Effective communication is the lifeblood of a relationship. From making sure they know what’s on one another’s weekly schedule, to staying connected emotionally and knowing one another’s needs, being able to communicate well helps a couple to maintain, deepen and strengthen their relationship. As we’ll find a bit later, there’s a difference between talking and communicating, and that difference is one reason why difficulties sometimes pop up within relationships. In this article we’ll look at some practical couples therapy exercises for you to try with your partner.
Couples therapy exercises are a helpful way to deal with issues that come up in your relationship. Contrary to some ideas, couples therapy isn’t an option you resort to only when things aren’t going well. There are many benefits to doing regular couples therapy exercises, which include simply checking in on and strengthening your relationship.
What can prevent effective communication?
Our lives can get incredibly busy. Between work, maintaining relationships with family and friends, children, volunteering, leisure, or any other activities that occupy our time, it’s easy for a couple to lose track of one another. This lack of time is a large factor in why couples lose touch and stop communicating effectively.
Additionally, effective communication doesn’t simply mean talking plainly. There is a give and take that goes on in effective communication. It requires empathetic listening which allows one to really hear the concerns of their partner, and to do so in such a way that their partner feels heard. That’s easier said than done.
Many of us aren’t effective listeners – we sometimes interrupt the other person while they are talking. We don’t always ask probing or clarifying questions, or we don’t summarize or reflect what the other person has said to make sure we understand what they are saying. Our attention is divided between the person we are listening to and our phones and at times our non-verbal cues such as posture don’t reflect that we are listening well.
In these and other ways, our poor listening skills can prevent good communication. Add to that the fact that sometimes we speak in anger, or we don’t know how to express our emotions well, or we don’t clearly express our needs and expect our partner to anticipate them.
Help from couples therapy exercises
Couples therapy exercises can provide you with space to reconnect, talk through your issues and learn techniques to communicate better to deepen your relationship. There are several exercises that you may be asked to do for your sessions to enhance communication in the relationship, and these exercises can be done at home or in another space of your choosing.
Different couples therapy exercises will work in diverse ways for each couple, as each relationship is unique. You can try out a few different exercises and see what works best for you. Below are a few exercises that you can do to enhance your communication as a couple.
From Sunday school to summer camp, icebreakers are a light-hearted and wonderful way to get people who don’t know one another to start talking. The questions you ask can be random, which adds to the fun of it.
Icebreakers work well with total strangers, but they can be a fun way to get to know your spouse a little better too, to get the conversation going, and to just laugh together. It can even help you keep up with things that may have changed in your spouse’s life. You can find examples of icebreakers online, or make up your own, including asking about their funniest childhood story, their favorite movie, the flavor of fudge, or something they find weird about themselves.
Take up a shared activity
Taking up a shared activity sets aside dedicated time to spend together, something every couple needs. It will provide you with opportunities to talk and create new shared memories around a pleasant experience. Some couples are outdoorsy and active, while others prefer to stick closer to home.
Whatever you choose to take up together – walking, riding bikes, cooking, making music, stargazing – it should be something that allows you to communicate – something you both enjoy doing and that you can do regularly. A couple can spend time together but if they aren’t careful, it can be an experience they share that doesn’t enhance communication. That’s why whatever activity you choose, it must allow you to communicate while you do it.
Uninterrupted listening time
Good communication is about talking, but it is just as much – if not more – about listening. For this exercise, set aside dedicated time to take turns talking and listening. Set a timer for five minutes on your phone or the microwave and simply let your partner talk.
While your partner talks, you should focus your attention on listening. Don’t interrupt them or ask questions as they talk. You can give them non-verbal cues such as nodding, or leaning in, which communicate empathy, encouragement, and attentiveness.
Part of effective listening is for the other person to feel heard, and this exercise can help with that. They can talk about whatever is on their mind – work, what they’re worried about, and so on. Once they are done, you can choose to switch roles and take some time sharing what is on your mind and heart, with your partner listening.
Weekly catch-up meeting
Make it a point to set aside dedicated time each week to talk about how you are doing, any needs that aren’t being met in the relationship, and otherwise checking in on your relationship. The time must be uninterrupted (no phones, TV, or kids around), scheduled, and it can be a half-hour or so long. By scheduling the meeting with each other, you protect the time, and it also sends the signal that you value and prioritize your relationship.
Book and music swap
We feel some of our deepest feelings and think some of our deepest thoughts in the books we read and the music we listen to. They shape us, sometimes in imperceptible ways, and our taste says something about us. Getting your partner’s three favorite albums or books and digging deep into them as something that they love is a creative and interesting way to understand them better.
One way to get to know your partner more deeply is to ask them what they love most about the book or music and that’s. You might find yourself being pleasantly surprised by something you didn’t know about them.
Game of truth
Another popular exercise is called the game of truth, which is where you and your partner ask one another questions and answer them candidly. You can decide for yourselves how heavy or deep you want to go. You can ask after each other’s hopes, dreams, fears, or anything else you think of, answering each question as honestly as possible. This exercise helps you both to be vulnerable and communicate your emotions and thoughts honestly.
These and other exercises can help you improve your communication as a couple. By deliberately setting aside time to be with each other, being vulnerable with each other, and with a sprinkling of the kind of curiosity that drives you to want to know more about your partner, you can deepen and enrich your relationship as you develop your communication skills. When you do these and other exercises, it’s important to stick to them.
When things are going well, it may become tempting to stop. Conversely, when things are going poorly or time is tight, you may think these simple exercises won’t make a difference. Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. Old habits and patterns of communicating and relating to one another are like a pair of old and comfortable slippers. They are comfortable and familiar, and easy to slip back into.
If you try these exercises and you find you’re struggling with communication, consider enlisting the help of a couples therapist or counselor who can help you dig deeper to discern the dynamics at play in your relationship, and provide you with tools to continue improving your communication.
“Remodeling”, Courtesy of Roselyn Tirado, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stop right there!”, Courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Walking Through Town”, Courtesy of Tim Mossholder, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “A Stroll With Mom”, Courtesy of Leon Seibert, Unsplash.com, CC0 License