A few nights ago, I walked into my bedroom to get into bed and beheld there was laundry all over it. It was mostly my husband’s laundry. Seeing this, I got into bed on the side without clothes piled atop it and tried to go to sleep. My husband came in, laughed, and started putting his clothes away. Then he said, “Get up. Help me do this.”
Reader, I had no intention of helping him. It was late, and I was tired. It was mostly his stuff. And when I do his laundry, I assure you, he doesn’t help me. But he decided he was not going to let me sleep, and I was not going to yield my position. Voices were raised, towels were thrown, and I slept on the couch that night.
More than half of couples think the ability to share chores is crucial to keeping their marriage afloat, according to a 2016 Pew study. It is the third most important criteria people consider in a partner, next to good sex and shared interests. So how do you learn how to keep a happy, clean, house together?
Lesley Eccles, the founder of the sports betting unicorn FanDuel, has created an app for that. It is called Relish—like a condiment to marriage—and costs $99 per year for two people. It consists of quizzes, reading, and activities. For instance, one activity suggests observing your partner for 10 minutes, uninterrupted. This involves listening to him, noting to yourself his movements, his gestures, and the way he enlarges his eyes when he’s talking about someone whose intelligence he doubts. The goal is to be present with your partner—to really take them in with your full attention. Couples also get access to a coach, who can talk them through specific issues or give them appropriate lesson plans.
From sports betting to relationship advice
Relish is a significant departure from Eccles’s hugely successful first company that she cofounded with her husband: FanDuel, a site where you gamble on major league teams and their players. The company raised $416 million, garnered a billion-dollar valuation, and ran extremely expensive and visible ad campaigns during the 2015 Super Bowl. But then, when competitor DraftKing’s employee won $350,000 in a FanDuel contest, the company got caught up in an FBI investigation into whether it and its competitor were using their massive amounts of sports data to prey on users.
“We had many more ups and downs than a traditional startup would,” says Eccles. “The only thing that kept us as a founding team sane was the strength of our relationships.” In Relish, she’s hoping to make other people’s relationships stronger, so they can withstand hard times.
The FanDuel tumult was especially difficult on her marriage, given that both Eccles and her husband were cofounders of the company. In 2010, half of their team moved to California, leaving Eccles and her husband to run the other half of the business themselves in New York. “Nothing was really working,” she says, “and we were all in on the company.” She says that they had put their life savings into the business and had a large mortgage and two young children at home. There was a lot of pressure to make this startup work, and their marriage was suffering.
She turned to self-help books and Google searches for how to keep her marriage together. Nothing she found really fit her situation, but she wasn’t ready to go to couples counseling. This app is the brainchild of those anxiety-driven searches: a way to offer much of the available wisdom on how to keep your marriage sound with the additional help of a coach, who can respond with more precise advice.
“There’s an opportunity for something where you’re not necessarily at a stage where you’re willing to shell out $4,000 on average for couples therapy, but you need something and you want something tailored to your particular needs,” she says.
Turning couples therapy into a game
Relish is filled with lots of good advice and statistics that remind you that you are not the only couple that gets hung up on petty disagreements over laundry. It also gives pep talks: one article on the app explains that “people in long term relationships are happier than those who aren’t as eager to commit.” The post goes onto note that 40% of people in relationships for over 10 years report they are “intensely in love” and an even larger portion of couples who have been together more than 30 years feel that way. The point is to let quarreling couples know it can get better.
But first, the app assesses you through a survey and categorizes your attachment style and your perception of your partner’s attachment style. Attachment theory, first researched in the mid-20th century, supposes that how a person’s parents attended to them as a child can be indicative of how they bond in adulthood. If your parents were inconsistent in how they met your needs as child, you might be anxious in your attachment style, which is often hallmarked by neediness.
Inside Relish, the attachment styles are presented as animals. I am a Siamese Cat. My husband is a Labrador. Supposedly, I have a hard time opening up, being grateful, and listening. As a couple, we are both independent and should be wary of being so independent that we drift apart. Some of this assessment tracks for me, though I think it misses some of the nuances of our relationship. However, it is only the first week, and it’s possible Relish gets better over time.
The app also tracks what it calls “your progress.” A percentage is ascribed to various components of the relationship, like “affection” and “respecting each other.” These go up or down based on the lessons completed and insight from the coach. Much like FanDuel, this is very much a game. You can improve your scores and percentages by completing tasks. The app also shows you how you and your partner rate compared to the aggregate of other users, making it a competition of us against them.
The first round of reading materials and lessons were not quite suited for my husband and I, because they were very focused on affection and appreciation for one another, which is not an issue for us. So I reached out to our coach, Munni. Coaches on the platform are contractors who are paid an hourly wage. Some are social workers, though the coaches are not necessarily licensed mental health care professionals. I tell her that we fight over chores fairly consistently, especially who does them and when. Within 24 hours, she texts me and lets me know that she has added three lesson plans she thinks would benefit us: one on how to communicate our feelings, a quiz rating our own cleaning priorities against what we perceive our partner’s priorities to be, and an exercise on how to divide chores.
Through the quiz, my husband and I realize that perhaps we have overestimated how much we were asking of each other. Then we set about making and dividing up the chores—something we had previously been reluctant to do for inexplicable reasons. The exercise has us rank each chore on a one to five scale, from most willing to do to most hated. Some of these were easily divided. I like to clean with cleaning products, whereas my husband likes to put books away and hang up clothes. Then, there was just a remaining list of activities we both felt neutral about, and we divided those tasks as well.
Not enough time has passed for me to know how effective this will be or whether we’ll fall into old habits immediately. But this little exercise helped elucidate a battle I’ve been fighting with him for years in tangible terms. It was my belief that I frequently get bogged down doing the cooking, cleaning the kitchen, and washing the dishes, while he watches TikTok. The list reflected that I tend to get saddled with more of the daily cleaning than he does. Previously, when I would tell him this was the case, he’d be like, nah. Here was irrefutable evidence.
An app can’t solve everything
Of course, more complex issues come up for couples. Eccles and her husband did not divorce during FanDuel’s worst moments. She says they had learned many of the tools they needed to survive later stressors during the company’s early days in 2010. I wonder if Eccles, clouded by the strength of her own marriage, is underestimating what really drives couples apart. Infidelity, a large cause of divorce, is not solved by quizzes. Financial strain, perhaps the biggest driver of couples splitting up, also may not be assuaged through reading, though probably every couple could benefit from having better money management tools.
From a business perspective, $99 per year does not seem like enough to support unlimited contact with a coach, which many couples may lean on to litigate individual spats.
“The way I see it is you’re going to need a coach for a while, but you’re not going to need it every day—not even every week,” says Eccles. “It will ebb and flow, and that’s the nice thing about the model.”
But perhaps saving the marriage is not the imperative. Like most digital counseling apps, Relish is not equipped to handle domestic abuse issues. Eccles says that coaches presented with violence or persistent emotional harm will refer couples to outside counseling or a hotline. They’ll also tell couples when they seem so ill-suited to each other that they should consider calling it quits.
Using readings and exercises to get partners quite literally on the same page could probably save a lot of marriages. Some of the most fervent arguments couples suffer often boil down to mismatched perceptions. After trying out Relish, it seems plausible that an app could help you game your marriage—and win.