently, with real progress being seen over time. Since it is far less expensive than face to face coaching, it is possible to use it over a longer term, and to do a deep dive into areas in the relationship that you feel might be really impacting long term happiness.

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What Theory is Relish Based On?

If you’ve ever done any relationship counselling, you’ll know that there are a number of theories that are used to help with relationships. The theory that underpins Relish is Attachment Theory, which is one of the most widely recognized frameworks for understanding how we function in our relationships with others. According to Attachment Theory, the way that we relate to others is based on our early experiences in life, and the quality of our relationships with our caregivers at that time (as well as, to a lesser extent, our personalities).

As adults we can see those early attachment styles playing out in our relationships - for example, if I am anxiously attached, I might worry incessantly about whether my partner truly loved me and was planning to break up - if I had dismissing attachment, I might find it hard to express affection and emotions, and shut down when I sense conflict.

These attachment styles are mainly determined by how available our caregivers were during childhood, and how secure we felt in their ability to care for us and validate our feelings and emotions. This forms a template for future relationships, and often determines whether we feel comfortable and safe around others, or whether we might feel stressed, anxious or fearful. They also go beyond our romantic relationships, and into how we might feel about friends and work colleagues.

One of the best things about using Attachment Theory as a base is how well it explains a lot of the challenges we see in adult relationships - often the combination of people’s attachment styles (Eg. anxious and dismissing) means that both people, while caring deeply for each other, have different needs from their partner - and this needs to be negotiated and understood.

Often simply understanding their individual and their partner’s attachment style allows for a change in behavior and a reframing of conflicts and arguments. This may not necessarily be conscious, but more emotional - and understanding that this is to do with our attachment style is important as well.

One aim of Relish is to help people move from insecure attachment towards secure attachment - through self-awareness and behavior change, to move beyond these old patterns of relating to their partner, and start to re-learn security and stability. Beyond that, people will also be able to improve their communication, intimacy, trust, happiness in the relationship and level of connection - resulting in more closeness and less conflict.

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What Can Couples Expect From Relish?

When members sign up to Relish, they are asked a number of questions to establish their own and their partner’s attachment style, as well as other things such as goals for the relationship. Based on these, they are assigned lessons each week target specific areas - for example, if I selected Communication, Security, Sex and Fun & Friendship as areas I wanted to work in, I’d receive lessons in those areas (as an aside, the lessons are short and engaging, and can be shared with a partner if there is relevant information in them).

In their first week, members are introduced to their Coach, who is able to see their information such as their attachment style and their goals. They work together with their Coach to address issues that are coming up in the relationship, and often the Coach will recommend lessons based on the person’s feedback about how things are going, or how much they enjoyed previous lessons. For some people, a weekly check-in with their Coach is enough contact, whereas for others it might be useful to work with them on a daily basis - this really depends on the person and their needs.

Couples are encouraged to share lessons and journal entries with each other, with the idea that even though Relish is confidential (ie. you can’t see your partner’s messages to their Coach), it is really valuable to share with your partner what you are learning and your thoughts about the relationship. Many people describe an ‘aha’ moment that explains some of the biggest challenges in their relationship - or give them an idea for how to deal with an issue that has felt impossible.

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Success Stories

One of the greatest things about Relish is how much members love it - it is highly reviewed in the app store and members regularly participate in user interviews with the developers of Relish to discuss how it has helped, and why this might have been. Below are some of the success stories from members who have used Relish, either alone or with their partner.

Taylor - Relish has just sparked everything. From the first lesson, we’ve felt such a shift in our relationship. We get pulled in such different directions in our daily life that many days will go by without us prioritizing our relationship… and that’s okay, I think that’s just how it goes. But we have an app whose job it is to remind us about our relationship, to check in, to communicate, to try something new, to be more mindful, to be more grateful – is absolutely amazing.

Relish has pushed me outside my comfort zone. I’ve never tried therapy or really ever read self-help stuff, so I’m a total amateur. Therefore, anything they suggest typically makes me uncomfortable. But getting comfortable being uncomfortable has been a great challenge for me. Every lesson I get makes me want to work for my relationship. It’s like if this was a fitness app, the lessons are the equivalent of like, motivational videos. I just feel like I can do anything, I feel the support from the app and the community, and I feel more confident in my ability to improve myself and my marriage.

Jed - The way I use Relish in my everyday life is like if something just happened, say we butted heads or got in an argument, there aren’t a lot of things that can help me in the moment. I’m thinking a million things, like ‘Did I miss something? Can we fix it?’ and then it’ll hit me: Oh wow there was something I read on Relish a couple weeks ago and that will help me out in this situation. Just having the library of resources to look back on is a huge advantage. Having that everyday kind of reminder is the same as seeing a number on the scale if you’re trying to lose weight: it keeps it top of mind, it holds you accountable, and it gives you easy, customized ways to keep moving towards your goal.

Anna - Another thing I love about Relish is having the weekly check-in with my coach. I always, always update her on how we’re doing, or just thoughts about our relationship, lessons I’ve liked, areas I want to focus on, etc, and she always responds with great insight and support. A lot of times she’ll assign me certain lessons that help with what I was telling her about, just giving me more depth in a particular area.

We just realized that something doesn’t need to be wrong in order for you to want to work on your relationship. It’s okay to be really happy and to ensure that you will keep being happy. We think Relish is just a revolutionary app and it’s just made everything a little smoother. We still know it’s healthy and OK to argue but I just feel like we deal with things with more love and patience now and it’s so productive. Relish is just so full of insights and advice it’s impossible not to improve.

(check out more success stories on our website).

As you can see, relationship coaching apps like Relish have a lot to offer. For many people there can be some hesitation about engaging with an app for something as important and personal as their relationship, and this is understandable - often we can feel like seeing someone face to face will be more personalised and tailored. It is good to remember, however, that the support you get in Relish - from Coaching to lessons - is tailored specifically for your goals and attachment style - and has been tested to ensure that it is the best possible content for you - and so is likely to result in some positive changes in the relationship.

The approach of working on your relationship bit by bit, week by week, is also a helpful one - rather than waiting for a crisis or argument, investing some time and attention into improving and strengthening the connection between yourself and your partner. Just like we are proactive with things like our physical and mental health, weight and fitness, we can see our relationship as something that will grow and flourish if we nurture and attend to it over time, and not just on special occasions or in moments of crisis.

If you’re thinking about trying this for yourself, Relish offers a 7-day free trial for members to test out Coaching and explore the app themselves. Claim your free trial today.

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