How Couples Therapy Exercises Can Strengthen Relationships

Medically reviewed by Bobbi Jo Stoner, LPC
Updated October 19, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Couples therapy can be beneficial for relationships in various ways, and engaging in couple counseling exercises during the therapy sessions can help couples strengthen their communication skills, deepen their emotional connection, and work through issues in a constructive and positive manner. Most couples therapists utilize various exercises to help partners strengthen their relationships, and these often include trust-building exercises like “Coming Clean” and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. In addition, therapists may employ communication exercises like active listening, using “I feel” statements, and making gratitude lists. These exercises can help you get to know each other better, improve your communication skills, help you remember why you chose your partner and engage with them in a more positive way, separate preconceived notions from reality, get to the root of any issues, and learn to trust again. Online couples therapy or marriage counseling can be an excellent choice if you and your partner are experiencing any challenges.

Want To Strengthen Your Relationship?

There are many ways that couples therapy exercises can strengthen relationships. Taking the appropriate steps to learn exercises offered in couples therapy may help improve and maintain relationships by showing you how to:

  • Get to know your partner better

  • Practice healthy communication

  • Remember why you chose your partner

  • 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 problems

  • Rebuild trust

Does Couples Therapy Work?

You may wonder if couples therapy is worth trying, or if it even works.

One study found the success rate of couples therapy to be around 70%.

If you’re struggling in your relationship, don’t be discouraged; couples therapy may help you turn things around if you and your partner are both making efforts to improve your relationship.

Types Of Couples Counseling Exercises

Several types of couples therapy exercises can focus on specific elements within your relationship. These exercises can be used together in one therapy program to better tailor your treatment to your relationship’s unique situation. Let’s go over some potential exercises for couples.

Trust-Building Exercises

Trust-building exercises usually target two key areas associated with the larger idea of trust: forgiveness and promises. In relationships, trust is often tested in some way. Whether a promise wasn’t kept or secrets were discovered, broken trust may affect each partner in different ways.

When it comes to trust issues in relationships, there is often an emotional wall built between the two partners. Trust-building exercises typically work to break down the walls built between the partners. They can help each partner identify issues with their behavior and work toward either gaining or giving forgiveness and following through on commitments and promises in the future.

Trust in relationships can also be affected by one or both partners’ previous relationship history with others. It can be common for a partner to bring insecurities and suspicions that originate in previous relationships into new relationships. 

Here are two couples therapy exercises that 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 that can be used to build trust is the “coming clean” exercise. In this exercise, each partner may be encouraged to show complete honesty and humility as they talk through their issues, mistakes, and grievances. Each partner may learn how to be honest and receptive as they work toward forgiveness.

  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) - Though most commonly used to treat conditions like Borderline Personality Disorder, DBT can help couples build trust by establishing a focus on emotional acceptance and control. It can teach each partner how to approach each other with acceptance, patience, and validation. It may also help a partner who is nervous about communication or relationships learn how to use reason to identify underlying issues behind their emotional upset in different situations.

Communication Exercises

Communication can be vital to the growth of any healthy relationship. Couples therapy often incorporates communication exercises into each therapy session. Common communication exercises can include:

  • Active Listening And Engaging With “I Feel” Statements - Active listening is a technique that may encourage the couple to listen and empathize with each other. It may involve truly seeing the emotions in each other’s eyes, allowing for a deeper connection. During this exercise, each partner is usually asked to listen to their partner without interrupting or immediately responding. Once the information is processed, the receiving partner may be asked to respond with a statement beginning with, “What I’m hearing you say is…” In turn, the expressing partner may be asked to express their thoughts and feelings with “I” statements rather than “you (are, did, do, can’t, etc.)” statements. This can put the focus on understanding how your partner interprets your words and actions.

  • Gratitude Lists - Gratitude lists can strengthen the bond between partners and teach each partner how to express what they appreciate and need from each other. They can also aid in incorporating positive affirmations and expression of valued attributes within each partner, which can ensure that both partners feel important, valuable, and loved. 

  • The Miracle Question - This exercise invites couples to envision a scenario where a miracle happens and all their relationship issues are magically resolved overnight. The therapist might ask, "If a miracle happened while you were asleep, and when you wake up, all the problems you have are solved, how would you notice it? What would be different?" The answers might not only reveal wishes and needs but also highlight potential ways to resolve the issues.

When Is the Best Time For Couples Therapy?

Whenever you have unresolved issues, disputes you can’t settle, long-standing grievances, or emotional wounds that won’t heal on their own, therapy may help you live a more fulfilling and pleasant life. Couples therapy may be helpful anytime you are facing a major challenge, like the loss of a career or the death of a child. It can also be beneficial when small arguments in your relationship begin to sour your feelings toward your partner. Even if your relationship is healthy, it can be helpful to see a counselor before you make any major decision or change.

You may not have to wait until your partner agrees to go to therapy with you. You can talk to a couples counselor about your relationship on your own so that you can learn more mentally healthy habits that can have a significant impact on your relationship. When your partner sees the changes you’ve made, they may be more open to joining you in therapy.

In the end, there is no right or wrong when it comes to deciding when to go to couples therapy. Go when you’re ready, or go when you still have doubts, and the process may convince you. Whenever you decide to go, try to think of it as the beginning of a better relationship, a stronger union, and a healthier you.

How Couples Counseling Exercises Can Help Your Relationship

Couples therapy can 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, you can be with a person for many decades and still learn new things about them. The exercises your counselor teaches 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 knew. 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 may be to become a more loving partner.

Practice Healthy Communication

It can be nice to learn about a way to communicate so that each partner feels loved and respected. However, this type of communication may not help you until it becomes a part of your everyday lives, and that can take practice. During couples therapy sessions, your counselor may gently remind you when you get off-track. They might even ask you to say something different. All this practice may carry over into your daily interactions with your partner. Your relationship may be stronger because you speak and behave toward 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 decided to spend your life with. You might get caught up in arguments and forget their vulnerability, wisdom, and charm. Couples therapy exercises can remind you of what attracted you to your partner in the first place. If you pay attention and each partner follows the counselor’s instructions, you may see your partner as you saw them when the relationship started, back when everything was new and seemed perfect.

Of course, no relationship can be perfect. Human beings all have strengths and flaws, but you likely already understand that. The exercises you learn in therapy together can help you recall those moments of perfection and joy and apply that appreciation to your current relationship.

Engage In A More Positive Way

Exercises like gratitude lists can put you into a better frame of mind for improving your relationship. They can give you opportunities to see the good in your partner and your life together. When you reexperience the gratitude you’ve felt for each other at various times throughout your relationship, you may focus on creating more things to be grateful for. You may also begin to associate your partner with pleasant times and happy memories. Instead of laying blame on each other, you might begin to look for solutions that work for both of you. You may see the good in one another more clearly than ever before. This can fuel your motivation to rebuild your partnership into a healthy dynamic.

Separate Preconceived Notions From Reality

There can be times when couples fight about subjects that have little to do with their relationship and more to do with their misconceptions about the world around them, or their own partners. If these misconceptions can be corrected, the partners may begin to see each other as they are rather than as if they conformed to their preconceived notions.

Get To The Source Of The Grievances

There may be certain traumas or mental health challenges your partner carries with them that you are unaware of. Couples therapy can help you and your partner to see each other more deeply by exploring the root cause of behaviors and mindsets. This could lead you to have more compassion and a greater understanding of who your partner is. This knowledge can help you look for better ways to interact with them, facilitated by your counselor.

Learn To Trust Again

Trust may be the hardest thing to regain once it’s lost but it’s one of the cornerstones of a healthy relationship. You may wish to believe your partner will do what’s in your best interests, but experience may have 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. 

How To Find The Right Help For You

Relationships can be important to maintain, but they can also be challenging at times. If you and your partner feel your relationship may be struggling, then it may be important to consider couples therapy.

Here are a few tips that may help you find couples therapy:

  • Work On It Yourself - While it’s not the same as couples therapy, you can improve your relationship simply by investing time and effort in it. With the right strategies, you may nurture your relationship and overcome obstacles on your own.

  • Meet With Your Religious Leader - If you attend a local religious organization, they may offer therapy services. It can be important to remember that this may not be the same as seeing a licensed therapist, but if you are both deeply invested in your faith, a religious leader may be able to help you sort through your struggles on a moral or personal level.

  • Find An In-Person Or Online Therapist - You can also look for a therapist you and your partner can see together. Make sure to look for someone who’s experienced with relationship therapy.

Online Therapy Can Support Your Relationship

If you’re looking for a convenient option for couples therapy, online therapy could be a great fit for you. It can make it easy for you and your partner to meet with a counselor without having to travel to an office, allowing you to meet in your own home at a set time that’s convenient for you. A licensed professional may help you identify areas that need attention within your relationship and teach you effective strategies to make improvements. 

It can be important to note that online therapy has been clinically proven to be as effective as in-person therapy for many situations, including couples therapy. Studies have found that participants in online therapy were just as likely to see long-term results as those who attended in-person sessions, resulting in healthier relationships with themselves and their partners. The best couples therapy platforms not only offer a way to develop healthy communication but also provide a safe, convenient space where couples can explore and address their problems.


Many couples therapists use different exercises to help couples connect. These can include communication exercises such as making gratitude lists, using “I feel” statements, and engaging in active listening. Trust-building exercises such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy and “Coming Clean” may also be used. These exercises may:

  • Help you separate preconceived notions of your partner from reality

  • Assist you in getting to know your partner on a deeper level

  • Contribute to healthy communication

  • Aid you in remembering why you chose to be with your partner

  • Promote engaging with your partner in a more positive way

  • Get to the root of any challenges

  • Rebuild trust

If you and your partner are going through tough times, online therapy may be a valuable tool to help you work through them and develop a healthy relationship.

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