What Are Effective Couples Therapy Exercises? 11 Options to Try

Medically reviewed by: Erica Munro, MSc
Wednesday, May 29

Many couple experiences occasional struggles in their relationship. Some issues may affect your relationship and make it difficult to connect — but couples therapy can help. 

This kind of therapy often includes different kinds of exercises. You and your partner might work on improving the way you communicate. Or you might focus on exercises that build emotional intimacy.  

Doing these exercises can help bring you and your partner closer again. They’re also helpful for working through specific relationship problems. Below, we’ll go over several couples therapy exercises that you might do as part of couples counseling or relationship therapy. 

Why are couples therapy exercises important?

These exercises can help you and your partner solve issues or problems you’re having. But they do more than that — they also help deepen your connection. 

Learning these exercises during therapy sessions and practicing them regularly can be effective and helpful for couples who have difficulty communicating, expressing themselves, listening to each other, or empathizing. In the following sections, we’ll explore just a few of the benefits of couples therapy exercises. 

Communication skills 

Effective communication is a key part of healthy relationships, but many couples struggle with it. Interrupting each other, getting defensive, making assumptions, or failing to listen are a few common communication pitfalls. 

Couples therapy exercises can help correct these issues. These exercises help you and your partner understand how important verbal and non-verbal communication is in understanding each other’s needs and desires. 

Consider exercises that involve active listening, expressing needs without placing any blame on the other partner, and understanding non-verbal cues like eye contact and body language. 

Emotional intimacy 

Emotional intimacy involves feeling a sense of connection, security, and closeness with your partner. This kind of intimacy is a crucial part of romantic relationships. In fact, research shows that couples who report being in satisfying relationships have high emotional intimacy.  

Couples therapy exercises can help you and your partner build this type of intimacy. Doing certain exercises, such as sharing personal stories, vulnerabilities, fears, and dreams in a safe environment, can strengthen your emotional bond with each other. 

Stronger understanding and empathy 

Empathy serves as the foundation of a strong, supportive relationship. Having empathy means feeling and understanding what your partner is going through or experiencing. That’s not the same as sympathy — which just means acknowledging that your partner is experiencing something that’s emotionally painful. 

Empathy is key to providing mutual support in relationships and resolving conflicts effectively. To have empathy, you need to be able to see things from your partner’s perspective — not just your own. 

Couples therapy exercises involving walking in each other’s shoes, like role reversal and mirroring, can help develop empathy and give you a better understanding of each other’s emotional experiences. 

11 couples therapy exercises to try in couples counseling 

While going through couples therapy or marriage counseling, your therapist will provide guidance on improving your relationship. Participating in couples therapy techniques or exercises allows you to apply what you learn in a practical way. 

Approaching these with an open mind and a willingness to grow can help bring you both closer and strengthen your bond. Below, we’ll explore several couples therapy exercises that may benefit your relationship. 

1.  Mirroring 

This exercise can help you and your partner communicate more effectively. Mirroring involves taking turns speaking and validating what the other person has said. Doing this while listening in a nonjudgmental way helps build mutual understanding. 

For example, you start by talking about how you’re feeling and why you feel that way. Your partner responds with something like, “What I heard you say was…” and asks you to bring up your next point — but only if they’ve correctly understood your first point. You take turns going back and forth until you’re done talking about your concerns. 

This exercise helps you feel understood and validated, resulting in fewer conflicts. It also helps you both learn to pay close attention to what the other person is saying. 

2.  “I” statements

“I” statements can help improve the way you talk to each other about feelings or experiences. This exercise requires you to be honest and vulnerable with each other.  

You might say something like “I feel anxious when you come home late from work without giving me a heads up,” or “I feel upset when you don’t seem to be listening to me.” 

“I” statements let you express and take responsibility for your feelings instead of accusing your partner of causing them. This can help resolve conflicts and encourage understanding between you. 

3.  The emotional wheel

Do you and your partner struggle to talk about your emotions? The emotional wheel offers a great way to identify and communicate what you’re feeling more accurately. It uses colors to represent different emotions and emotional intensity. 

You and your partner can use this tool to express the exact emotion you’re feeling and describe how intense it is for specific situations or behaviors. For example, you might talk about feeling anger that’s strong enough to be rage.

The emotional wheel helps you both become more aware of your emotions and build empathy for each other. 

4.  Role reversal 

Role reversal helps you walk in each other’s shoes. This exercise involves setting boundaries and clear guidelines before starting. For example, you agree not to use this exercise to mock the other person. 

During this exercise, you and your partner role play as each other. The idea is to get into the other person’s head and respond with what you think they’re feeling or thinking. 

After doing role reversal, take time to reflect on what you’ve learned about each other’s thoughts and feelings. This can help you understand each other better.

5.  The timeout technique 

Heated arguments can easily lead to hurt feelings and saying things you might regret. The timeout technique gives you and your partner a way to prevent this. It involves agreeing to “pause” the situation and take a break until you’ve cooled down. 

Either of you can initiate a timeout. After calling a timeout, you both take a break for a set period of time, like 20 minutes or an hour. You can take longer if needed, but don’t go beyond 24 hours. 

During the timeout, don’t dwell on your argument. Instead, do something that takes your mind off it and helps you relax, like going for a walk or reading a book. When it’s done, you and your partner discuss the conflict in a calmer manner with clearer heads. 

6.  An appreciation list 

Couples can grow distant when one or both don’t feel appreciated. Creating lists of things you appreciate about each other can help reinforce gratitude and positive feelings that make your relationship stronger. 

These lists can include personality traits, like kindness or a sense of humor. They can also include specific actions and shared experiences. Making this exercise a routine part of your relationship can help keep feelings of appreciation going. Consider doing this as a weekly or monthly ritual.

7.  Date night planning 

Date nights often take a backseat for couples who have been together for a while. However, these shared activities and experiences are an important part of maintaining emotional intimacy and connection. 

Plan date nights to give you a chance to spend time together. Take turns planning, but make sure that each date night caters to both of your interests. For example, plan a movie date night if there’s a film coming out that you both want to see. 

The date itself is important. But the planning that goes into it fuels anticipation and effort that helps rekindle romance. 

8.  Conflict resolution practice 

Every couple has disagreements, but resolving them isn’t always easy. Conflict resolution practice helps you handle these situations proactively to prevent resentment from building up. 

You can resolve conflicts in different structured ways, such as finding compromises, using negotiation strategies, or actively listening to each other. Working on conflict resolution as an exercise typically involves listening, understanding, problem-solving, and agreeing on the next steps to take. 

9.  Regular check-ins 

Relationship issues that aren’t addressed may turn into major problems. Doing regular check-ins gives you and your partner a way to discuss issues or concerns sooner rather than later. You can also identify problems and come up with ways to improve your relationship.

During these check-ins, you can discuss how you and your partner feel about your relationship overall or bring up specific concerns. Some topics or questions to consider covering include how satisfied you are with your relationship, what your future plans are, or what kind of personal growth you’ve experienced. 

10.  Active listening practice 

Active listening means tuning into what your partner says in order to better understand them. It’s more than simply hearing the words they say. Active listening includes giving your partner your full attention, reflecting on what they say, paraphrasing their words, and not judging them. 

You and your partner can practice this in everyday conversations. Work on reflective listening without judgment, and avoid interrupting each other. Summarize what your partner says to show that you understood it, and use non-verbal communication, such as maintaining eye contact. This helps build trust and a deeper understanding of one another. 

11.  Extended eye contact 

How often do you and your partner gaze into each other’s eyes? Eye contact helps build a stronger emotional connection between you. Extended eye contact exercises can help you understand this better and work on feeling closer to your partner. 

You and your partner sit across from each other. Stare into each other’s eyes for a set amount of time. You might feel uncomfortable with this exercise at first, so try doing it for a short time, like 30 seconds. As you get more comfortable, increase the time gradually, such as going from one minute to 5 minutes to 10 minutes. 

After this exercise, talk about the feelings you experienced while gazing into each other’s eyes. This exercise is a simple way to build trust and encourage intimacy. 

Get support as a couple through SonderMind 

Couples therapy exercises provide a great way to help you and your partner grow closer and build a stronger bond. Doing these with guidance from a couples therapist can help you work on these in a supportive and safe space. 

Searching for a therapist who can help you reach your therapeutic goals doesn’t have to be stressful. If you need help reconnecting with your partner, SonderMind makes it easy to find a therapist you can meet with virtually or in person. Simply tell us a bit about your needs and preferences, and we can connect you with the right therapist.

Connect with a SonderMind therapist today to take the first step toward a stronger relationship.


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