How Couples Counseling Exercises Strengthen Relationships
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated November 20, 2019
Medically Reviewed By: Christy B.
You've probably heard that relationships are hard, and each one has its own challenges. Relationships are complex, and even the best ones will be faced with tough times on occasion. If you're struggling in your relationship, there is help available to you. Couples counseling can help you work through obstacles and put you and your partner back on the right path.
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 helps a great deal in improving and maintaining relationships. Here are some specific ways that counseling exercises can help that we'll discuss in more detail below:
- Get to know your partner better
- Practice healthy communication
- Remind you of why you chose them
- Learn to engage in a more positive way
- Separate your preconceived notions from the reality of who your partner is
- Get to the root of the problem
- Rebuild trust
Does couples counseling work?
You may have heard that the divorce rate is starting to drop. That seems like it should be a good thing, but it's a very misleading statistic. As an article in Time Magazine discussed, the rate is dropping because fewer millennials are choosing to get married. So, it doesn't necessarily mean that couples are choosing to stay together longer. And, whether you're married or not, you're still in a relationship that can go through difficult times.
This is precisely what couples counseling helps with. You might not like the idea of sharing your relationship struggles with another person. And, you may be wondering if couples counseling even works. It does. In fact, Psychology today shared an article explaining that the success rate of couples counseling is continuing to rise. One study found that the success rate to be around 70 percent. So, if you're struggling in your relationship, don't be discouraged. Couples counseling can help you turn things around.
Types of couples counseling exercises
There are several different types of couples counseling exercises that focus on specific elements within your relationship.
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 and empathize with each other. Each partner is encouraged to listen to his or her partner without interrupting or immediately responding. 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.
When Is the Best Time for Couples Counseling?
Whenever you have unresolved issues, disputes you can't settle, long-standing 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 that you can learn more mentally healthy habits that will have a significant impact on your relationship. 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 honestly face your issues. Or, go when you still have doubts and let the process convince you. Whenever you decide to go, think of it as the beginning of a better relationship, a stronger union, and a healthier you.
How couples counseling exercises help
Couples counseling will have a significantly positive impact on your relationship in several different ways.
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 would have imagined. You might learn a secret dream they've had all their lives 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. However, as good as this news is, it won't help you until it becomes a part of your everyday lives, and that takes practice. During couples 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 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 likely already understand 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 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 notions 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 this isn't always true. Even if your partner betrayed you on just one occasion, it might still be hard to get past that one indiscretion. The exercises you might practice in couples counseling can provide 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.
How to Find The Right Help for You
Relationships are important to maintain, but it 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. Here are a few tips on finding couples counseling:
- Find a local therapist. You can also look for a local therapist that you and your partner can go to together. Make sure to look for someone that's experienced with relationship counseling.
- Meet with your pastor. If you attend a local church or religious organization in your area, they may offer counseling services. It's important to remember that this isn't the same as seeing a licensed therapist, but they may be able to help you sort through your struggles.
- Work on it yourself. While it's not the same as couples counseling, you can improve your relationship simply by investing time and effort in it. With the right strategies, you can nurture your relationship and overcome obstacles on your own.
- Consider online therapy. If you're looking for a convenient option for couples counseling, BetterHelp could be the perfect fit for you. It makes it easy for both you and your partner to meet with a counselor without having to make it to an office. BetterHelp therapists are able to help you identify areas that need attention within your relationship and teach you effective strategies to use in order to make those improvements. You can read the reviews of our counselors below, from couples experiencing different relationship issues.
"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!"
"Mark has been extremely attentive to everything that I disclose. He's not only provided me support but insight and encouragement to let me know I'm on a good path to self-improvement and discovery. Furthermore, Mark has provided me valuable insight on my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship."
If you're struggling within your relationship, couples counseling might be exactly what you've been looking for - a reliable solution. It can provide you and your partner with the fundamental strength to mend old wounds, gain new perspectives, and fall in love all over again. With BetterHelp, getting professional online counseling has never been easier. You can take the first step today.