Honey, Can You Hear Me Now?

Smart-phone apps can help you plan a wedding or conduct an affair. But can they rescue your marriage?

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Couple watching smartphone

Smart phones are very useful if you're dating. They're almost essential if you're having an affair. They have handy apps for planning weddings and trying to conceive. But can they help out on the real heavy lifting? Can they save a marriage?

There are several DIY couples-therapy apps being offered for the iPhone. Some of them are really just digitized books. Others, like Why Did I Marry You Anyway?, are daily-advice flash cards. But there are a handful that purport to do more, to act as a digital marital coach. And since real counseling requires talking — a method of communication my husband considers inferior to thinking something and then expecting me to know it — I decided these apps might be worth trying.

A word of advice to those considering using an app to save their marriage: Mention it to your spouse first. When I e-mailed my beloved my initial Daily Temperature Reading — part of a free app developed by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation to help partners share their feelings, hopes, dreams and concerns — his reply had the same first letters as whiskey tango foxtrot. After I explained the exercise, he shared that he'd love to get a cover for the grill.

The $1.99 Mind over Marriage app offers a mini correspondence course. Outline your problem via e-mail and you'll be sent a relevant lesson. (Users can also browse through a list of common issues; the advice for each, whether infidelity or kids' bedtime, is basically to speak more courteously to your spouse.) The problem I sought help with was that neither I nor my chosen life mate is very organized, and this leads to disruptions in family harmony. The app's advice arrived, in due course, in my iPhone's inbox: Don't blame each other when things go pear-shaped — and buy a whiteboard. Which he was supposed to have done already.

To get your full $2.99's worth out of the Marriage Fight Tracker app, you need to list all the details of your marital spats. My other half and I tried to do this over dinner one night. But we fought about what one fight was about. Then we fought over how to use the app — and why did he have to be in this story anyway? Then we fought about how he never supports my career and why my dad does that strange thing with his tongue all the time. All in all, it was a pretty good date.

The only app that was almost enjoyed by the man I'm legally bound to cherish was the $4.99 Fix a Fight, possibly because the developers shrewdly associated it with the unemotional activity of mending a flat tire. The app makes you give each fight a funny name and then takes you through eight steps (let the air out, prepare the patch, apply the patch, and so on), during which you hand the phone back and forth and use it to record your side of the story. (Say what you will about dropped calls, the iPhone is a really good listener.) Our fight, a.k.a. the Pancetta Punch-Up, centered on my buying pancetta instead of bacon on a breakfast shopping run in the belief that it would make an adequate substitute. Mr. Demanding, who was cooking said breakfast, did not concur. As it happens, he was right, but had I brought home a live boar with a gastrointestinal disorder, he could not have acted more inconvenienced.

Fix a Fight listed a series of emotions and had us rate the intensity of the ones we were feeling. Then we had to own up to our part in the fight and suggest what each of us could do the next time we faced the problem. My list for him detailed tone of voice, empathetic listening and about 12 other helpful pointers. His list for me had just one: "Buy bacon." By the end, when the app proclaimed we'd had an "80% reduction in anger," I realized that most marital apps are a lot like most marriages. They need work.