School of Health Sciences

image of a dating app

Digital tech can boost couples app-iness

Dr Catherine Aicken has contributed to a pioneering study analysing the real-life effectiveness of the Paired app in improving how couples get on.

Many of the 300,000+ mobile health (mhealth) apps now available worldwide have little or no backing from reliable research evidence, relying on ‘quality’ judgements based on ‘user reviews’. By contrast, university researchers have evaluated the Paired app, gaining evidence of its impact on users’ relationship quality.

The Paired app combines audio courses from clinical psychotherapists and academics with fun daily questions and quizzes to answer with your partner. The app has been particularly informed by research carried out at the Open University by Professor Jacqui Gabb, the OU’s Professor of Sociology and Intimacy who led the Paired study.

Dr Aicken – Senior Research Fellow at the University of Brighton’s School of Health Sciences – collaborated with OU researchers to evaluate Paired’s effectiveness in improving couple relationships over a three month period, following the release of the app in October 2020. The study collected survey and interview data from over 4,400 Paired users.

Researchers rigorously developed a way of measuring the overall quality of couple relationships (the Quality of Relationships Index – QRI). Over three months, Paired users’ relationship quality (QRI) increased by 36%.
Open communication underpins good relationships, and 81% of those who had used the app for at least a month said it had helped improve their communication as a couple. Looking at conflict, the study found that only 16% of new Paired users strongly agreed that they and their partner were able to discuss and resolve conflict – but this proportion doubled within the first month of using the app, and rose after three months to 46%. The greatest benefits were gained by people who used the app daily, supporting researchers’ theory that daily ‘relationship work’ is key to improving relationship quality.
Dr Aicken said: “Our research provides evidence that digital health and well-being technologies  can help couples to improve their relationships. We found substantial improvements in relationship quality, among people who had used the Paired app for just a few months, which is hugely encouraging. Now that we’ve completed our first report, we’ll be conducting further analyses to explore how and in what contexts people turn to technology to help support their relationship with their partner.”
Professor Gabb said: “mHealth is expanding rapidly with more than 200 new health apps coming onto the market each day. We’re all familiar with how technology can help us date and find a partner, but this new research clearly demonstrates that there’s an equally important role for tech once we are in a relationship. Small, daily interactions are the key to happy and healthy relationships and apps are the perfect tool to prompt much-needed relationship care.”
Findings from previous research used to create the Paired app have also been adopted by Relate, the UK’s largest provider of relationship support. They have also influenced changes in strategic priorities by the UK charity Brook, which offers clinical and sexual health education and well-being services to young people.
The Paired evaluation study also found the app is being used by a diverse range of users in terms of age, sexual orientation, relationship characteristics, living arrangements and parenthood. A quarter of those surveyed were LGBTQ+. A third of people in the study were living separately from their partner, while Paired users’ relationships ranged from very new to long-term.
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Kerry Burnett • March 24, 2021


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