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How to Do Couples Therapy Exercises

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 03, 2022

Relationships are wonderful but complicated. It’s not uncommon for couples to encounter issues they need some help tackling — and often, this help comes in the form of couples therapy. You know how physical exercise is good for your body. Couples therapy exercises can have a similar impact on your relationship, keeping it in shape and increasing its endurance.

Here's what you need to know about couples therapy and how to start strengthening your relationship with couples therapy exercises.

What Is Couples Therapy?

Couples therapy is a form of therapy that provides couples with the tools they need to communicate with one another and address issues more effectively. It can be used to rebuild broken trust, overcome differences, increase intimacy, and strengthen your overall bond.

There are a few techniques used in couples therapy, including but not limited to:

  • Emotionally focused therapy. This popular type of couples therapy focuses on nurturing feelings of vulnerability and connection that often lie beneath a conflict. Couples are encouraged to identify negative patterns that might be detrimental to the level of emotional security in their relationship.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. The cognitive-behavioral strategy emphasizes developing more effective behaviors within a marriage, such as problem-solving and communication.
  • Solution-focused therapy. This type of therapy focuses on creating solutions for specific issues and therefore is best for couples seeking to solve one particular problem. 
  • Gottman method therapy. The Gottman method focuses on deepening the sense of understanding between couples and improving conflict management within a relationship.

Regardless of the technique you choose, couples therapy exercises will be an important part of any rewarding experience.

How To Do Couples Therapy Exercises

Most couples therapists will give couples “homework” (i.e., specific activities that they can do at home) between sessions. Couples who regularly complete these assignments often experience better results from couples therapy, including improved listening skills, increased affection and intimacy, and greater support within their relationship.

Nonetheless, many couples find it difficult to stay motivated and follow through. Here’s how to do couples therapy exercises successfully:

  • Be consistent. Consistency is key to forming good habits, and couples therapy exercises are designed to help couples establish healthier patterns and dynamics within a relationship. That said, don’t be too hard on yourself or your partner if you have to skip an exercise now and then.
  • Keep an open mind. When starting couples therapy, it’s not uncommon to feel skeptical or unconvinced that it can make a difference — but it’s important to keep an open mind. Couples therapy exercises are evidence-based and have the potential to help you if you let them.
  • Pay attention. When you’re doing couples therapy exercises at home, take note of what works, what doesn’t, and why you feel that way. Share your thoughts with your therapist. So, they can better tailor the exercises to meet your needs.

Make an effort to prioritize the above points during your couples therapy activities.

Couples Therapy Activities

Good news: Most couples therapy exercises are actually fun! The following couples therapy activities can be done in conjunction with therapy sessions or on their own.

  • Identify your love language. What makes you feel loved might not have the same effect on your partner. The primary love languages are touch, quality time, acts of service, receiving gifts, and words of affirmation. Ask your partner which love language means the most to them.
  • Do something new (and fun!). Trying new things together can strengthen your bond. Book a horseback ride, tour a winery, or take a cooking class together.
  • Show physical affection. Little displays of affection like hugs, holding hands, and goodbye/hello kisses all serve to strengthen your connection. The simple act of cuddling releases the “love hormone” oxytocin and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Discuss your interests. Ask about the things your partner enjoys or discuss your shared interests. Talk about the book they just finished reading or listen to that album you both adore.
  • Make eye contact. There’s more to eye contact than meets the eye. Steady eye contact promotes feelings of trust, attraction, and agreement.
  • Take turns listening. Couples therapy isn’t just about being heard. It’s about listening, too. Take turns being the active listener for at least 15 minutes per day and let your partner finish speaking before you respond. This is an excellent way to improve your communication.
  • It’s not “you,” it’s “I.” When discussing an issue with your partner, stick to “I” statements. For instance, say “I feel hurt when you joke about my cooking” — not “You always joke about my cooking.” This shifts the focus to your feelings rather than placing blame on your partner, therefore increasing your likelihood of receiving a positive reaction.
  • Seek solace in the 6-second kiss. Try this Gottman-recommended activity: Once a day (especially on chaotic days), make a point of kissing your partner for at least 6 seconds. A longer kiss can make you feel closer to your partner and less overwhelmed by a busy day.
  • Plan a trip. Traveling is a great way to rekindle your romance, and couples who travel together report stronger commitment and higher levels of satisfaction within their relationships. Spend quality time exploring an unfamiliar place and creating new memories with your partner.
  • Reminisce. Revisiting positive memories can make you feel closer to your partner. Sort through old photos, discuss days gone by, or share your versions of the first time you met.
  • Disconnect from electronic devices. In order to get the most out of the above exercises, you must be fully present — not to mention, neglecting your partner for your phone (known as “phubbing”) negatively impacts your interactions. When you’re with your partner, make a point of looking at them more than your phone.

So, let’s say you start seeing a couples therapist and do your homework regularly. How effective is couples therapy?

Couples Therapy Benefits

Objective input from your therapist combined with regular couples therapy exercises can get your relationship back on track. In fact, up to 90% of couples find that couples therapy significantly improves their relationship. 

Couples therapy exercises encourage increased physical contact, deeper conversation, and prioritizing quality time, which can prompt the following benefits:

  • Improved communication
  • Strengthened trust
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Sounder sleep
  • Decreased desire to overeat

Is Couples Therapy a Good Idea?

Couples therapy exercises can be an excellent resource for struggling couples. If you and your partner are feeling your connection is starting to wane for no particular reason, try doing some fun activities to reignite your passion for one another. If you suspect your relationship needs a bit more work, couples therapy is certainly worth a shot — and the sooner you and your partner seek therapy, the more likely that the therapy would be successful.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
American Psychological Association: “Bringing Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to Russia.”
Boston University: “I” Messages or “I” Statements.”
Computers in Human Behavior: “Daily Technology Interruptions and Emotional and Relational Well-Being.”
First Things First: “6 Exercises to Strengthen Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage,” “Do My Spouse and I Need Common Interests?”
GoodTherapy: “4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Couples Therapy.”
Greater Good Science Center: “Active Listening.”
Marriage Counsellor Hamilton: “25 Best Couples Therapy Techniques, Exercises, and Activities to Try in 2021.”
Penn Medicine: “Can You Kiss and Hug Your Way to Better Health? Research Says Yes.”
PLOS ONE: “Direct Speaker Gaze Promotes Trust in Truth-Ambiguous Statements.”
Psychotherapy Networker: “From Research to Practice: Scoreboard for Couples Therapies,” “Taking Therapy Home: Motivating Couples to Do Their Homework.”
Simply Psychology: “What Are the Five Love Languages?”
University Hospitals: “Couples Therapy Can Help Mend a Marriage.”
The University of Texas at Austin: “Giving Couples Counseling a Try.”

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