Serious About Love? Stop Treating Your Relationship Like A Game

Relationship Expert: Cell Phone Apps For Love

Can an app really keep you connected to your sweetie?

This guest article from PsychCentral was written by John M. Grohol, Psy. D.

As I've written countless times, a romantic relationship — even the best relationship — takes constant attention and work. It doesn't necessarily need to be hard work, but you do need to pay attention to your partner and to your relationship. Most relationships fail when one or both partners lose track of one another, or lose the ability to communicate clearly and openly with each other.

Along the trend of "Hey, let's gamify everything that's work to make it more fun and less like drudgery!" some folks have started publishing relationship cell phone apps. One popular relationship app has couples trying to keep their love tank full. But should your serious, romantic, long-term relationship become mere fodder for putting arbitrary metrics on scientifically-questionable concepts like a "love tank"?

A few weeks ago, Susie Neilson writing over at The Atlantic, explored this concept. Consumers respond very well to gamification in other sectors; businesses report increases in engagement by hundreds of percentage points when they gamify, for example.

Using gamification, Kahnoodle wants to make maintaining your relationship automatic and easy — as easy as tapping a button. Its options include sending push notifications to initiate sex; "Koupons" that entitle the bearer to redeemable movie nights and kinky sex, and, of course, the love tank, which fills or empties depending on how many acts of love you've logged.

"Novelty works like an endorphin," says Zuhairah Scott Washington, the company's founder. "Couples have a desire to go out and do something new, but oftentimes they're tired. The mobile app incorporates a lot of research on what makes relationships successful but gamifies it to make it fun, makes it fun to do the work required to keep relationships fresh."

How can something be novel if an app forces you to do it over and over again (e.g., refilling your love tank, sending coupons, scheduling dates)? But more importantly: what happens when you start objectifying things that, well, shouldn't be objectified — like your relationship?

Eli Finkel nails it on the head in the article: "Much of the benefit of doing considerate things is linked to the fact that those things required thoughtfulness and effort. Take the thoughtfulness out of the acts and they lose much of their meaning."

So while the app is trying to help your relationship by forcing you to focus on it on a day-to-day and week-to-week measure, it's actually taking away a lot of the qualities that are important to a long-term relationship's health and growth. You know, things like spontaneity and thoughtfulness. Thinking about your partner because you love and appreciate them is different than thinking about your partner because an app pings you to do so! After all, how thoughtful is it when the app reminds you to be, well, thoughtful toward your partner?

And if you need an app to remind you to engage in basic components of human social interaction, what does that say about the quality of your relationship to begin with? Neilson also talks to a psychologist who (and game theorist, so no surprise where his bias lies) that finds no problem with gamifying relationships. He explains how courtship is one big game, and then generalizes, using game theory to explain why men love the chase. "A male's willingness to court for a long time is a signal that he is likely to be a good mate…"

Of course, online dating is a far cry from your 20th anniversary. But the game of love is "still a game after decades of living together," Colman says. "It doesn't mean you're trivializing it."

No. No, it's not. There's no game of love in a 10-, 20-, or 30-year relationship. It's just plain old, honest, love at that point, and there's no chasing the other person around. You're not playing to try and "get" the other person — you've got them.

These apps are relationship crutches for people who believe they are too busy to care and nurture their own relationship; people who can't inherently remember to take the time to treat the most important person in his/her life as, well, the most important person!. In that manner, they're fine for what they are — a helper for two people who simply aren't all that involved in the relationship, or need that extra reminder to think of their partner once or twice a week.

Good relationships are partly defined by never taking one's partner for granted. And if such an app can help you not take your significant other for granted, well, I guess these apps can't be all that bad. (Okay. Yes they are.)

More relationship expert advice from YourTango

This article was originally published at PsychCentral. Reprinted with permission from the author.