Tim, a property developer in his late 40s, was about to go into a meeting when he received a text from his wife of 20 years.
“I really enjoyed our meal together last night,” it said. Tim was puzzled. Thirty seconds later, another ‘ping’. “In fact, I really love being married to you.” Unused to hearing compliments from his wife, Tim’s immediate response was that something dreadful had happened.
He texted back: “Are you dying?”
Lesley Eccles, CEO and founder of Relish, an app she is launching in the UK, laughs as she relays this story, which she heard in a marketing focus group. “This just shows how far a marriage can fall,” she says. “It’s been so long since you gave your partner a compliment, that they think something terrible has happened when you do.”
Relish is not a dating app, but technology aimed at those already in an established relationship. Eighty-six per cent of users have been with their partner for more than two years; and 10pc for over two decades. “Subscribers are given a scientifically-backed relationship training plan as well as unlimited one-to-one access to a qualified coach,” explains Eccles (46).
The idea is that you and your partner join up together (though you can do it alone), and work through a series of jolly but informative quizzes and tasks on your mobile phone, such as listing three things you noticed about your partner when you first met them — a trick to rekindle that initial romance. One quiz teaches ‘emotionally positive listening,’ which includes really taking time to hear what your partner is saying, rather than planning your response in your head, or looking for a solution. The app also gives pep talks, including the nugget that “people in long-term relationships are happier than those who aren’t as eager to commit.”
Relish was born from Eccles’s own bitter experience. She met her husband Nigel almost 25 years ago and in the mid-2010s, they set up FanDuel, a fantasy gaming app (which came to be valued at $1bn and was the biggest advertiser at the 2015 Superbowl). But problems around regulation and competition ensued, and in 2016 the Eccles and their three children moved to Westchester, New York to oversee the company’s merger with Paddy Power and Betfair. After a few months’ recovery, Eccles found she ached to work on something new.
The stress had seen her turn “to self-help books and Google on how to keep our marriage together, but I wasn’t ready to go to spend the time or money on couples’ counselling.” At the same time, Eccles’s sister and several close friends were going through divorces. Eccles felt that ‘midlifers’ — with the baggage of children, senior careers, perhaps in new relationships after a marriage split — needed guidance, rather than “looking around and thinking, ‘Is this all I have left?’” Relish is less about fixing something that’s broken, she says, and more about keeping it healthy in the first place. “You don’t hit the gym when you reach 25 stone. You take steps to lose weight before you hit that point.”
As for the content itself, “everything has a basis in a study or research” including elements from John Bowlby, the psychoanalyst behind Attachment Theory, and therapist Esther Perel. The app has six coaches, who promise a texted response within 48 hours — “a bit like a tailored reply from an agony aunt,” says Eccles. “Our coaches will answer your questions, or point you in the direction of relevant activities and lessons elsewhere on the app.” She insists that Relish is not designed to replace therapy (coaches have been known to refer users if a problem seems too fundamental), but rather to avoid the need for it in the first place.
Since its US launch in September, Relish’s user base has grown 40pc month on month. Midlifers are the fastest-growing users of technology, with three quarters of 55-75-year-olds owning a smartphone — which they can now use to spice up their relationship of decades. “Each partner has to ‘show up’ every day as if they are still dating,” says Eccles. “But you both have to be passionate about changing the script of your relationship. Complacency is a killer.”
1. Diversify the relationship
Ensure you both have a solid network of relationships and connections with other people.
2. Do new things
Find experiences together that take you out of your familiar territory and create energy and curiosity.
3. Take risks
Confidence comes not before you take the risk but from taking the risk itself.
4. Find a balance
Recognise the necessary calibration between security and adventure, between stability and change, between knowing what to hold on to and knowing where to go and explore.
5. Know what needs to be said…
And what needs to not be said. Or what needs to be said, but maybe to somebody else. Understand when honesty as confession is caring, and when it is cruel.
6. Give your relationship an MOT
Like cars, relationships need regular evaluations. The idea that you buy a car and 20 years later, it's just going to continue automatically on its own is ridiculous.
7. Consider your priorities
Especially work life versus home life. Don't take the best of yourself to work and only ever take the leftovers home.
8. Go to bed without your phone
Touch is so important, but you shouldn't be stroking your phone last thing at night.