A Chat With
Mark and Christine Daniel
When he picked her up for their first date Mark Daniel was in leathers and on his motorbike. All these years later when I met them, it was Christine who was wearing the leather jacket.
They were here to talk about their new relationship app, Toucan. And there was a time when they would have benefitted from the app’s wisdom themselves.
From leafy Buckinghamshire, they were the power couple: successful, driven and living the good life. However, behind the scenes their marriage was struggling.
After a fairy-tale wedding they soon hit the reality of married life.
“We would argue a lot about small things. Mark would blow up in angry outbursts and I would run away, trying to avoid the painful clashes. The spiral of conflict deepened and our sex lives nose-dived into unsatisfactory functionality.
“We filled the gap of what was missing in our relationship through ‘affairs’, with our careers and with other people. And so we muddled along like this for seven years until a baby, sleepless nights and postnatal depression brought us to a point of hopelessness.
“We started our relationship both believing we had found our soul mate, someone to share our whole life with. But when the inevitable pressures came, we didn’t know how to handle them. We both had loads of training to do our jobs but zero training in marriage,” she said.
It was through their vicar that they began to change. Neither were from a church background but when Christine was suffering from post-natal depression she began asking questions. They had approached their vicar about the christening of their newly born child. “His kindness and non-judgemental attitude struck me,” Christina said.
But when he suggested they read the Bible, she was surprised. “The experience of reading the Bible was extraordinary. Before that I thought Jesus was for weak people.”
However, it had an impact and she became a Christian over Christmas in 1992.
“I prayed under the duvet. It was a spiritual experience. As a scientist I could appreciate the power behind the Universe and the Church experience was odd, but powerful,” she said.
But then… The Vicar turned to Mark.
“He asked me if it was good to sit on the fence. He thought maybe I should explore the Christian message,” he ruefully remembers.
But he did take up the Vicar’s advice. And it was the idea of ‘agape’ that really struck him. “I didn’t think that God would want a relationship with someone like me,” he remembers.
Although he was intrigued, when it was suggested that they join a couples’ group, Mark was adamant. “I would rather go to the dentist!”
But then new things started happening in his life and these were enough to convince him that these events were from God. Over the next four months he experienced words and pictures that convinced him that God was real.
And from that experience they became convinced that God has a lot to say about couples’ relationships. It was soon after that they were introduced to the American material that was to form the basis of their new idea. But at the heart they were convinced of one fact: the teaching was for everyone.
And key to this was the message of forgiveness.
“The question I asked myself was where do you get the power to forgive?” said Mark.
And this has transferred to Toucan.
Their app, Toucan, provides a unique online experience for couples to strengthen and deepen their relationship together, using engaging animation, interaction, video interviews with couples of various ages and backgrounds, accessible support and advice.
At a time when there has been much press coverage of how technology is leading couples and families to communicate less, the app uses the very latest technology to encourage better communication and relationships, rather than simply existing side by side.
And, as an app that can be used individually and together, Toucan enables couples to invest in their relationship in a way that can easily fit in with their busy lifestyles. It is being developed one module at a time – the finished product will address five key areas: Communication, Conflict, Love, Growing and Money.
The app builds on the American Family Life courses for couples, in particular, A Day Together, which has been described as ‘a special time away to listen, laugh and learn more about each other… to talk and reconnect’with the frequent recommendation that ‘every couple in the country should do this!’
In translating that content into an app, Mark observes: “We have kept it deliberately soft, although there is more explicit Christian content in the bonus material. The reason is that we believe the Gospel has a practical message for everyone.”
And they find that this is resonating far and wide. “People want to explore these issues, on a one-to-one basis,” says Christine.
And they feel that this is a vital issue for modern society. “Britain leads the world when it comes to family breakdown,” Mark observes. “One reason is that fewer people are getting married. And we know that cohabitation is less stable than marriage.”
By comparison out of 10 couples, seven will still be together after a decade if they are married compared to just three if they are cohabiting.
So, to help this situation they have developed the Toucan app and website. Alongside the exercises and short films, they have teaching material on how to overcome conflict while reinforcing positive habits.
And the idea of an app seems to be a winner. “It is something positive to do on your device. There is no platform like this anywhere in the world,” said Mark. “It is great that this is a Christian first.”
And one of the most appealing aspects for younger people is that there are ‘no experts here’.
“Young people don’t trust authority and they don’t trust experts. The great thing is that this app encourages communication – there are no experts involved.”
Because its aim is to tee-up conversation between the couple, they say it is obvious why it has proved popular.
“We want it to go viral, but we also want church people to get behind it. It has been a faith project from the start,” says Christine.