I Tried a Couples Therapy App to ‘Train’ My Relationship—Here’s What I Learned

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For me, the idea of going to couples therapy conjures an image similar to that of the opening scene of the 2019 film Marriage Story—that is, two people either crying or yelling at one another in the presence of a professional who's trying to restore a state of health to their troubled relationship. That's not how it has to be, though. Rather, couples therapy can be used as a tool for relationship training, or maintaining the integrity of healthy and in tact happy partnerships. That's exactly the purpose of the Relish app.

Relish worked with relationship scientists to build its algorithm to provide an alternative to seeing a real-life couples therapist. "We use scientific measures to assess your current level of satisfaction and how secure you are, and take into account your attachment style and your relationship dynamic," says founder and CEO of the app, Lesley Eccles. Eccles adds that your relationship is no different than your physical health: Both need regular work in order to stay in tip-top shape, so even if you're in a totally fulfilling and healthy partnership, maintenance work is key. "You need to exercise to get your body into shape, and once it's in shape, you want to continue exercising to stay healthy," she says. "Relationships are the same, and Relish helps you to be mindful of your relationship every single day—that's the secret to long-term relationship health."

Your relationship is no different than your physical health: both need regular work in order to stay in tip-top shape.

With that in mind, Relish—which costs $15 a month—is meant for all romantic relationships, tension-filled and seemingly happy and healthy alike. I'm grateful to fall into the latter category at this time in my current relationship, which is why the notion of using the tool piqued my interest: I tend to think my relationship doesn't need much work (aside from tips to deal with my misophonia-related struggles that come with sleeping next to my beloved snoring boyfriend), so I wondered what the Relish app could offer me.

Eccles assures me that even if you're happy with your relationship, Relish holds the power to improve your partnership and boost your intimacy even more. Read: more intimacy, more communication, and more understanding, for starters. Below, find out what happened when I tried it for myself.

Here's what happened I used the Relish app to train my relationship.

Upon logging into the app, I'm tasked with answering an assortment of questions about things like my love language, what my relationship is like, and what I'm looking for. The answers to these questions help to customize my specific training plan. "These will be some of the typical questions that a relationship coach or therapist would ask you in a face-to-face session," says Eccles.

From there, I'm assigned an actual relationship coach (all of whom are accredited mental-health counselors, life coaches, and psychologists) who checks in with me and acts as my sounding board throughout the training. The actual lessons happen at the same time every single day, and are kind of like a homework assignment that you work through.

relish app review
Photo: Relish / Graphic: W+G Creative

Relish dubs its strategy as "micro-learning," which means you're doing a different exercise each day (kind of like physical training). My first lesson was about conversations, and how, when in the midst of a relationship, your conversations tend to become all logistical—as in, you mainly discuss your dog's bowel movements (guilty), your work schedule (yep), and what you're having for dinner (check), among other mundane, daily things that get in the way of real conversations. And so, I was instructed to think of three questions to ask my partner, David, about himself that I didn't already know the answer to.

I sat down with him and had a little chat, and then David did the same with me. We wound up learning new things about each other, which led us to feel more intimately connected. The next day, the Relish app asked me to take a bird's-eye view of the arguments David and I have had, and try and change the language used to be more general and less accusatory. (Think: avoiding phrasing like, "You always do this," and instead saying something like, "I feel like this happens.") "This is what makes a long-term relationship stick—you're learning small things each day," says Eccles. "And it means you're much more likely to stick with the plan over the long run."

"Learning to be mindful in your relationship is a skill that you constantly need to practice. —Lesley Eccles, founder and CEO of Relish

During my two weeks of trial-running the app, I found the lessons to be smart, and full of genuinely useful tips. That makes sense, considering that Eccles says that at the end of each week, the algorithm determines what your next week's worth of lessons will tackle. The on-hand coach helps, too. Mine, named Munni, considered the end-of-lesson notes that I submitted, and gave me specific new lessons based on the issues I told her I wanted to tackle.

"How you use the app is up to you—but learning to be mindful in your relationship is a skill that you constantly need to practice," says Eccles. And, based on my experience using the app, I'd say she's right.

BTW, here's how to maintain a relationship, according to couples that have been together for over 40 years. And be sure to take this passion in a relationship quiz to assess what to work on in your own. 

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