The Top Three Couple Counseling Exercises
Updated November 14, 2019
Reviewer Kristina Ellen
No matter how much you love each other, every relationship has rough patches. It's difficult to be with someone all the time for years without having disagreements once in a while. However, if you and your partner are concerned you are drifting apart, some excellent couple counseling exercises may help you.
Couple counseling is ultimately designed to help you build the tools to have a healthy relationship with your partner. There is no shame in getting help sorting through any issues you may be having. In fact, rather than putting off visiting a professional, visiting them early can yield better results. Couple counseling is recommended for those couples having trouble communicating, when the number of arguments between the two of you is increasing, if affection is being withheld from each other as punishment, if you're holding secrets, infidelity, intimacy problems, or if you are having ongoing issues you are unable to resolve.
Fear of the unknown is often what holds people back from getting the help they need. However, over 80% of the people that have visited a professional to get help with their marriages say that counseling has had a positive impact on their lives.
Top Couple Counseling Exercises
While there are several exercises your couple counselor may have you focus on, there are three that are commonly used. We'll cover key details of each exercise below.
- The Gottman Method
The Gottman method is a scientifically proven therapy that has been around for almost 40 years and has helped over three thousand couples heal their relationships. The Gottman method emphasizes nine essential steps to healthy relationships, which include:
- Building Love Maps
This is Gottman's term for getting to know your partner's world. When you decide to spend your life with someone, that also means you decide to let them into your world. This includes memories of your past, thoughts on your present, and what you hope for your future. It also includes your fears and dreams. However, what you share with your partner is simply the beginning of your "world." The idea that you are now a couple means you will take both of your worlds and start merging them together to create a new world where you are adding new dreams, hopes, and memories.
- Sharing Admiration and Fondness
The second step is friendship skills, and it is essential for combating contempt. When you first enter a relationship (sometimes called the "honeymoon" period), it's all about having fun, but this stage does not last. Fondness is specifically sharing with your partner how you feel about them (for example: "I like how you ____," or, "I am impressed by the way that you ____"). Appreciation goes beyond saying "thank you." Be specific (for example: "I appreciate that you_____," or, "I noticed this about you when you were doing ____").
- State Your Needs
Many times, we put the needs of our partners above our own. We believe we will be seen as a better partner if we are taking care of the other person or that we will come off as selfish if we put ourselves first. But when we ignore our needs, we start to feel burned out, unheard, unappreciated, and eventually we may even feel resentful towards the other person. Discussing with your partner what you need is healthy. Whether that is time to do things that fulfill you as a person, or what you need from your partner, be honest about those needs.
- Use a Positive Perspective
The basic principle of this step is to let your partner influence you. A long-term study of 130 newlyweds was found that men who allowed their wives to influence them in the first few months of marriage were happier and less likely to get divorced than men who resisted any influence from their wives. This works both ways.
- 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 problems in relationships are unsolvable. Instead of banging your head against the wall and trying to force your partner to see things "your way" or change, sometimes it is better just to manage the conflict. Take timeouts to cool down before coming back to the conversation, and make sure you are using "I" statements when speaking with one another so that you are not continuing to exacerbate the problem by becoming defensive.
- Talking about Your Values, Hopes, and Dreams
This step ties into building love maps. You never want to stop talking about your values, hopes, and dreams. As we get older, we change. And over time, our values, dreams, and hopes may change. We want to make sure we are not allowing our partners to assume we've stayed the same.
- Sharing Your Visions
Sometimes your visions will be the same, and sometimes they will differ. Sharing a common vision with your partner can help you gain a healthy perspective and help you both combat the ups and downs that come with a marriage or relationship. Simply talking about your visions can also bring you closer and let you feel like you have a shared purpose as a couple.
- Building Trust
Trust is built slowly over time, according to Dr. Gottman (who actually developed a mathematical way to measure trust). Trust builds as you move through life. Dr. Gottman argues that it's not to say that you don't trust your partner now, but it's possible that you do not trust them as you much as you will 10 years from now. Let trust continue to build over the seasons of your relationship.
- Believing in Commitment
At the end of the day, you have each other. You have trust, love, empathy, respect, and admiration. But do you also have commitment? And do you believe in what commitment means to you both as a couple? Couples sometimes assume that commitment comes with exchanging vows or after being together for a certain period of time, but it may look different for each person, and so it's important to discuss what that looks like for your relationship.
- Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
Since the 1980s, EFT has been improving people's lives by helping to strengthen the bond between them. This is usually a short-term exercise that focuses on three main goals, which include:
- Expanding and reorganizing emotional responses
- Securing a tighter bond between you and your partner
- Repositioning each person's stance during interactions, and making new and improved interactions
EFT is a proven couple counseling exercise that has been found to significantly improve the relationships for 90% of those that have tried it.
- Narrative Therapy Exercises
Narrative therapy is a simple and respectful approach to counseling that puts individuals in charge of their own lives by letting them narrate what is going on in their relationship through their eyes. By letting others write down what they believe the problems are and what can be done to fix them, it helps everyone involved see things from the other's point of view. The therapist can then help each person write a new story of what they would like their life to become, together as well as individually.
Considering Couples Counseling
As discussed above, there is strong evidence that shows incredible benefits to doing couples counseling. If you're considering getting couples counseling, here are some things you can do to help prepare you so you can get the most out of your sessions.
It's important to take care of yourself so that you are in the best position to make the changes needed to improve your relationship. Be intentional about your self-care and work towards keeping both your mind and your body healthy.
You can only change yourself. Make the most of your therapy by understanding yourself, the issues you are facing, what you want, and the role you play in your current relationship.
Look for things to be grateful for regularly. Practicing gratitude can help you start looking for the good in each situation, leading to more positivity and can help you see your partner in a new light.
It's not uncommon for a couple to forego the help that they need simply because they were embarrassed or ashamed to be seen going into the therapist's office. Online counseling services like BetterHelp have removed this barrier so that couples can get the help they need to grow and improve their relationships, all from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Online counseling can be especially helpful for couples, since the two partners do not have to be in the same location in order to talk to the counselor. This is helpful for people in long-distance relationships as well as those who are not physically living together, or are on different schedules. BetterHelp has helped thousands of couples. Consider the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors below.
"Stephanie is a gem! She's very thoughtful, thorough, honest, insightful but most of all helpful. This is coming from a person that never wanted to do counseling and just "knew" I didn't need it. She's been key in helping my wife and I find our better place. She made us grow as a couple and individually. Thanks Steph!'
"I would refer Helen to anyone that would need to speak to a counselor. She listens and gives excellent advice. My husband and I are the closest we've ever been."
By learning about the exercises mentioned above, you've taken the important first step in the journey to strengthen your relationship. A truly fulfilling and lasting relationship is possible-all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.