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Why did I marry you anyway?

Chris Ayres     February 3, 2011
In truth, there are few reasons why we should expect a marriage to work. It is, after all, an outmoded social arrangement involving the cohabitation of two physically and emotionally incompatible human beings, each with their own similarly incompatible friends, families, pets, Facebook settings and Chinese-takeaway preferences. And yet we get married, which-if you believe the pronouncements of statisticians on both sides of the Atlantic-has a 50 per cent chance of reaching an unhappy conclusion. Indeed, few endeavours in the history of our species, from pyramid investment schemes and jet packs to aerosol cheese and novelty records by footballers, have such a consistently abject record of failure as the legal union of a man and a woman.

Nevertheless, we persist. And so we must find ways to cope with the byproduct of our repeated attempts to defeat human nature: the marital tiff. Granted, it might not sound like such a big deal, a tiff-but those who've experienced a particularly gruelling one know it can amount to a kind of waterboarding of the soul. To fully appreciate the horror, it's best to spend an evening with two people who regret their wedding vows intensely but lack the courage to hire lawyers. If harnessed, the negative energy generated by such individuals could eliminate the world's need for carbon-based fuel sources overnight.

Naturally, businesses have long been trying to find a way to capitalise on this purgatory. And now, finally, they have. After years of door-slamming and plate-smashing in top-secret research facilities across the globe, a potentially revolutionary tool is being offered to dysfunctional couples. Yes, get ready for marriage-fixing iPhone apps. If only Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren had been able to get hold of one, that whole angry-blonde-with-a-nine-iron episode might never have happened.

Likewise, Sandra Bullock might have forgiven her motorcycle-tinkering exhusband, Jesse James, for the unfortunate photograph of him doing a 'Sieg Heil' while dressed in an SS officer hat (not to mention his dates with a swastika-wearing stripper named Michelle 'Bombshell' McGee).

So, how do they work? Well, like all iPhone software applications, these marital aids are purchased via the App Store, using an Apple account, and then loaded up onto the iPhone's home page. A number of titles are available: Fix a Fight, Mind over Marriage, Marriage Fight Tracker and Why Did I Marry You Anyway? Most of the apps are straightforward in the way they work (disappointingly so). Marriage Fight Tracker, for example, is little more than a list of 10 marital rules (my favourite: "Never win") and links to various YouTube self-help videos, plus a handy audio recording function, in case you ever feel like reliving an early morning row over who last changed the cat litter. As for Why Did I Marry You Anyway?, it's merely a collection of soothingly designed cue cards, featuring such wisdom as "Infatuation does not last".

Then there's Mind over Marriage, an app that acts as a gateway to a more elaborate subscription service and an almost hilariously depressing collection of case-study fights between spouses, including an argument over the cost of a child's terminal-cancer treatment (after reading it, you'll want a gun app, to shoot yourself!)

Just one of the apps, Fix a Fight (developed by a Kansas psychotherapist called Mark McGonigle), makes a serious attempt to automate the resolution of tiffs, using an interactive step-by-step process, a bit like you're, say, applying for a mortgage online. It therefore seemed only right to at least try it out on my own marriage. After all, if an iPhone can solve a couple's problems as effectively as Google can settle a pub debate, then who wouldn't want to use it? Especially for just three quid (or rather $5 (Rs 226), as it's not yet available via Apple's UK App Store).

Of course, it is worth mentioning that my wife, Lucie, and I are a statistical anomaly, in that our union is one of unimaginable love and fulfilment-apart from when we argue. In those moments, we are a living, breathing reassurance to every bachelor that they are making the right lifestyle decision. Sources of conflict are many: my wife's insistence on customising every conceivable restaurant order, to the point where she asks for a caesar salad without croutons or cheese and a different kind of dressing; or my own appalling sense of direction while driving and reluctance to acknowledge mistakes or correct them with illegal U-turns. For Fix a Fight, however, Lucie and I chose a more routine disagreement.

Basically, the problem is this: my wife likes to pour herself a glass of water, then leave the empty glass wherever she finishes it, so that it can be refilled at a later date without the need for a new glass (a dubious claim to environmentalism). Often she has multiple glasses on the go in multiple locations. I suspect that bloody-mindedness plays a bigger part in this strategy than water conservation. Occasionally the glasses get put in the dishwasher prematurely. This makes me happy, as I like an uncluttered kitchen. It drives Lucie insane. If ever there's been a job for Fix a Fight, this is it.

When we sit down together with the app, it first asks us to enter the name of our conflict. That's easy: Premature Glass Washing. Then we both have to name our feelings, giving them a score of one to five for intensity: I choose irritated, level three; Lucie opts for angry, level four. Then the app takes us to a page featuring an overlong parable about blind men and an elephant, which leads to a request for us to "Share our subjective realities". We do this by talking to each other, then typing up a summary on the screen.

After that, we rate how well we listened to each other (five out of five for both of us). After this comes a section entitled "Identifying with your partner's story", where we're asked to acknowledge that some part of what the other is saying has an element of truth. At this point, boredom is setting in. Maybe that's the point. Then comes "self-soothing", when the app tells us to go for a walk, breathe deeply or imagine a safe place. By now we're openly sneering. Then comes yet another stage: pledging to do things differently next time. I promise not to move any more glasses without prior consultation. Lucie promises to tone down her reaction if she suspects a pre-emptive strike has occurred.

Finally, the application wants us to re-evaluate our feelings. To be honest, though, having confided so much in a mobile phone about such an inconsequential disagreement -and taking so much time to do it (20 minutes )-I feel more like re-evaluating my mental health. Lucie, meanwhile, doesn't even wait for the final statistical analysis of our emotional transformation (the change in feelings and their respective intensities throughout the session) and leaves for a lunch appointment.

Still, now that a few days have passed, I must admit that having given so much attention to our tiff via such non-threatening means, we did manage to neutralise what little real venom was building in our glasstidying clashes. Which raises a curious question: by working this out now, did we prevent ourselves from becoming one of the 50 per cent of projected marital flame-outs? And if so, might an iPhone app ultimately have saved our marriage and be responsible for the survival of the Ayreses as a family unit? The very suggestion is, of course, ridiculous.

(Courtesy: The Sunday Times)

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