Unique Counseling Exercises For Couples

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many romantic relationships and romantic partners can experience conflicts, challenges, and impasses. There is no ideal relationship and disagreements can occur for various reasons, which may not always signify the need for a change. However, couples counseling exercises might benefit you if you and your partner are concerned you are drifting apart or struggling to communicate effectively. 

Couples counseling is often designed to help you build the tools for a healthy relationship and profound connection with your partner in a productive manner. According to Forbes, 49% of American married couples attend couples therapy, meaning reaching out for help may not be as shameful as some may believe. Rather than putting off visiting a professional, seeking help before more profound concerns occur could be beneficial. 

Couples at all stages of their relationship may benefit from couples counseling, including newlyweds, newly formed blended families, or couples who are having a difficult time communicating. Counseling may be recommended if you are struggling to communicate, experiencing an increased number of arguments, experiencing less emotional intimacy or physical affection, holding secrets, experiencing infidelity, or struggling with ongoing concerns you'd like to resolve. If you're worried about the effectiveness of couples therapy, know that 70% of couples find it effective in the long term. 

Is Your Relationship Under Stress?

Top Couples Counseling Exercises

While there are several couple counseling techniques and couple counseling exercises your counselor may focus on, the three most commonly utilized options are listed below.

The Gottman Method

The Gottman method is a type of couples therapy utilized for over 40 years that has helped over 3,000 couples heal their relationships at a profound level. The Gottman therapy emphasizes eight steps to healthy relationships, which include the following.

Building Love Maps 

"Love maps" is a term devised by doctors John and Julie Gottman to describe the process of getting to know your partner's world and understand your partner’s mind. When you decide to spend your life with someone, you may let them into your world, including memories of your past, thoughts on your present, and what you hope for your future. It can also include your fears and dreams. When you are a couple, you combine your worlds and start merging them to create a new world where you add new dreams, hopes, and memories to your relationships. 

Developing Friendship Skills 

The second step in the Gottman process includes learning friendship skills to combat contempt. It can involve becoming your partner's friend, as well as their lover. You might use specific statements to show sincere attention and care. For example, you could say, "I appreciate that you_____," or, "I noticed _____ about you when you were doing ____." You may also engage in reflective listening practices using good eye contact to help your partner feel heard and cared for. 

Stating Your Needs

Some partners may put the needs of their relationships over their own. They may believe they are a better partner or less selfish if caring for someone else. However, ignoring your needs may make you feel burned out, unheard, unappreciated, or resentful toward yourself or your partner. Additionally, studies show that suppressing emotions can harm your physical and emotional health. 

Discussing your emotions, needs, and wants with your partner can be healthy. If you feel the need to start a specific career path, need more one on one time, want to practice a new hobby, or change your living arrangements, speaking up can help you and your partner come to a solution. 

Gaining A Positive Perspective

You may gain a positive perspective by allowing your partner to influence you. A long-term study of 130 newlyweds found that spouses who allowed their partners to influence them in the first few months of marriage felt happier and were less likely to get divorced than those who resisted any influence from their partners. Listening to your romantic partner's dreams and influences could allow you to practice active listening and grow together.

Managing Conflict Rather Than Trying To Resolve It  

In Dr. Gottman's book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, his research found that 69% of relationship problems may be unsolvable. Instead of having your partner see the situation from your point of view or fix every disagreement, it may be healthier to manage the conflict.  

Take timeouts to cool down before returning to the conversation, and ensure you use "I" statements when speaking with one another. Reducing defensiveness may help you communicate. Offer a meaningful apology when necessary, and try not to over-apologize or do so to gain affection from the other person.

Talking About Your Values, Hopes, And Dreams

This step can be related to building a love map. Try not to stop talking about your values, hopes, and dreams. As individuals get older, they can change. Over time, values, dreams, and hopes may change. Ensure you're not staying the same due to your relationship. Allow yourself room to grow, see new opportunities, and accept your partner's dreams for growth. Note that your own dreams may be the same or may differ. 

Building Trust

According to Dr. Gottman, trust may be built slowly over time. Trust can grow between partners as you move through life together. If you're struggling with trust, couples therapy trust exercises may benefit you. 

Believing In Commitment

Knowing you have your partner on your team may help you build commitment. Ask yourself if you believe in what commitment means to you and your partner. Couples might assume that commitment comes with exchanging vows, a family, or long-term love. However, it can look different for each person. Discuss what commitment means to you.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

Since the 1980s, emotionally focused therapy (EFT) has improved people's lives by strengthening their bonds and focusing on emotions. EFT is often comprised of short-term exercises focusing on three main goals, including the following: 

  • Expanding and reorganizing emotional responses

  • Creating a tighter bond between you and your partner

  • Repositioning each person's stance during interactions to create new and improved interactions

EFT is a couples therapy exercise that may significantly improve couples' communication, validation, and understanding. 

Narrative Therapy 

Narrative therapy is a respectful approach to counseling that puts individuals in charge of their own lives by letting them narrate their relationship through roleplay and activities. This form of therapy might be practiced through art, roleplay, writing, or demonstrations. The therapist can help each person devise a new story of how they'd like their relationship to improve. The couples can practice new techniques and ideas through the story to gradually create their dream relationship.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is an approach to therapy that focuses on thinking patterns in individuals or relationships that may not be helpful and becoming aware of these patterns. Through CBT, couples therapists may help couples to learn relationship skills and create a safe space to discuss relationship problems. A couples counselor may spend time understanding roles within the relationship and how one partner interacts with the other or other family members. The therapist can practice listening skills and other therapy techniques to build cognitive awareness within a romantic relationship. 

Is Your Relationship Under Stress?

Is Your Relationship Under Stress?

Couples counseling can be highly beneficial. If you're considering the modalities or activities above, the following areas may be focused on in and outside of your sessions. 


During couples therapy, care for yourself to be in the healthiest position to make changes to improve your relationship. Be intentional about your self-care, and work productively towards keeping your mind and body healthy. You might partake in activities like daily exercise, meditation, or healthier meals. 


In therapy, you may work to change your behaviors and thoughts without controlling your partner while they do the same. Understanding yourself, your concerns, what you want, and your role in your current relationship could be beneficial. Think about your love language, what you want from a relationship, and how your partner makes you feel.


Expressing gratitude and making a concerted effort to be thankful for your partner is an important part of developing a strong bond. Try to find areas of your life to feel grateful for each day. Practicing gratitude can help you look for the positive in each situation and see your partner in a new light.

Counseling Options 

It may not be uncommon for couples to forego the support they seek because they feel embarrassed or ashamed to attend an in-person therapy session. Couples therapy exercises can be conducted in various manners, including online. If you face barriers, shame, or uncertainty regarding in-person counseling, consider an internet-based platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples. 

A growing body of research shows that online counseling for couples effectively addresses relationship concerns. In a report published in the European Journal of Counselling Psychology, researchers noted that significant barriers preventing couples from seeking counseling included cost, long commute times, and discretion concerns. These concerns were removed when partaking in internet-based counseling, and other researchers found that this type of counseling was more effective than in-person couples therapy.  

Online counseling provided by mental health professionals can allow couples to meet simultaneously from two locations through cell phone, video, or live chat sessions. Additionally, couples can find support through worksheets and assignments sent to the clients after sessions. 


Couples therapy may employ a variety of methods, including the Gottman method, EFT, or narrative therapy ideas. These modalities and the activities that can accompany them may help couples improve communication, emotional understanding, and commitment. If you're interested in getting started with couples therapy techniques, consider reaching out to a couples therapist for further insight and support. 

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