How Couples Counseling Exercises Strengthen Relationships
By Sarah Fader
Updated December 10, 2018
Reviewer Christy B.
Each relationship has its own strengths and challenges. Relationships are complex and can cause stress and pain for each partner. Often when couples struggle with their relationships they consider attending couples counseling.
Couples counseling offers many exercises, concepts, and professional expertise that help mend issues in relationships. There are many ways that couples counseling exercises strengthen relationships. Taking the appropriate steps to learn exercises offered in couples counseling help a great deal in improving and maintaining relationships.
Trust Building Exercises
Trust building exercises target two key areas: forgiveness and promises. When it comes to trust issues in relationships, there is a wall built between the two partners. Trust building exercises work to break down the walls built between the partners to improve trust. Often in relationships, trust has been shattered in some way. Whether a promise was broken or secrets were discovered, broken trust can seriously rattle each partner in different ways. Trust building exercises help each partner identify the errors in their behavior and work toward building trust through forgiveness and follow-through on commitments and promises.
Trust in relationships can also be affected by one or both partner's previous relationship history with others. It is common for a partner to bring insecurities and suspicions created from previous relationships into new relationships. The following couples counseling exercises can help the couple break the influence of old relationships and build a stronger foundation of trust for the current relationship:
- Coming Clean. A commonly used and powerful exercise used to build trust is the 'coming clean' exercise. In this exercise, each partner is encouraged to show complete honesty and humility as they talk through their issues, mistakes, and grievances. Each partner will learn how to be honest, receptive, and work toward forgiveness.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy(DBT). DBT is helpful for building trust because it teaches each partner how to approach each other with acceptance, patience, and validation. It also helps the anxious partner(s) learn how to use reason to identify underlying issues behind their emotional upset in different situations.
Communication is vital to the growth of any relationship. In order to have trust, each partner must have productive communication skills. Couples counseling incorporates communication exercises into each therapy session. Common couples counseling exercises include:
- Active Listening and Engaging With "I Feel" Statements. Active listening teaches the couple how to listen to empathize, not listen to respond. Each partner is encouraged to listen to his or her partner, not interrupt, and not immediately respond. Once the information is processed the receiving partner will be asked to respond with a statement beginning in "what I'm hearing you saying is…". In turn, the expressing partner will be asked to express their thoughts and feelings with "I" statements, rather than "you [are, did, do, can't, etc,]" statements.
- Gratitude Lists. Gratitude lists are helpful in strengthening the bond between partners and teaching each partner how to express what they appreciate and need from each other. It also aids in incorporating positive affirmations and expression of valued attributes within each partner, which can be useful for ensuring that both partners feel important, valuable, and loved.
How to Find The Right Help for You
Relationships are important to maintain and can be challenging at times. If you and your partner feel your relationship may be struggling then it is important to consider couple's counseling. To begin your journey in creating a stronger, happier relationship, go to www.betterhelp.com, a resource for online therapy services.
Get to Know Each Other Better
As many people who have been married a long time can testify to, you can be with a person for many decades and still learn new things about them. The exercises your counselor teaches you can often give you a clearer view of how your partner feels and thinks. You may learn things about their background and upbringing that you never imagined your partner went through. You might learn a secret dream they've had all their life and never felt brave enough to pursue. The more you learn, the better equipped you'll be to become a more loving partner. We can all work on ourselves and as a result of this have a healthier relationship with our partners.
Practice Healthy Communications
It's nice to finally learn about a way to communicate so that each partner feels loved and respected. As good as this news is, though, it won't help you until it becomes a part of your everyday lives and that takes practice. During couple's counseling sessions, your counselor gently reminds you when you get off track. They might offer a more constructive way to share your feelings. They might even ask you to say something in a different way. All this practice will carry over into your daily interactions with your partner. Your relationship will be stronger because you speak to and behave towards each other in ways that create harmony rather than discord.
Remember Why You Chose Them
Sometimes the wear and tear of life can blind you to the beauty of the person you once decided to spend your life with. You can get caught up in arguments and forget their vulnerability, wisdom, and charm. Couples counseling exercises remind you what attracted you to your partner in the first place. If you pay attention and each follows the counselor's instructions, you may see your partner as you saw them when the relationship started, back when it was new and seemed perfect. Of course, no relationship is actually perfect. Human beings all have strengths and flaws but you already know that. However, the exercises you learn in counseling together can help you recall those moments of perfection and joy.
Engage in a More Positive Way
Exercises like gratitude lists can put you into a better frame of mind for improving your relationship. They give you opportunities to see the good in your partner and in your life together. When you re-experience the gratitude you've felt for each other at various times throughout your relationship, you become more focused on creating more things to be grateful for. You also begin to associate your partner with pleasant times as well as happy memories. Instead of laying blame on each other, you begin to look for solutions that work for both of you. You see the good in one another other more clearly than ever before. This fuels your motivation to rebuild your partnership into a healthy dynamic.
Separate Preconceived Notions from the Reality of Who Your Partner Is
There are times when couples fight about subjects that have little to do with their relationship. They might see all women as if they are like their mother or all men as if they are like their father. This is a common misperception, but it is one that can be analyzed through couple's therapy. When this misconception is corrected, the partners can begin to see each other as they are rather than as if they conformed to their preconceived notion of people of that gender.
Get to the Source of the Grievances
When you do the 'coming clean' exercise, it's likely that you'll discover many things about your partner and about yourself. You might suddenly realize why your partner sometimes stays out late as well as why it makes you so angry. If there are old wounds behind these actions and feelings, exposing them gives you a chance to deal with the root cause of them. Also, you might discover for the first time that your spouse was abused as a child. This could lead you to have more compassion for that person and a greater understanding of who they are. This knowledge alone can help you look for better ways to interact with them, and the counselor is there whenever you need help with that.
Learn to Trust Again
Trust may be the hardest thing to regain once it's lost. You want to believe your partner will do what's in your best interests, but experience has shown you that that isn't always true. Even if your partner betrayed you on just one occasion, it can be hard to get past that one indiscretion.
The exercises you might practice in couples counseling give you a chance to interact in the here and now on a very personal, intimate level. You share who you are, what you've been through in your life, your darkest times and your deepest wounds. You give the other person a clear picture of the "you" that you don't usually share with others and they give the same to you as well. In all this sharing and vulnerability, a new trust can be created that can weather storms in the future that you can't predict right now.
When Is the Best Time for Couples Counseling?
Whenever you have unresolved issues, disputes you can't settle, longstanding grievances, or emotional wounds that won't heal on their own, counseling can help you live a more fulfilling and pleasant life. Couples counseling is helpful anytime you are facing a major challenge, like loss of a career or the death of a child. It's also beneficial when all the little arguments in your marriage begin to sour your feelings toward your partner. Even if your relationship seems healthy, it can be helpful to see a counselor for a while before you make any major decision or change.
You don't have to wait until your partner agrees to go to counseling with you. You can talk to a couples counselor about your relationship so you can learn more mentally healthy habits and possibly have a great impact on the relationship all by yourself. Then, when your partner sees the changes you've made, they may be more open to joining you with the therapist.
In the end, there is no right or wrong when it comes to deciding when to go into couple's therapy. Go when you're ready to face your issues honestly. Or, go when you still have doubts and let the process convince you. Whenever you go, think of it as the beginning of a better relationship, a stronger union, and a healthier you.