Couples Counseling Exercises That Strengthen Your Marriage
Updated July 21, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC
Strengthening a marriage requires you to put in the time and effort. Regardless of how much you and your partner feel strongly about each other, the simple act of two individual personalities spending time together is going to cause friction. This can come up in any number of different ways, some more common, and some a bit more unique. Whatever the case may be, no relationship is going to be without areas that can be improved. This improvement requires you to want to better your relationship and to be dedicated to doing so.
This point may seem obvious, but absolutely should not be overlooked. It is easy to fall into a pattern of thinking that is unintentionally selfish. It may not be malicious, but the comfort of being in a relationship can lead to one or both partners feeling like the other should be acting differently to make their selves happier. It is not only easy but very common to get too comfortable and begin to believe that any issues in the relationship are entirely the other person's fault.
With the right couples counseling exercises, you can start to improve with or without the assistance of a therapist at the same time. After all, you may want to get started on the process completely on your own, before you bring a therapist or anyone else into it.
Exercises To Try
Couples Counseling Exercises 1: Fix The Problem Before Bed
If you ask couples who have been married for thirty, forty, fifty years or more what the "secret is to a successful marriage," you will most likely get one of two answers. Honesty is probably the most popular answer, and not far behind will be the adage, "Don't go to bed angry."
One of the first things you want to do is make sure that you and your partner are fixing the problems and arguments that you might have before you go to sleep for the night. You don't want to go to bed angry because that anger starts to fester over time.
At night specifically, before falling asleep, most of us have a period where our brains are just rehashing the events of the day, and if an active issue or argument is going on, that will play over and over in each partners mind with no input from the other person. It is just in our human nature that when this rumination begins, there is a tendency for emotions and perspectives to get stronger in one direction.
Each time you think about the argument or the thing that is making you upset, your perspective will shift slightly towards why you were right, or why you're justified to be angry, etc. And as you feel more and more strongly that your partner has done something wrong, for example, the negative emotions surrounding it becomes more and more intense. So by the time you try to revisit the issue, both parties have riled themselves up and dug their heels in, making it all that more difficult to find common ground or compromise.
Of course, this applies to smaller things that can be reasonably expected to be, if not solved, at least calmed within one day. Larger and more deep-seated issues will need more time to be put into them, but this is a great place to start. By fixing your problems before bed, you can make sure that both of you are comfortable and happy with your relationship.
Couples Counseling Exercises 2: Make A Date Night
Having a good date night for you and your partner is a great way to feel more comfortable together as well. It helps to improve the intimacy that you feel together and also helps to keep you communicating effectively. All you need is something that works for the two of you because that's going to work to improve your relationship.
By making an effort to go out (or stay in) and engage in an activity that breaks up the constant focus on the relationship itself, it will shed light onto the types of things that brought you and your partner together in the first place. This should be a regular thing. The more often the better (because we're talking about spending time with our significant other after all!) but if kids or scheduling pose an issue, it can be once a week, or once a month; what's more important is to establish that spending time enjoying each other's company is a priority.
Even if plans change and date night can't happen this week or this month, you want to keep in mind that aside from the experience of spending quality time together, that you can still take the opportunity to show that even if you have to work late and can't make it, for example, that it is still important. Instead of a, 'Well I have to work tonight, what do you want from me?' type of attitude, it would be much more productive to take an approach more along the lines of, 'Well since I have to work late, how about we do date night tomorrow instead?' Similarly, from the other side, instead of assuming that your partner is making you & your relationship less of a priority, allow them the opportunity to show that they will work around what life throws at them to make sure the relationship stays at the top of the list.
Couples Counseling Exercises 3: Have An Honesty Hour
Honesty hour can be a little difficult for some couples, but it's an important aspect of your relationship. With this, you and your partner can be entirely honest with each other about anything and everything without having to worry about one person getting upset or angry about it. The important thing is to be true to that requirement, making sure no one gets hurt by what you want to talk about.
As mentioned, this can be one of the more difficult exercises to do successfully without a third party like a marriage counselor but is still 100% worth a try. The difficulty often comes from a breakdown of communication. Things like staying on topic, trying to make your point without listening to the needs of your partner, and becoming frustrated to the point of flipping from trying to solve an issue, to try to hurt your partner's feelings to get back at them for hurting your own.
When attempting this exercise on your own, it is imperative to keep at the forefront that you and your partner are a team trying to resolve a problem or issue. As mentioned, once communication breaks down, it is unlikely that any productive discussion will take place, and increasingly likely that what discussion does take place, exacerbates the problem or can even create new ones.
In honesty hour, partners should encourage each other to speak honestly using the "I message" structure - starting sentences with "I feel" or "I think" rather than focusing on one's perception of what they believe the other person did or how they feel. If the integrity of this is upheld, then it is likely that your partner will bring up something (or multiple things) that push you to take responsibility for your share of the issue and present you with behaviors or thought patterns that you need to work on within yourself. While this may be difficult, it is worth it when executed properly because you then have the same opportunity to have a forum to make your partner aware of their responsibilities without seeming like you are attacking them.
This takes practice. It may seem fruitless at first, but if you stick with it, it should become clear whether or not your relationship is equipped with the communicative tools to make use of this exercise. If you notice that it continues to make things worse, it's okay to need a third party present to keep things from getting too heated and going off onto other issues without adequately addressing the one at hand.
Couples Counseling Exercise 4: Try New Activities
This ties into date night but doesn't necessarily have to be the same thing. Dinner and a movie can be a wonderful experience, and exactly the break you and your partner need to recalibrate and remember why you're together in the first place. But like anything else, the novelty fades. Going on the same date every week or every month can quickly start to have less and less of an effect, to the point where date night is just the two of you going through the motions as to not be the one who deprioritizes the exercise.
You want to take the time to do new things and try new things, and that requires both of you to make lists of things that you want to do together. Make sure that you make lists of all different things to try and that you start at one end of the list and keep working your way through it. The activities that you do together will help you to improve your relationship overall.
Couples Counseling Exercises 5: Be More Intimate
Being intimate with your partner isn't just about sex (although it absolutely can be!) It's about being close to your partner and just spending time together. Even sitting in a room together in silence can be intimate if you and your partner are comfortable together in that silence. You need intimacy to keep your relationship alive because without it; you don't have much of anything holding you together. Again, you and your partner got together for a reason. Anything you can do to rediscover those feelings and reignite that flame will have a positive ripple effect throughout the relationship.
Couples Counseling Exercises 6: Tell Them What You Love
While relationship and marriage problems can manifest in all different ways, mostly they boil down to the same simple concept. We want to feel loved and appreciated by our partner. Tell your partner what you love and appreciate them in a letter. It can be a short letter, a long one or anything else you might want, but it should tell them what you feel about them and why. These letters help your partner feel more appreciated and more loved and help you remember why you fell in love with them in the first place and why you want to keep the relationship going.
Solutions With Your Couples Counseling Exercises
So how do you get started with these exercises? Well, if you can bring up the conversation, just start trying some of these techniques and see what does and doesn't work. Often that conversation and taking that step can have a significant impact in and of itself.
Unfortunately, often there is a lot of complex dynamics and issues to wade through, which can be daunting or even downright impossible without the tools for productive communication that a therapist accumulates throughout their training and experience working with couples. Even if you are finding success using these exercises, seeing a therapist can help you be even more successful. You can find the therapist you're looking for by simply going online to Regain and looking at the options for online therapy there.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the success rate of couples counseling?
If you are seeking therapy, especially the best couples therapy, then you’re already on the path to a healthy relationship. It goes without saying that this is because if you never start seeking couples therapy, your success rate will be zero. But, the statistics are actually strongly in favor of those who seek couples therapy. Most couple therapy specialists see great success rates and their exercises lead to healthy relationships. Couples and families who participate in couple therapy have usually been shown to have a great success rate: up to 75%. This is wonderful proof that marriage therapy and the best couples therapy is a great way to work towards a great relationship.
How do you do couples therapy at home?
In a word, yes! It’s possible to do couples therapy at home. The most popular ways to do couples therapy at home is via phone therapy or online therapy. With these options, you and you’re partner will be able to get the right focused therapy EFT, help with substance abuse, and exercises for couples that are designed and personalized to help you improve your marriage. These activities for couples can be done from home and then reviewed via online couple therapy. It’s a great way for improving romantic relationships from home, according to your busy schedule.
What questions are asked in couples therapy?
In couples therapy, you can expect to be asked a lot of honest and straightforward questions. A lot of people think that there’s some miracle question that the focused therapy will bring up. However, there is no miracle question that will solve your marriage. Romantic relationships
Most of these questions are focused on super serious subjects like roles in the marriage, money, raising kids, and long term goals for the future. It’s important that both you and your partner feel free to answer these questions honestly and openly. However, there are also plenty of questions that focus on lighter topics, such as your bucket list, the good qualities that you and your partner share, and other great topics that will help you get to know and understand your partner even better.
Can couples therapy make things worse?
If you marriage is already feeling strained or stressed, then you might feel even more strain and stress on your relationship when you first start couple therapy. This is usually because in couple therapy, the couples counselor will usually ask strong emotionally focused questions that might dredge up difficult or repressed topics in the romantic relationship. However, this is usually only at the beginning of the therapy process. For most romantic relationships, as time goes on, it’s easy to get through the sessions without feeling stressed or feeling like things are getting worse for your romantic relationship.
But remember, that’s only the beginning of the process! As you learn something new, participate in exercises for couples, and focus more on the good qualities of the counseling process, you’ll be able to see all of the good that these activities for couples are doing for your marriage or romantic relationship. You have to be patient, and couple counselors can be expected to be patient, too. As the couple therapy goes on, you’ll begin to see how the exercises for couples are helping you to solve your problems one by one. You’ll start to realize how the activities for couples is actually teaching you to deal with that strain and stress in the marriage, instead of letting it ruin an otherwise healthy relationship.
So, while it may seem to be making things worse at first, in the long run, couples therapy is ultimately a great way to improve even a healthy relationship.
How can couples improve their communication?
The most fundamental way to improve communication in a marriage has nothing to do with improving how you speak to each other. In fact, the best way to improve communication with your partner is to work on the way that you listen!
Active listening is the best way for couples to improve their communication. This means that when you listen to your partner, you should make eye contact and use your body language to show that you are open to all that they have to say. It also means that you shouldn’t judge what they say immediately, or assume that you automatically understand what they’re trying to express. Instead, ask follow-up questions and don’t pass judgment on them or their ideas until you’re clear on what they’re expressing to you. Always be ready to learn something new every time that you talk to your partner!
Finally, when it’s your turn to share, it’s important to be open and honest. Of course, these are good qualities for all communication, but it’s especially pertinent for a marriage. You should feel free to express your positive and negative emotions to your partner. Just like when you’re listening, it’s important to keep good eye contact when you’re speaking as well.
How can I save my relationship?
One the best and most effective ways to save your relationship is to see a couples therapist with your partner. The therapist can act as an object third party who is trained especially to give advice on how to improve your relationship given the specific facts of what you’re experiencing as a couple. With a marriage therapist, you and your partner can feel free to bring up any problems that you perceive in the relationship, and the therapist can do their best to help equip you to solve these problems.
While there is no miracle question or simple solution to saving a relationship, there are many different experts you can talk to. If you don’t want to jump straight in to marriage counseling, you can also look for books, podcasts, and online resources that are geared toward helping couples improve their relationships. There are many evidence based course and exercises that are offered for free online. Couples counselors can be expensive, so make sure that you and your partner are on the same page and both willing to learn something new before you start counseling or therapy together.
How do you fix a broken relationship?
The first key step in fixing a broken relationship is to see each other through each other’s eyes. Try to focus on the good qualities that you find in your partner, and encourage them to look for your good qualities, as well. This way, you always have that positive image of your partner to fall back on when things get tough in the relationship.
You can also try some cuddle time. Cuddle time is a great way to improve intimacy with your partner without having to talk. There’s also the age-old advice that says don’t go to bed angry. This means that you should put off resolving your issues with your partner. Instead, bring them up and solve them.
While there’s no miracle question or blanket solution to everyone’s relationship issues, these small steps and considerations can put you on the right track when it comes to fixing a broken relationship.
What to talk about in couples counseling?
When you’re deciding what to talk about in couples counseling, you should always keep in mind the goals and aims of the relationship counseling to begin with. Some people expect some sort of miracle question that will open their eyes to all of the solutions that they face in their marriage or relationship. But the fact of the matter is that it’s a process. You’ll talk about a whole range of issues in couples counseling.
The best thing to do is to make a short list of topics that you’d like to cover in the first session or two. Make sure that the therapist knows that you have such a list. Encourage your partner to write a list, too. Then, with help and direction from the therapist, go through these topics and see where the questions and answers take you.
What happens at first couples counseling session?
The first couples counseling session is usually used to get to know you and your partner. You might also do a couple of exercises together. The therapist will help you establish and define clear goals for your counseling, so that all of you are on the same page in terms of what to expect for the future sessions.
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