Principles of successful relationships
The ability to create shared meaning with another person, learn another's inner psychological world, and create a foundation that facilitates the process of building a long-lasting relationship are a few of Dr. John Gottman’s keys to a successful relationship. However, as a byproduct of our increasing expectation for immediately available information and instant gratification, virtues like patience, curiosity, and compassion are left behind. This desire for instant gratification even seems to be the case in our most significant relationships. When Dr. Gottman started his research studies around improving couple relationships in the 1970s, only seven other studies on couple relationships existed at the time. Fast forward 45 years (and countless research studies later), we now have a more solid, measurable, and scientific sense of what makes relationships fail and what makes them flourish. Today, relationship-improving recommendations include spending significant time with your partner, simply enjoying each other’s company non-judgmentally, or learning more about each other. Despite these recommendations, with smartphones more powerful and distracting than ever, many couples seem to have a hard time detaching from their alternate social-media lives. This can lead to dissatisfaction and a weak foundation in relationships between partners.
However, although we often blame smartphones for being the cause of distraction or detachment from the living world around us, they may also hold some of the answers for this very problem.
When we think of the future of intimate relationships, what is in store? Will the next generation, the generation entering the world with smartphones in-hand, be able to cherish and nourish the beautiful nuances, intricacies, and complexities of human interaction within a significant relationship? Dr. Lonnie Barbach, cofounder of the Happy Couple app, had an idea. TheHumanBluPrint interviewed her (along with her three app cofounders, Julien Robert, Erin Johnson and Arnaud Le Merour) in November of 2015 to learn more. Dr. Barbach thought, if people are so busy now with extended work hours and constant stimulation and distractions, why not find a way to give couples the opportunity to learn about each other through their smartphones? So she created an app to provide couples with research-based, exploratory questions — requiring just five minutes a day.
How does the app work?
Once you and your significant other download the app, you get linked to each other, and then you fill in some basic information to get started. Every day, at 12:00 a.m., you both get prompted with a five-question quiz. These questions can span topics like recreation, sex, emotion, communication, and responsibilities. Each question first asks how you believe your partner would answer, and then how you would answer. You’re given four options to choose from with an additional free-form screen if the appropriate choice is missing. Not comfortable or ready to answer the question presented? You can skip it, you can state that you fear your partner’s reaction to your answer (sub-choice), or you can enter your own answer in a text box. When I first tested the app, it was in beta, and there was no text box. I felt forced to choose answers that didn’t ring entirely true. So, for me, the text box is a great addition, giving us the ability to “chat” within the app to reach better levels of understanding when we don’t necessarily agree with the answers or sub-choices.
As you answer questions, you get points based on answers matched with your partner in the different categories. The objective, though, is not to “win.” The couple gets a point for a correct match. Ultimately, the couple’s points carry them through to more advanced levels of the app, unlocking deeper questions. The latest version of the app even includes challenges that are offered when you get to a new level. An example of a challenge would be to “create a shared music playlist with your significant other”. You may come across challenges that you both already do but it’s neat to have a few extra ideas here and there to help remind us about the “little things”. Ultimately, the couple benefits from learning new information about each other and gaining a deeper understanding of one another. Of course, simply using the app isn’t going to guarantee relationship satisfaction. But, as the app encourages you to explore the answers to new questions that may not have been brought up yet, it can provide fresh and potentially beneficial topics for conversation, and also encourages effective “relationship checkups.”
My experience with the HC app
Personally, I have been using the Happy Couple app every single day now for almost five months. The ease and brevity of use facilitates a consistent routine, since my significant other and I have rather busy lives. Our free time together usually comes down to a few hours during weekdays and one solid day over the weekend. While the questions that Happy Couple offers don’t tend to be mind-blowing or super philosophical, they definitely allow us to talk about themes or topics that could possibly be ignored due to personal sensitivities. Mind you, if the question is too heavy for either of us, we have the option to not answer at that time. Happy Couple allows for us to explore and debate hypothetical situations well before that particular situation can catch us off guard. After just five months of using the app, when situations that resemble the app’s hypotheticals come up, we can easily smile at each other and say, “Oh, this was a Happy Couple questions a few weeks back!”
An example of a tough topic we preemptively tackled head on was the idea of one partner being presented with the opportunity of a desirable job or schooling opportunity out of state, demanding a move. For us, further schooling is something that has always been in the back of both of our minds. It’s always fun to contemplate the idea of pursuing advanced degrees — brain sciences for me, or music research for her. But what if these opportunities came to be a reality one day? Do the floodgates just simply open all at once leaving the other person in utter confusion? The conversation this topic sparked highlighted the importance of being open with each other about where our passions may one day take us. Of course, we can’t predict the future, but allowing ourselves to let go of the fear that your partner may doubt your commitment to the relationship may help in the long run. The “what if” that sometimes holds people back from sharing their inner worlds can truly come back to haunt them down the road. If my significant other and I can prevent surprise scenarios by way of openly discussing them, then the less likely these hypothetical situations are to derail us. We’ve been able to elicit wonderfully productive and foundation-fortifying conversations from many, not all, of the questions that Happy Couple asks. Interestingly enough, this level of relationship building, within the context of this app, really only takes us five minutes a day.
Even for us, two people who wouldn’t claim to be constantly glued to our phones day in and day out (unless maybe I’m posting some HumanBluPrint Instagram shots!), Happy Couple is a great deal of fun and has opened up conversation that might have taken years to get to, had it not been prompted for us. While some of these topics can be nerve wracking when first discussed (marriage, children, fears, past relationships, etc.), our understandings of each other’s world perspectives continue to reach new heights each time we discuss our “matched” or “mismatched” answers.
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