7 Couples Therapy Exercises You Should Try With Your Partner

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  • 05 Jan 2024
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Many couples are afraid of arguing and conflicting in front of a therapist, who would then have to decide who is right and who is wrong. This may have been the case for many couples if the therapist had not been proficient in teaching them new communication and conflict resolution strategies.

A couples therapist should advise and demonstrate activities that will help the couple communicate more effectively at home, especially while they are in the middle of a fight, in addition to teaching the couple how to boost good relationship behaviors at home.

Here are seven couples therapy activities you may attempt with your partner to break any harmful communication habits and issues in your marriage.

7 Couples Therapy Exercises To Try

1. Use the Mirroring Technique

The mirroring method has been documented and applied in a variety of contexts, including business, sales, and dispute resolution. When utilized in the context of couples therapy, it helps couples prevent defensiveness from entering a fight and allows each person to feel heard.

The unbothered spouse would utilize the mirroring approach to allow their partner to express their views and feelings about a topic. The spouse would then "mirror" back what they had heard their partner say, and if they didn't get it right, they would ask for clarification.

It is critical to repeat your spouse's remarks directly and avoid paraphrasing or adding your view or ideas.

However, there is a catch to employing this method. If you do not use this strategy honestly and from a position of understanding, it will come off as snarky or patronizing, defeating its aim and escalating the disagreement.

2. Use Nurturing Physical Touch When Discussing Difficult Topics

No matter how strong your marriage is or how long you've been together, it's tough to bring up sensitive topics with your spouse. Bringing up sensitive topics and risking being rejected, ridiculed, or judged by your spouse requires a certain amount of vulnerability. As a result, many couples brush crucial matters under the rug in order to prevent any potential conflict.

When a partner musters the strength to bring up a tough subject with their spouse, they frequently do so with caution, prepared for any potential unfavorable reactions.

Nonverbal indicators such as protective postures, hostile facial expressions, and an adversarial verbal tone might indicate this. Anyone on the receiving end will undoubtedly respond defensively to this technique.

When tackling a tough issue with your partner, it is critical to employ nurturing physical touch, such as holding hands or keeping an embrace. This move prevents defensive guards from rising in both directions, allowing for the best conclusion possible in challenging talks.

3. Clearly State Your Spouse’s Position in an Argument

Marriage expert John Gottman advises couples should fully articulate their spouse's point of view in an argument before attempting to settle the problem, regardless of whether they agree with each other's perspectives. Without this initially, there is a risk that the disagreement would be rekindled, with each individual advocating their point of view and any chance of reconciliation being gone.

Starting the resolution conversation by explaining what you believe your partner's stance is and asking for confirmation sets the tone for a couple to resolve the disagreement. It also initiates a discourse for equal exchange rather than igniting a controversy.

4. Use a Disarming Technique

David Burns, author of The Feeling Good Handbook, names the Disarming Technique as one of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The Disarming Technique, according to him, is “finding truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems blatantly wrong, illogical, or exaggerated.”

This may be a very strong and successful method of presenting yourself assertively in a fight with your spouse while avoiding contributing to misunderstanding, defensiveness, or resentment.

Remember that you are not agreeing with everything your spouse says, but rather focused on finding the truth in what they are expressing, no matter how minor. You may even agree that you would be wounded and furious if you interpreted the situation in the same way.

This strategy quickly "disarms" your partner of the urge to use anger to protect or fight back. It opens up the option of deescalating the tension and enabling for communication to take place.

5. Reiterate What Is Going Right and Acknowledge Room for Improvement

What we focus on expands, and relationships are no exception. If a couple is continually focused on the difficulties that arise, the majority of their relationship will be occupied with escalating issues.

Yes, issues will arise in every marriage. Ruminating on the difficulties, on the other hand, can create a sense of dread and pessimism, which can eventually destroy a relationship.

David Cooperrider introduced the world to the notion of appreciative inquiry in 1986, which transformed organizational transformation away from a deficit-based strategy and toward a positive, strengths-based change approach. The use of appreciative inquiry inside companies focuses on the discovery and appreciation of "what is" as well as the emphasis on positive.

This technique may be directly applied to marriage as partners attempt to develop and grow in a positive manner together. Appreciative inquiry applied to marriage would then focus on what is going well in their relationship and what ambitions they want to achieve together, ultimately leading them to construct their destiny together.

When used in a chat with your spouse, your focus would be on where the two of you are successful together, how you are a fantastic team, and reinforcing your shared aspirations.

6. Seek to Understand, Not to Be Understood

According to Erich Fromm's book, The Art of Loving, three aspects are required for a union of love between two people: respect, care, and knowledge.

Knowing your spouse is an essential component of developing a trustworthy and loving relationship, and it takes time and work to acquire.

Seeking to comprehend your partner's opinions, beliefs, and feelings sets the tone for working together to overcome life or relationship issues. This gesture of real interest in knowing your partner leads to the other two qualities mentioned by Fromm: care and respect for your spouse.

7. Take Appropriate Timeouts

Couples understand the notion of taking a break when emotions are high to avoid saying or doing something in anger that you may regret. However, they are frequently not properly taught on how to do so.

If not done appropriately, taking a time out can be used as a weapon or a technique to influence your partner into backing down or controlling their behavior.

Couples are frequently instructed to construct a term or phrase that indicates they need to take a break and then retire to their respective corners until they calm off. This strategy is rarely successful, and it frequently escalates a disagreement, especially if it causes emotions of rejection or abandonment in the relationship.

This fails because it applies a rational and intellectual answer to an emotional problem. When you and your spouse are at odds, all cognition typically goes out the window, and it is quite difficult to apply rational circumstances when the emotional side of our brain is active.

When we feel extreme emotions, our emotional brain goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. As a result, the signal phrase you and your spouse picked does not even register at those times.

Because high emotions shut off our rational thinking, the only way to disrupt it is to utilize similarly intense feelings to provoke an emotional brain shift. This allows your rational brain to restore control and begin to reclaim control.

Using the similarly powerful emotion of laughter, for example, might jolt the brain out of wrath or defensiveness. Creating a signal phrase that reminded the couple of the time they were both caught outside of their hotel room in their underpants, for example, would be shocking enough to interrupt the fight and indicate a far more effective time out.

Final Thoughts

Conflicts are unavoidable in any relationship, and if they are addressed and do not form a repeat dysfunctional cycle, they may result in a tighter and stronger bond between a couple.

Couples therapy is intended to educate communication skills and provide couples with the tools they need to turn their relationship into a more productive partnership.

The seven couples therapy activities listed above, which are frequently taught and done with clients in front of a therapist, may be tried at home with your partner and are an excellent place to begin moving any old patterns the two of you may be trapped in.

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