12 Couples Therapy Exercises to Try With Your Partner
As annoying as online dating can be, getting into a relationship is the easy part. Couples therapy exercises help people in long term relationships manage conflict, stay on the same page, and maintain and deepen their connection.
These easy exercises are painless to try, so give them a go. Let us know which ones you like the best.
1. Conquer Stress Triggers Together
Stress is a part of life. Some stress is necessary for growth, like putting mild stress on your body during strength workouts. Chronic stress, however, places the body in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Setting aside the health ramifications of chronic stress, being on edge 24/7 can take a toll on even the best relationships.
To start, make a list of each of your stressors. Then, go down the list and identify possible solutions. For example, if one partner finds it stressful to have to make dinner after a long work day, you could team up to shop and prep meals together over the weekend. If one of you is too pressed for time in the morning to take out the trash, swap chores.
Don't underestimate the need for rest and self-care, either. Everyone needs some time to reset. Take turns holding down the fort while the other person takes time to workout, take a long bath or get a massage. There are obviously times when life is stressful no matter what you do, and those times can make or break a relationship. Supporting each other through rough patches can keep stress levels to a minimum and strengthen your trust in each other at the same time.
2. Host a Weekly Honesty Hour
Anyone who's been in a relationship for more than five minutes can tell you that honesty is the best policy — mostly. Being honest about the big stuff is always a must, but sharing every single complaint can chip away at any relationship. Constantly pointing out your partner's mistakes and shortcomings isn't helpful, but ignoring things that bother you for fear of hurting their feelings isn't helpful either.
Instead, plan an hour each week to be completely honest with each other, free from judgment. Set a few rules, like:
- Listen first
- No interrupting
- Try not to take things personally or react emotionally
- No holding grudges
Try to keep it in perspective. You both love each other, so honesty hour is about hearing each other and solving problems together. Being honest and open is about understanding and supporting each other better, not tearing each other down. If tensions are high, consider trying this with a couples therapist first to avoid triggering defensive reactions.
3. Unplug on the Reg
Working from home is great, except when it's not. It's easy for work to bleed into family life or for sending texts to interrupt date night. Try setting aside at least an hour a week of screen-free time with your partner. No phones, tablets or TV. Even movies should be off limits, because are you really connecting when you're both just staring at a screen? No!
Instead, focus all of your attention on each other. Make a meal together, go on a hike or trade massages. Whatever brings the focus back to each other, sans distraction.
4. Plan Activities to Try Together
Speaking of activities, try some new ones together on a regular basis. Getting stuck in a rut can make a relationship feel stale. Rather than choosing an activity one of you is already a pro at, make a point of trying new things together.
It can be as simple as taking a dance class, attending a paint-and-sip night or trying out a new type of restaurant. Sharing a novel experience is a surefire way to liven up your routine and breathe some excitement back into your relationship.
5. Pen a Gratitude List
Once you've experienced everyday life together, particularly if you live together, it's all too easy to take your partner's positive attributes for granted. At least once a week, sit down and reflect on things you love about your partner. Pointing out small things they do that makes your day easier or brings a smile to your face can help them feel seen and valued.
Alternatively, you can start a gratitude jar instead. Every day, write one thing you appreciate about each other on a piece of paper. Put it in the jar, and read them together at the end of the week.
6. Practice Intimacy Daily
No, we're not just talking about sex. Intimacy is about connection, and the physical aspect of it is only one facet. You're supposed to connect with your partner on a deeper emotional level than anyone else, so get vulnerable. Spend time each day talking before bed. When there are opportunities to connect throughout the day, take them. Hold hands, or just give them a mini back rub while they're making their morning coffee.
It's easy to let these moments slip, but it's surprisingly easy to let so much time go by that you no longer recognize the person sitting across from you at the breakfast table. Simply showing interest in your partner and mixing small acts of affection throughout the day can help you stay connected even when life gets busy.
7. Try on Active Listening for Size
Have you ever caught yourself responding to everything someone says with something about yourself? This is super common, and most of us do it as an attempt to relate. Instead of (accidentally) making the conversation about you, try letting your partner freely express themselves without interruption. Instead of offering advice or sharing something about your own life, just sit back and listen. Set a timer for a few minutes, and really try to process what they're sharing.
When they're done, try asking questions to further the conversation. Say they're talking about how they're frustrated with their hectic work schedule. Instead of comparing it to yours, ask what their ideal work schedule would look like or how you can help.
8. Adopt a Positive Language Style
Have you noticed how parenting has evolved in recent years? Research has consistently shown positive parenting techniques to be more effective, and the same principles apply to other relationships as well. When a person receives positive feedback for an action they took, the natural response is to try to replicate it. In other words, focus on what you want to see, not what you don't.
For example, instead of complaining that your partner always forgets to take the trash out, tell them how happy it made you when you got home and the dishes were already done. If you can't stand the tacky shirt they can't seem to part with, don't tell them it's ugly. Tell them how great they looked in a different shirt they wore last week. The odds are good that they'll start wearing it more, and you don't have to hurt their feelings to make it happen.
9. Practice Validating Your Partner
The term validation comes up a lot these days, but what does it really mean? To validate something usually means to confirm it's accurate or legitimate, but in relationships, validation has a slightly different meaning. To validate someone means to affirm that the person and their thoughts and feelings have value and merit.
Validating a partner makes them feel more connected and secure. It fosters a deeper sense of trust that makes them feel safe enough to show their more vulnerable side. Have you ever shared something personal only for your partner to judge you? It doesn't feel great. Make sure to show your partner that you respect their unique perspective and experience and want to understand it better, even if you don't always agree.
10. Revisit Happy Memories
Between work, family and everyday stressors, it's easy to forget the fun parts of your relationship. If you're having a hard time remembering what's so great about long-term relationships anyway, look back at some of the amazing times you've shared.
Just remembering what brought you together in the first place can reignite a fizzling romance. It might even inspire you to go out and make some new memories together.
11. Replace "You" With "I"
What does every statement of blame have in common? The word "you." You never help with the laundry. You always work late. Why don't you bother planning dates anymore?
Criticism and finger-pointing usually lead to defensiveness and avoidance, not problem-solving. Luckily, there are better ways of getting your needs and wants met without putting down your partner at all. Just replace "you" statements with "I" statements.
- I would love it if you could help with the laundry. If I fold it, will you put it away?
- I'm so proud of you for putting in extra hours at the office, but I miss spending time together. How about we plan dinner together a few times a week?
- I love when we take the time to get out of the house. Would you like to take turns planning date nights every other week?
Better results, and no confrontation. Perfect.
12. Learn Each Other's Love Language
A fun and surprisingly helpful way to get to know your partner better is by identifying each other's love language. A love language is the way in which we best give and receive love.
Some people prefer physical affection, for example, while others like doing favors for their partner or buying them special surprises. Knowing how your partner likes to receive affection can be a game changer.
Learn how to figure out your love language and find more ways to give your relationship a boost with these other FamilyMinded stories: