Relationships today are harder than ever to nurture
As a married person who works with couples for a living, I know just how much modern-day relationships have stacked against them. It's hard enough to make time for our partners, much less to have the energy, patience, and mental presence to actually connect.
And let's not even talk about how tricky it is to keep the spark alive once you've overheard your partner pooping, or had to take care of them after a long night at the bar. Most couples, as much as they may love each other, struggle to maintain intimacy.
I've also seen how the proliferation of technology has contributed to that growing feeling of disconnect in relationships. We're living in an age when "quality time" is sitting on different sofas, watching Netflix while we each browse our Facebook and Twitter feeds separately. Our cellphones -- not our partners -- are the last things we touch at night, and the first things we touch in the morning.
To see what tools couples have at their disposal, I headed to iTunes
Which is why, after an afternoon of perusing hundreds of apps for couples, relationships, intimacy, and sex in the iTunes Store (the vast majority of which were apparently created by people who have never been in a relationship or had sex), I settled on Pillow Play.
This app contains a couple dozen audio episodes, each lasting from five to 20 minutes, on topics like erogenous zones, temperature play, appreciation, and massage. Most are designed to be listened to by the couple together, and provide instructions for activities to try.
My husband and I started with some of the shorter fare; five-minute instructionals for simple things like gazing into each other's eyes, hugging, or sharing something about the other we appreciate. These episodes felt silly to be sure (there was plenty of laughing on both of our parts), but at the same time, it was nice to have that time together.
Pillow Play makes you commit to sitting down with each other and spending some time with the explicit purpose of connecting. That structure does help you feel more present and engaged. And while my husband and I made plenty of jokes and found some exercises beyond cheesy, we still walked away from each exercise feeling a bit more connected.
I mean, if you don't like giving your partner a hug or getting praise from them, you guys need more help than Pillow Play can offer.
Pillow Play has its perks... and shortcomings
I thought Pillow Play was most successful when it was highly specific. There were certain episodes that led you through looking at, kissing, and touching each other in very precise ways.
In one particular installment, a person lies down blindfolded on the bed. His or her partner listens to the episode through headphones, guided by cues to kiss, touch, tickle, or otherwise stimulate various body parts of the blindfolded partner. Sometimes it's really nice to turn off the analytical part of your brain and just focus on following instructions. I could see this being particularly effective for couples who are shy or nervous about technique.
Of course, Pillow Play is not without its faults. There aren't a ton of episodes, and you're not likely to want to repeat the episodes. The voices that they've chosen to guide you through the exercises are… let's just say unfortunate. I don't want to rag on them too hard for this (I cringe at the sound of my own recorded voice), but it's enough to be a distraction. I'’s also quite New Age-y, with celestial music playing throughout most episodes.
And some episodes were a disaster. I couldn't get through more than a minute of "Your Inner Animal," which instructed us (in the aforementioned weird voice) to "pick the goofiest monkey face you can… seriously, get goofy." Maybe another couple would have fun with it, but my hubby pleaded with me to turn off the episode immediately. I offered no protest.
Apps can offer relationships a twist to daily routines and an easy injection of fun
Getting back to my original question, do you need an app to connect with your partner?
Ultimately, no, of course not. You're probably better off turning off your cellphone every once in a while and trying to have an actual conversation. But was it fun to try out for a few weeks? Yeah, it was. It was fun to spend that time together, and the episodes naturally opened up more conversations between the two of us.
Even the laughable moments were still moments when I was laughing with my husband.