ERP 357: How Technology Impacts Intimacy In Relationship — An Interview With Tim Johnson

By Posted in - Podcast January 31st, 2023 0 Comments

Are you constantly checking your phone while spending time with your partner? Do you find yourself spending more time on social media than connecting with your significant other? 

Technology has drastically changed the way we interact and communicate in our relationships. From social media to dating apps, technology has greatly impacted the way we form and maintain intimacy in our relationships. But what exactly are the effects of technology on intimacy?

In this episode, we will dive into the research and explore the positive and negative impacts of technology on intimacy in relationships, from how it can enhance connection and communication to how it can lead to feelings of disconnection and dissatisfaction.

Join us as we uncover the truth about how technology is shaping the way we connect with our loved ones.Tim Johnson is the founder and CEO of Couply, which is an app for couples. Couply has helped over 250,000 people build better relationships.

Prior to that, he was with Wattpad, which was an app that helped writers share their books, which grew to 100 million monthly users and was acquired by Naver for 660 million.

Tim also spent 10x years in the Red Cross, in various programs from, helping reunite families separated by war and conflict, to supporting bullying prevention in youth.

In this Episode

6:16 An app that helps people navigate and sustain healthy relationships inspired by his personal experience and heartache.

12:49 How technology is impacting the relationship space: Insights from a study of 1500 couples.

21:07 Social media algorithms and their psychological impact, including the infinite scroll feature and how it can lead to people becoming distracted and spending more time on their phones than intended.

26:05 The conversation of trust and boundaries in the digital age. 

35:44 The pressure of presenting a perfect relationship on social media and its negative effects on mental health.

41:52 How technology can be helpful for relationships and self-discovery: the importance of discussing both the positive and negative aspects.

44:30 Virtual reality and long-distance relationships.

51:03 The power of the enneagram app.

57:30 Tim explains how the Kupple app gamifies the relationship-building process and makes it more convenient for couples to connect.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Set clear boundaries and communicate them to your partner, including limits on phone and screen time and acceptable communication and behavior.
  • Make a conscious effort to spend quality time together, disconnecting from technology and focusing on each other.
  • Practice active listening and open communication, being present and expressing thoughts and feelings in a respectful manner.
  • Seek resources and support for building and maintaining healthy relationships.
  • Address any addictive behaviors related to technology, such as constantly checking social media.
  • Prioritize self-care and self-awareness in relation to technology use, taking breaks and practicing mindfulness.
  • Incorporate technology in a positive and meaningful way, such as video calls or shared playlists.

Mentioned

EEP 255: How to Deal with Problems Related to Social Media in Relationship – An Interview with Dr. Marisa T. Cohen

Sharing Resources (*Google form)

Connect with Tim Johnson

Websites: couply.io

Instagram: instagram.com/tigertimj/?hl=en | instagram.com/couplyapp/?hl=en

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Tim, thank you for joining us today. I’m so excited to have this conversation with you.

Thank you, what a pleasure and honor it is to be here! I so appreciate you having me on.

Yes. I know we’re going to be discussing technology and relationship and some of the dynamics that we can bring more awareness and consciousness to how technology impacts us and our relationships. Before we pivot to that, I know that you’ve shared with me a little bit when we had our call several weeks ago in just preparation for this, around what prompted you to even be interested in this topic.

Yeah, absolutely. So my journey into relationship and relationship technology has been really, I think, an interesting one. I had to go through a real whole self-discovery. That process really began for me when I worked and helped build an app with a company that was really early on, and this app grew and grew and grew. It was called Wattpad, and it’s an app for readers and writers. We had this amazing experience of watching the app grow and grow and grow. 

While that was happening, my personal life was doing the inverse. So I was married, and I was going through really hard relationship troubles. We went to counseling, couples therapy. But we didn’t make it, and we ended up getting a divorce. I mean, on the whole thing, like the scale of how bad divorces can get. My sister is a divorce lawyer here in London, so I know they can get pretty bad. But we had a really great divorce. But it’s still devastating. At that point, I was living in Canada. I had to move back to England to my parents, and really start everything again. But as I started to look at the dating apps and try those out, and eventually get to the space where I was ready to have another relationship after doing a lot of work and self-exploration, I was really struck by the thought that there are so many apps that help people get into relationship, why not an app that helps you stay in a relationship. That is where the genesis for Couply came from, which is how I got into the relationship tech space and how I ended up having this conversation.

Thank you. It sounds like it was really from your own experience and seeing a need, that you couldn’t find what you were looking for, personally, to assist in cultivating a healthy relationship or a relationship that had the sustainability or that you could set up for success, if you will. I know that’s so dismissive maybe of your first marriage. But it sounds like with the devotion and the commitment to the startup and the app that you and others were creating and had great success, sometimes, and I think a lot of people felt this with COVID, when there’s external stressors, that sometimes we unconsciously expect that our relationship has its own flame that’s burning, and that it’s got its resources. So sometimes not only with the external stressors, it can also show us where the areas of weakness are, because the tension and the pressure is put on. So I appreciate what you’re saying.

I think you talk about this a lot. I was definitely in the trap of like, “Relationships just work, right? You don’t need to have to work on them, these are just things that happen.” I think as I started to really look into why things didn’t work, I think when you go back to square one, and you’re having to press this reset button on your entire life, you can’t help but look back and be like, why did that not work? I think once I’d had some distance from it, and a little bit less of the emotions around it, you could look at it with a bit more of an analytical lens. I truly didn’t really know at that point that relationship skills could be taught, they’re something that need to be practiced, you’re going to be working on this for the rest of your life, your relationships have the biggest impact in your life, and this is something that takes regular practice. As I started to realize that, I was definitely of the mind of like, “Wow, I work in tech, I build products, that’s what I do. This needs to be your tech product.” That was definitely how I looked at things. 

Thank you for sharing that, the journey that you’ve been on and recognizing the importance. I similarly share, in that same sentiment and my own experience in relationship, having almost a rude awakening around what I was confronted with, what it required of me. It spawned really my interest in deep diving into this topic myself and devoting my career to it, and I still recognize how critical it is to continue the practice as you described. So I love that. 

Okay, thank you. That gives us a little bit of a backdrop of where you’re coming from. Not only bringing success in the tech world, but really this interest and really seeing a need in the greater community for an app that supports healthy relating, nurturing the long-term relationship and the skills and the things and the practices. 

So before we turn towards that, I am interested, you talked a bit with me about some research that you did around technology. You were excited about the findings that came out, and I’d love to start there. Unless you have something else you would like to bring in here.

So we’ve been doing quite a bit of research. It’s one of the coolest things, we have this community of almost very, very close to 300,000 people that have downloaded the app. So part of that is we work with this community and generate new insights. I think some of the things around the way that technology has played in the relationship space is so interesting to us, and it’s been so amazing working with our community to understand their challenges. This is what we have to do. Technology is constantly shifting and changing, and the challenges that couples are facing is constantly shifting and changing. 

So part of what we looked into one of the studies, and we’ve done several, but one of the ones that I think is quite interesting, and it’s quite juicy to talk about, which is good, is around trust. Trust and technology, and how technology is impacting trust for couples? So we interviewed 1,500 Couply members, and they shared with us how their trust has been impacted. Firstly, they said that 60% of them has had their partner break their trust in some form at some point. But 70% of those people said that social media played a role in reducing trust in their partners. As we began to dive into both the data and the research, it was kind of obvious. It’s pretty interesting, it’s kind of what you expect. But the big one, 30% came from lying, catching their partner in a lie, and then 20% was sketchy or inappropriate phone usage. 

Now this actually had a pretty wide gamut, and I’d definitely want to talk about some of these things with you. Because I’m really curious how you’re seeing these things in your practice and with your clients as well. As we got deeper into what our users were talking about, two main things came up that we were really surprised and weren’t expecting. We’re kind of getting right into it now.

Let’s go. I actually do have one quick question before we go there. Can you describe the typical user, just so people are understanding fully?

Yeah, absolutely. Our users are typically between the ages of 25 and 45, and the majority of them are in the US. This accent is from the UK, other than that, we’re focused on the US. So hopefully that all makes sense. On the whole, our audience scores their relationship, and most of them scored their relationship like a 6/6 when we gave them like, how happy you are in your relationship. So these are really happy couples. Most of them are looking at Couply as a way of continuing to strengthen that bond and to build these healthy relationship habits that you do every day. So that’s a little bit more about them. Does that answer your question? I think so.

Yes, thank you. Then you were going to share two things, and I’d love to hear those.

Okay. The first thing that we saw a lot about was likes on Instagram. This came up a lot as we spoke to people. 

Free Enamored young Hispanic couple in warm casual clothes smiling and touching cheeks while taking selfie on mobile phone standing on street Stock Photo

“So people have different social media rules and boundaries, and like many things, these remain often unsaid until it’s a problem, and then it comes up.”

I really want your perspective on this, I’m really excited to see what you think. But I’m a Millennial, and I think we look at Instagram and social media in quite a different way. Some of the younger folks we have working at Couply are Gen Z, and for them, this is like a living, breathing element of your personality. This is like a living, breathing document almost. That if their partner is liking another person’s picture, they see it as an absolutely massive problem, this is like a deep thing. They’re doing this for a reason, what is it? Or why are they doing it? It’s just a very, very interesting space. So I’m really curious if you’re seeing any of this in your clients, or in the work that you’re doing as well around this liking and social media, what’s an appropriate like and what’s not?

Well, I will say, it’s not a heavy focus. I’m usually focusing on the dynamics around what gets activated in the couple’s dance. Although, there’s usually triggers, so that can occur. The way that I’m hearing you describe the agreements or rules of engagement that the couple decides upon, as far as social media, often that’s not discussed. I agree with you that many times, when we’re entering into relationship, we don’t get explicit about these types of things, or maybe we don’t even know the landscape or what we’re going to even feel like. Like, I didn’t intend to feel jealous, or I didn’t intend to feel threatened. 

Although, what does get activated, I think, is really great material to look at and work with, because it’s making visible. Where if we’re at a party with a significant other and we can visibly see them talking to certain people, we might get interested, maybe innocently, or maybe there might be some probing and checking for safety, as far as like, “I saw you talking to that person for a really long time.” So it’s visible. Where in social media, it feels like it’s a personal thing in some sense, but it’s so public, so it’s making it much more public and visible. Thus, the partner, depending on their lens around what social media means and how one’s using it, some people dabble, some people are like, “This is an expression, and I take a lot of care in the social media.” Obviously, depending on many factors, like you mentioned around generation and where people are at. 

I got very, very curious about this, because it wasn’t something that I had thought of. Really, this isn’t something I had put a lot of thought on, like, which pictures you like and don’t. I wanted to do just a little bit more research into this. So as we started to speak to more of our users, we kind of noticed that there was definitely that dynamic. We definitely saw more of our female users have a problem with what our male users were liking, and our male users, this is in heterosexual relationships, tended to have more of a problem of what our female users were posting. So that was the dynamic that we saw, just a little bit of a gender difference there in our heterosexual relationships, which was interesting too. 

When we spoke to some of our male users about this, I was like, “Hey, I’m really, really curious why you like, what images prompt you to like what on Instagram?” The reasons were so diverse, they were so wide, and it was still very interesting. So some guys like every picture. They’re like, “Oh, I just like every picture on my feed. I was like, “Well, that’s interesting. How come? They said, “Well, because I know that some people put a lot effort into their pictures, and it makes them feel good. So I just like everything.” That’s cool. Other people are like, “Oh, I liked that picture because I thought it was really sexy.” I was like, interesting. I think there wasn’t much thought around the wider, like socio dynamic around that.

Or what it would be conveying.

Exactly, what it would be conveying, which was interesting. Then there was sort of like a third bucket that were like, “Oh, it’s an ex, so I’m liking that picture so that people don’t think that I’m not liking it.” So it’s like, you start to play the social dynamics. Then the final thing was like, “Well, I know I get tension from my partner if I’m liking other people’s pictures, so it kind of keeps them on their toes,” which is then moving on to a bit of a problem area. Game playing, that’s not great. So it was very, very interesting seeing the different dynamics at play. Some of these things might be a simple conversation, and others are not. So there was a wide range of responses just in that one single, tiny area.

No kidding! I can tell my curiosity, because as a technology app developer, I understand there’s a lot of algorithms that go into this. So it’s not like a totally neutral space around what’s being presented.

Exactly. The more likes and engagement things get, the higher they get up the feed, the more they get promoted, and the more that they’re seen and viewed. On TikTok specifically, the algorithm really is around pushing these performance posts. With Instagram, you’ve got a curated feed mostly, it was like that previously, of our friends and acquaintances. But now with Tik Tok, you’re just getting pushed. If you’re a content creator, your life can be changed literally overnight with one good lip-syncing video, dance video. Think about those dynamics in your relationship as well, if suddenly you are famous and you’re getting all this attention and optionality that might not have existed before. Like, this can be a challenging time as well. The more that people engage, the higher it raises, the more people it gets exposed to. Jessica, me and my co-founder re-onboarded onto Tik Tok, I think around 15 times, just to test their onboarding, and they push the racy stuff; they push the twerking, they push the dancing, they push the racy stuff. We saw it so much, and we were onboarding as a new user every time. So we were like, “Wow, there’s a very sexual element that they really push, especially as you’re onboarding into that.” That was really interesting.

You might be able to help with this too, and I know we’re getting a little technical here. I just understand that a lot of the ways in which the software is developed, is utilizing people’s psychology around their attention and engaging. So yes, of course sex is going to be something compelling. So often, people are like, “I pick up my phone to do something, and I get distracted, and then I’ve just spent all this time. I’m like, I didn’t even mean to do that, where did I go?” So you find yourself in places that you didn’t intend, and It’s just this whole cycle. Is there anything you want to say about that, first off?

Free Happy Couple Sitting on the Bed Stock Photo

“The infinite scroll is something that you have to watch for, where you go into this hole, and you end up just scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. It’s like any tool, you have to keep an eye on how you’re using it and keep an eye on its effect on you, and also keep an eye on the fact that we’re humans that exist in the real world.”

Like, you see people that sit together, and everyone is just scrolling on their phone. Maybe that’s fun when you’re just wanting to chill. But I’m sure you get this complaint that partners are being ignored because one partner is just on their phone. 

I remember being on vacation in Morocco, and me and my brother were on this brother trip; we sat in a nice hotel, did surfing, did writing, it was great. There was a couple that we saw that would sit near us often, and the male, the dude was just hunched over while they’re eating, just scrolling. Just on his phone, hunched over on his phone, shoveling food into his mouth. His partner was all dressed up, her posture was up, and she was looking around at the room. You just thought, “Wow, that’s so sad. You’re eating dinner together. Like, really? Is this how the world is becoming?” I talked to one of my interns about this, and she said, “Oh, well, my boyfriend is an iPad kid. So he can’t actually eat well unless he’s watching a video on his phone.” I was like, “I’m so sorry, you’re telling me he can’t eat unless there’s a video playing on his phone?” She’s like, yeah. I’m like, what are we doing to these kids, is this real? So there’s going to be challenges. I don’t know where the research is, I believe I read some research here that said that it was having some pretty negative effects. But it looks like you’ve looked into this as well. 

Well, I just am naming, and I know we could defer to this. But I’m just naming there’s a lot of compelling ways in which the devices themselves, and also the software and technology that we’re engaging with, that it’s really hooking us; there’s a lot of pool, there’s a lot of draw, it’s compelling. So just the awareness around that. 

Then when we’re talking about relationship, what’s interesting is when you’re talking about a partner viewing their partner’s social media, or even how they’re using their phone, it seems sketchy, and as it relates to trust. I think back in the day when cell phones were a little bit more new, it was kind of like, that’s your personal device. I mean, there’s etiquette, and obviously, every couple is different; some couples look at each other’s phones. But most of the time, it’s like, you wouldn’t just go on to your partner’s email. Or maybe again, some couples do. But again, for the most part, the majority of people think, it’s like your diary or your personal thing, it’s your purse or your wallet or something. It’s your personal space. Yet, when there’s engagement in social media, that’s very public. 

So again, if we’re not being conscientious about how we do that, and it’s being made visible, that does bring material for your partner to wonder and have inquiry around, or to your point, actually find out information. Like, “Wait a second, I don’t know that we talked about this. Or wait a second, you told me this, and it looks like that. Or you didn’t tell me this at all, and I think you’re lying or you’re cheating, or something else.”

Absolutely, and the boundaries of cheating is a sliding scale. This was going to be the second point, is that what we saw so many people talk about, and it was such a shame we’ve discovered this afterwards, and I almost want to do more inquiry into this. But it’s not as deeply related to the main core of our product, so it’s just my own personal curiosity. But so many people talked about OnlyFans, and they said, “Oh, social media got my partner hooked on this influencer who was promoting their OnlyFans, and then my partner, behind my back, spent hundreds of dollars on this influencer’s OnlyFans, buying pictures or videos or whatever it is.” But we saw multiple people complaining about that who said, “Look, I get my partner using porn occasionally, but OnlyFans is crossing the line.”

I don’t know what OnlyFans is.

All right, well, okay. OnlyFans is essentially a place where as an influencer, you can go on and you can sell intimate videos and images of yourself. I have not pursued this topic deeply yet, and I also have not yet been on OnlyFans. So I don’t know if it also has live chat functionality. But people also spoke about their partners spending money on chatrooms and webcam people, and this kind of thing. So this is a very interesting grey area of where people cheat and lose trust and break trust using social media and technology.

Okay, wow. So technology as a means. So not only is trust broken and your number one point, but then what’s available in the technology? I’m thinking there’s ways in which people can have crushes and why certain paraphernalia. I’m thinking old school, where there’s an artist that’s doing something really cool, it could even be local, and you want to support in getting a t-shirt. Obviously, that sounds so innocent. But then you also have prostitution, where you’re paying for sexual, I guess you could say favors, but sexual engagement and interaction. So in the tech space, I get that there’s likely no physicality shared. But the extent of how intimate it is, and this almost exclusive, inside, very personal. It’s fascinating how it’s being used, to your point.

Yeah, it’s true. You know what, the boy band thing is really, really interesting. The company I used to work at is called Wattpad, and it’s famous for fanfiction. It’s a little bit less of fanfiction site now. But in its heyday, it was huge for fanfiction. If you’re familiar with fanfiction, this is like a really huge thing with Gen Z, in which they are exploring their sexuality by writing and sharing and reading stories of people of the same age going through the same things with the same crushes that they are. It was huge with One Direction, back from 2011 to 2016, and then BTS, the Korean boy band juggernaut took over. We could see this in the data at Wattpad, and we’d look and be like, “Wow, what is this BTS? Is that everyone getting really excited about going back to school?” No, it’s a Korean super group that no one has heard of, this is back in 2016, that’s about to become the biggest band on the planet. 

Jessica, these stories that these younger people are writing are racy! This is extremely racy content! A lot of it got flagged and moved to a mature category so it couldn’t be visible for anyone who’s under 18. But it’s extremely racy, and you’re playing with really your sexual identity for the first time. I would have loved to have said it’s empowered. It’s not. It’s very kinky, people are playing with a lot of power dynamics. The big thing was like, one of the boy bands has been adopted into their family and it’s like a step brother play, or they’ve been hired by the band as an assistant. It’s very, very, very racy. But it was very interesting that this is still kind of in the same realm, and you’ve got a lot of adults reading this too. Is that in the gray area as well? Is reading this erotica about this band, and then going to see them, and then buying the t-shirt, traveling down to see them, is that in the gray area? I don’t know.

It kind of sounds like, in the US, they have this thing of the Wild Wild West back in the day. It’s like, anything goes, it’s such uncharted territory. I’m all for exploration and exposure and wondering, and breaking boundaries in the sense of what you’ve been taught, and really questioning. But I also can recognize that like, if I think about a library, if there’s so much information that’s so much categorized and wealth of knowledge, and I can go and it’s organized and categorized and all of that. While with the online space, there’s really little regulation as far as what’s being offered. So again, what continues to come up for me is the intentionality or the awareness. 

So tell me where you’re coming from, because you are living in this space. What are you seeing as far as the impact on relationship and how people can negotiate this with a little more health? Not to say, I think the way that we’re talking could be construed as like, this is the dangers of technology, which I do think could be legitimate. Also, I’m sure there’s many positives, and maybe we can pivot towards that too. But I’m just curious where you’re at here.

I truly think it’s all about the conversation that you’re having with your partner. I think maybe if your partner was writing some pretty serious erotica in a fandom, and maybe it’s something that you didn’t know that they were doing, all of these things. Like, is your partner aware that you’re writing erotica? Or maybe you and your partner are sharing an OnlyFans account, and it’s something where you both get a crush on this one person, you’re buying their videos and supporting them in whatever way you want, that’s awesome. It’s like, are you comfortable with your partner knowing this, or is there some level of understanding between you and your partner? 

Free Couple Smiling While Looking at a Smartphone Stock Photo

“I think that’s what it’s really all about, just having your boundary set. It’s tools, it’s content. It’s still been the same kind of things and issues that I’m sure we’ve seen over and over again, just in a very, very different way. It’s a little bit different because it’s all hidden on your personal device, which is in your pocket almost 100% of the time.”

But I think the positives are also really important to talk about. 

Okay, before we go there, I just want to underscore that. Because what I’m hearing you say, almost the subtext of this is, in relationship, as you are in relationship now or even entering into relationship, that this could be a very important conversation to have. Can we talk about how we use, up until now, it might change? But can we talk about how we like to use our technology, how it might impact or influence us and our relationship, also including sexuality and anything around that, but what are our expectations? Just to have these conversations. I don’t think I would imagine the average person is going into relationship thinking, “Oh, we need to have this conversation.”

Oh, it’s a huge deal, with Gen Z especially. We did so much research into Gen Z at my previous work, and I’m working with Gen Z’s now, and the Instagram conversation. First, you shadow introduce someone on your Instagram, so you show, like, your partner’s hand on a glass next to yours, or that someone is obviously taking pictures of you in a location. So you shadow introduce them, and then you do the Instagram reveal, which is a cool thing. Then there’s also the expectation that you’ve gone through everyone that is in your partner’s list, because it’s visible, and that you’ve gone through and your partner has unfollowed whoever is deemed to be important who is unfollowed. So these are definitely big conversations, because it’s someone’s public presence. Because I think, especially during lockdowns and COVID, and even then, workplaces are still closed, and people aren’t mixing as much at the workplace and not seeing each other as much, this is still how a lot of socialization is being done.

Yes. I know what we’re not talking about, and this probably is not going to be captured in the positives, but also how people present themselves as a couple or what they say about relationship and what it looks like on social media, and the mental health around how people evaluate their relationship based on what they’re seeing on media. Do you want to talk about that?

Yeah, it’s so important, and what we’re touching on here is the highlight reel. The social media highlight reel, it plays into the new narrative. I grew up on Disney films, so I have the Disney relationship narrative. But now the next generation is growing up in the social media highlight reel narrative. It’s not just good enough to be in a happy relationship, it’s so important that on one half of social media. We’ll talk about other trends in the realness trend that we’re seeing, but so much of it is a highlight reel. You have to have your videos edited. Like, me and my partner’s year-in-review: here’s all the places we went to, here’s a slow-motion video of me walking down the steps, here’s us doing this. It is an entire production that people are putting out.

It could even be a little bit more emphasized on the actual appearance, maybe even, rather than the actual experience, being so caught up in the presentation. Hopefully that’s not true of the majority, but that can happen.

I spoke to a good friend who is an influencer, and we had a great catch-up. She said, “I just realized that our entire trip, we were like a travel influencer couple, and our entire trip was around the photos we’d get. So we’d wake up at four in the morning to be in this busy square at five before people got there, and then we’d set up our stand and start taking our pictures.” She said, “I realized it all just got too much when my husband wasn’t putting the right face, and I was in this flowing red dress. It was 5am, I didn’t sleep properly, and I just had a complete meltdown in the middle of the night. Because he wasn’t smiling properly, and we had taken all these pictures.” Then she was just like, “This is ridiculous! I’m spending so much effort to present my life is perfect that it’s wrecking my life.”

I think the pressure around that is enormous. I know we were interested in maybe sharing how the technology and what you’re seeing in the positives. At this juncture from where you’re coming from, would you say technology? This is so grossly reducing it, so I apologize for the question. But would you say there’s more dangers or things to be considerate of around how technology can be damaging? Or do you feel like the opportunities there or just how it’s being used, I guess currently as you’re seeing it in the impact on relationship?

I’d love to do. I’m really curious about if people reduced the amount of technology and just used it ethically. So I think our generation really went through something special. We had to pick up a phone and dial in the numbers and book a date, and you’d ring someone whose house you’re interested in, and you’d pray that a sibling picks up, and not one of the parents; we had to go through that, we didn’t have DMs. We also got to go to all of these parties, have all these experiences, and the worst thing that could happen is someone somewhere had a photo of you on a disposable camera or something like that, doing something a little bit sketchy, and maybe they showed it to their friends. That was as bad as it could get. 

But I think you’re seeing our next generation exposed to a plethora of new challenges. We know that Gen Z are having way less sex. I think we’re seeing this in Gen Z males especially, which is really interesting. 

Free Photograph of a Man in a Green Sweater Using His Phone Beside Another Man Stock Photo

“You have pretty privilege on steroids once you’re on social media, because you’re more accessible. So good-looking people can have more experiences, and if you’re not so good-looking or don’t present well on social media, then you’re going to get pushed to the bottom of the barrel faster.”

Whereas, we know that in relationship science, proximity is so important, getting to know people. You know what it’s like when you meet someone, they have amazing personality, they have a spark inside them, great energy, how attractive do they become so fast! You see, all of the physical stuff drops down to second. 

But I think for our next generation, because so much of this is done through apps, where you are judging everyone on how they look in a photo, much less of that is true. We did a study on this as well actually, on how people are meeting. For younger people, a lot of them are meeting through apps, and it’s really, really hard. So I think there’s a lot of really damaging things. Especially because if then those young people are meeting less people, and then they’re spending more time watching porn or trying to build. That really, really scares me, and I’m just so thankful that I didn’t grow up with those dilemmas. I really want to talk about the positive side.

Yeah, I want to comment really quickly. Just in that, I’m feeling the empathy around what that does to someone’s self-esteem, their sense of self-worth, when maybe you’re at the bottom of the barrel, or you haven’t gotten the likes or the type of exposure comparatively. Thus, you might approach a real-life situation very differently than you would had you had some confidence around like, “People like me, and I feel good. I may not be whatever as I might rank myself and whatever, but I have gifts to offer.” 

Let’s talk about the positives, because I know you’re doing something really important in this way. But also, even before we turn to Couply, what do you see as far as how technology can be helpful for relationship?

I think even relationships and self-discovery, I think technology is the place where you can find community. Technology is the place where you have something you’re into. We talked about fandoms already. But there’s also a really amazing thing about finding your tribe, finding your fandoms. I mean, it lets people like yourself, people with an incredible message, reach so many people. Think about how many people your podcast is reaching. For people like me who are new into the space, I can go into the archives, this episode was born from Episode 7 in 2015 when I think you first did your relationship technology episode, we’re running it back seven years later. It’s really powerful in that way. You’ve got people whose passion you share, and they can be really fantastic role models as well. I’ve learned so much about business, about app development, about relationships, through incredible technology. We also have some really brilliant therapists on TikTok who are blowing up and doing great things. It’s still very, very bite-sized, and it’s not like a true deep dive. But I think maybe it sparks people’s interest in it. So I think that’s really good too is that good messages can also be elevated, you can find your tribe. 

Let’s not forget, for people in a long-distance relationship, it’s amazing! And where we’re getting at with Virtual Reality is really exciting too. The Metaverse, and I don’t think it’s going to be as big as Mark Zuckerberg is hoping, but I’m very intuit. I have an Oculus Quest 2. I live in Canada, my brother lives in the UK, and we get a chance to team up and play games together. I can see him as an avatar, and you play a group game, it’s a shooting game. But I can recognize my brother by his movements, despite him being an avatar. Like, I know it’s him by just the way that he moves. There’s a connection that you have in VR, because it’s so immersive; there’s no distractions, there’s no devices, and that’s something that I have to be. Again, as you can probably tell, I get very interested in lots of subjects. I’d love to do something in VR for couples in long-distance relationships. Create your own space, create your own LDR room, put your own music on. It’s a space where you wait for your partner at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, and you guys can hang out and watch TV together. Like, you have that ability in VR to really have that connection, which is really great. 

I think I was going to say companionship, I’m a little bit worried about where things will go with companionship. But if you’re lonely, it’s a great place for you to connect with others. I think we’re going to see much more down here as AI continues to improve and robotics continues to improve, we’re going to see a lot of companionship stuff. I have some friends that are playing in this space, and they have said, the way that they’re looking at companionship and robotics is that it will be via Mechanical Turk, and that is essentially someone who’s controlling an avatar that will be in your home. But that’s probably in the next 30 years that we’re going to be seeing more of that, which will be very, very interesting.

No kidding! Thank you, you just dropped just so many things. First of all, as you’re mentioning, just the Virtual Reality of this immersive experience, and the benefits of that. I mean, look, you and I are talking through video conferencing, and that in and of itself is a technology. You’re in the UK right now, I’m currently in Bellingham, Washington. So we’re having this conversation, and I’m grateful for that, and just sharing on this topic. Also, couples in long-distance relationship. I’m even thinking about, for a couple that perhaps is in the same home, that if they’re wanting to explore new territory, or just even explore something, that there can be so much novelty or even experiment. I’m not talking just sexually. I’m talking about anything in life. That there’s almost being able to put on this costume or put on this new, or not even new, but a different way of accessing the world. I get that it’s virtual, so there’s things to be aware of around that. But it could be just experimental. 

One of the things I was hearing in the way you were describing all this is the learning and what we have access to. Even when we come back to our phones or whatever devices, how it’s being used. Is it interrupting? Like, if my husband and I were at dinner, is my phone visible, and if I get any type of alert, am I immediately drawn to it or do I put it away? Or if we’re doing stuff and we’re not intentionally together, but I’m using my device, then I might say, oh, look! Or I’ll show him, “Here’s what I’m doing, I’m texting so and so.” I’m including him. Because it’s almost like, it has this vacuum of like, “Oh, my attention is in this other space. It’s not with you, I’m not really about that responsive or available.” But if I include you in it, or what I learned or what we’re learning together, and we can even talk more about Couply here. But it sounds like the way in which we’re using it, it can be new information, it can be new experiences, it can be shared. Again, to your bigger point, how we’re working together around how we want to use technology, as individuals, and then as a couple, how we do that and how we negotiate that.

Yeah, totally. To speak about Gottman’s work, it becomes another bit that you’re sharing with your partner, a cool reel or something on your phone. It’s another bit, and so your partner has those free ways of responding to it. I think that almost seamlessly goes into a little bit what we’re trying to do at Couply.

Before you do that, just even to comment too, that partners perhaps could even, by continuing to be visible and continuing to be honest and open around, “Oh man, I just spent 20 minutes on my phone, I don’t know that I want to do that.” Or, “Oh, I just found myself in this place, and I don’t know how I feel about that. Can we talk about it?” There could be some space that we bring some of that back to the relationship, and thus, it can be, again, material for us to learn about ourselves and also be of support to each other and maybe even grow our relationship.

Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a really wonderful way of looking at it. It’s how we cultivate our feed, respond to the content, and it’s how we bring our partner into that too.

Okay, talk to us a little bit about Couply. Because it sounds like you’re using the technology space to really help people engage in material that brings them back to the practice of relationship.

That’s it. I mean, how often if you read your text messages with your partner, I read mine, it’s tactical. “Did you pick up the asparagus? Okay, I’ll be there in five minutes.” It’s all very, very, very tactical. You speak about this a lot. Those initial two years of your relationship, where your body is flooded with hormones, neurotransmitters, everything’s doing it, you’re having these deep conversations. Because you’re basically on drugs, you’re basically having these temptations. So what we’re trying to do is bring back a little bit of those intentional conversations, those deeper questions. It’s so important, and it’s not hard. It’s not the sticky work. This isn’t the work that I think you and other professional couples’ therapists do where they get really deep in. This is more like the small things often. This is the asking deep, fun, silly questions, and responding to them. That’s part of the app. The app will give couples questions each day that they can respond to. Like I just said, some are challenging, some are hypotheticals, some are little things about goals. 

The second part of the product, and when I say product, I mean app. I’m going to talk in non-technical language. So the second part of the app is quizzes. I think couples’ quizzes are really interesting. Because of course, you’ve got really major established quizzes, like your love styles, or Gary Chapman calls them love languages. There’s a bit of a debate about how much utility that there is to them. But I think something that is really powerful, is it’s almost like a gamified way of saying, “I’d like more gifts. I want something different.”

I know, continuing to explore the depth of understanding of one another.

Exactly. I think the ones that we really love, I personally have my favorites. I’m a huge fan of the Enneagram. It really helped me to understand myself and my weaknesses specifically, and it really helped me understand my partner and my partner’s deep, interesting rules. She’s a bit, in Myers Briggs as well, judging. Like, rules are so important to her, and when people break rules, it is really bad. Whereas, I’m very much so like, “Uh, rules?” You know what I mean, we have a different dynamic around rules. But I understand now how important these are to her. For her, these are the fabric and the foundation of everything. So it’s just helped us, and it’s helped our community understand each other a little bit of a different way. 

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“I think there’s something very powerful where you can see, in black and white, written down in front of you, a number next to your introversion or extroversion.”

So that’s been so powerful for people. Because there’s a lot of quizzes out there, they’re all over the internet; some of them are great, and some of them aren’t. But there is something really powerful to be able to tab across and see your results and your partner’s results, and be like, “Wow, my partner is introverted, and that means that they actually need to think through things. I’m extroverted, so I actually need to talk things out. So we have two completely different ways of communicating.” I know people who listen to this are professionals. So they’re like, “Obviously, Tim!” But most people just assume that everyone is like them. So it’s very, very powerful for folks to see in black and white that their numbers are different, and it really sparks that new conversation and learning new strategies of how to relate and love your partner.

Yes, I love that you said “spark the conversation.” Because it’s a real conversation piece, and it really sparks the dialogue. Even if I know that my partner is introverted or that I’m extroverted, the continuing of the dialogue to understand the significance and the meaning of how it plays out, I think these conversations are so incredible. 

I’m interested in how you like to see people using the app. Because I know that a lot of couples, whatever the demands of the day, whether or not professional or domestic, whatever have you, get to a certain point in the day, and they’re tired and they want to relax. Yet, that could be couple time, or it could be sitting and watching the TV, which can feel relaxing, but it maybe doesn’t necessarily feel enriching or supporting the connecting. I’m curious what you think. Because I mean, could it be an alternative to watching TV? It also could be something they do independently throughout the day and then come back and maybe have that conversation. What are you seeing, and what are you liking to recommend?

We’ve interviewed so many of our couples, and we see a split almost 50-50. So for one, they’re like, “Hey, this is the moment when I tick down. A notification will go off my phone, I see it’s Couply, I’m at work, and I’m like, oh, goodness, my wife has sent me something, and it brings back those lovely flirting feelings, and they answer the question.” It’s different. Like I said, it’s usually things like, did you buy avocados, whatever it is, or get this. But then it’ll be something like, what was the date that you knew that I was the one for you? Or something like that. Then they open it up to see this essay from their partner about this day and the moment, how they looked, and all of these kinds of things, which is cool. Then we’ve also had people say that “Actually, we do this side by side, and we discuss it. Or we do it when we’re having a glass of wine after dinner, we’ll do some Couply stuff.” But I think the favorite part for me, and the most important part, is that we give people date ideas based on your partner’s quiz results. So if you’re into gifts, you get gift ideas, quality time.

It’s not static, it’s tailoring. I love that.

Yeah. The more you use it, the more tailored it will become. My favorite thing is when people are like, “Hey, I got your date idea, and I was like, wow!” So it’s based on their partner’s personality. It’s not for them, it’s for their partner. They’re like, “Wow, I would have never thought of this day. I didn’t do that exact date, but I did my own spin on it, and we just had such an amazing date night, and we just did something new and different.” 

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“It’s so important that we continue to date our partners. It’s so important that we continue to carve out that time to pass them as the hero in our lives and do these special things for them.”

I think that for me is really my favorite thing, is that people are out there, and they’re going on dates, and they’re creating memories together. It’s just giving them a very gentle and the most polite kick up the bum to make it happen.

Well, I have my husband’s best friend, he is very knowledgeable in business and economics and all of it. He was like, “If you can make something convenient for people, you have a really great potential product or service to offer.” Because when things assist in making things easier, and I’ve often had couples tell me, “Oh, I wish you were with us, or we should just have you on speed dial.” That’s obviously to deal with the dynamics and what gets complicated and tricky. But it sounds like what you’re offering with Couply is on quick demand. Not speed dial, but like app-ready. That it’s helping nurture more of the romance, the play, the interacting, the connecting, and that it’s gamifying it. So hopefully, there’s enjoyment in the process of it. So I love it. 

Are you seeing the app grow? I mean, as you talked about the success that you had, are you seeing the same type of growth?

We’re very, very fortunate. So we’ve seen it grow quite significantly. We’re coming up to a full year in the game. So our Couply anniversary of me and my co-founder is Valentine’s Day, which maybe we should have thought that one through a little bit more. But that’s the official one-year anniversary of Couply, and we’re closing in on 300,000 downloads. We’re almost closing in on a thousand 5-star reviews, and we’re the number one app for couples on the Google Play Store in the United States. It’s been very fun, but we’re just at the very beginning of this journey. 

I need to and I have to say, Jessica, how much you’ve helped me and the team understand so much more about relationships and relationship psychology. Huge fan of this podcast and everything that you’ve done, the people you’ve brought on! Some of the episodes have just been life-changing. Like, the aperture episode, I thought she was so fantastic. It just helps us not just build a product, help us understand more. But it helps us communicate better with everyone that we love, which improves our life immeasurably. So you’ve definitely had a part of this journey too, even just as sort of like a mentor at large. So thank you for that.

Oh, thank you so much. I receive that, and it means a lot to me. I don’t always know who’s listening, or how it’s being applied, or how people are feeling impacted by what’s on the episode. So I love that it’s helping you and your team and what you’re providing, and perhaps even exposing all of you to even other experts and people and the curriculum that you’re providing. So I love it. 

Well, thank you. Let’s hear from you, how do people get the app? What would you like to encourage people to do?

Just Google Couply, and we’ll be there. We’re in all your app stores. It’s free, so you can definitely try it out. There’s no charge to try it out. Then if you want to, there’s Premium options if you want to. But you can get a really good feel of it all for free, so give it a whirl. 

I’ll make sure to have that link on today’s show notes. Tim, thank you so much for sharing your time with us here. 

Thank you so much, Dr. Jessica. It’s an honor and a privilege to be on.

Signing Off

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching