Therapy Exercises All Couples Can Benefit From

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Ashley Abramson from about a few therapy exercises I feel are essential to maintaining a healthy relationship with our partners.

Some couples believe that they must be weathering some sort of relationship storm in order to begin doing the work that it takes to have a successful partnership. The truth is, we don’t necessarily have to be going through any struggles to begin practicing listening and being present. Remembering that our relationships require maintenance, now more than ever, is imperative for us to develop deeper intimacy with our partners.

Now that many of us are returning to our offices, many of us will no longer be working at home together or will be doing so less often. This is a good time to reintroduce or create rituals for greeting your partner when they return home from work or leave in the morning. Instead of shouting “goodbye” from another room or at leaving without saying anything, take the time to have a meaningful expression of affection and gratitude for the other person being in your life.

As morbid as it sounds, what Covid has taught us is that nothing in life is guaranteed. This might be the last time you get to have a meaningful connection with someone you love. Take the extra minute to let the person you love know that they are important to you. Don’t let the dog be the only person who greets your spouse when they come in the front door at night. Let them know that you have taken the time to come and greet them properly and be present for a few moments. Relay that you are happy to see them and demonstrate you are glad they made it home safely.

Here are some therapy exercises that can benefit your relationship:

Notice something positive about your partner and express it.

Tell them how something they did affected you in a positive way. Pay them a compliment. Mention something meaningful they did and how it impacted you at least a few times per week.

Examples could be letting your partner know what a good parent you think they are, how much you appreciate that they always make you dinner at night even when they are tired or busy, or how much you love their smile. The importance is to verbalize appreciation for the person you love.

All of us want to know that we are seen, valued, appreciated, and well loved.
Taking the time to let your partner know that you have noticed small things about them and have taken the time to acknowledge how they have impacted your world for the better is a wonderful gift to give to both your partner and your relationship. All of these small meaningful gifts add to a couple’s emotional bank account. The more conflict and stress you have in your relationship, the more regular withdrawals of emotion you are putting on your connection. Making small regular deposits of love will help keep you from going emotionally bankrupt when times are difficult in the relationship.

Spend 20 minutes a few days a week talking to your partner about the things that are causing them anxiety or stress in their world without trying to fix their feelings or solve their problems for them.

The importance of a stress-reducing conversation is not to tell your partner what they should do differently or interject your thoughts on how they should be handling stress. The point is to listen deeply, show understanding, validate your partners emotions and just provide a safe place for them to process their feelings and emotions about things and events happening in their life that feel unsettling.

There is something magical that happens in a relationship when one partner validates the other’s emotions and confirms that it makes sense that they are feeling the way they do.

Having the one person in life who says they are on your side, will never side with the enemy, and believes in your ability to problem solve creates a catharsis that bonds and joins you into a deeper friendship.

When was the last time you told your partner how sexy they were or walked by them when they were washing dishes and grabbed their butt?

Do you hold hands when you go for a walk or snuggle on the couch when you watch TV?

Couples are really good at being “in the moment” with each other when they are first dating but seem to forget about being playful once the relationship has settled in. Re-introduce affection and flirting to help get out of the rut of being “in the business of being in a relationship” with each other.

Connect once a week in the form of a date doing something fun, engaging, or new.

This means no cell phones, no emails, no texts, no conversations about the kids or picking up the dry cleaning.

The point of a date is not to do something expensive or extravagant but to have shared quality time remembering how funny, interesting, intelligent, and wonderful it is to spend time with your best friend and partner.

It should be non-negotiable that couples have a weekly date on the calendar as a priority. Dates with your partner should be scheduled or inevitability dates will get lost in the shuffle of haircuts, homework, and grocery shopping. We schedule so much in our lives, and our dates need a space of prominence in our lives. Arguably, nothing is as important as the health of our relationships. Having shared experiences also releases feel-good chemicals in our brain relating those emotions to how we view our partners, which builds on our positive thoughts about each other.

State-of-our-union meetings are weekly check-ins to see how you are doing in the relationship.

This a relaxed time when you are possibly sitting down unrushed and unhurried by other things in our life. Maybe have a brunch or a cup of tea to do an inventory of things that haven’t been discussed, need some clarification, or need to be evaluated as to whether any lingering feelings of sadness, worry, or frustration are hanging around from earlier in the week.

Sometimes couples have missed bids for connection during the week. Big conversations don’t always feel possible when schedules are busy, and this allows for a couple to make the time to talk about projects, dreams, ideas, and logistics about the things happening in the relationship. Both partners are CEOs in this relationship, and both have needs and expectations that require space to be talked about in an open and positive environment.

A few days after a big blowout, couples need to come back and discuss what happened with cooler heads. The aftermath conversation means having a structured talk about each partner’s subjective reality, talking about the triggers that led to each one’s behaviors, each taking responsibility for their own contribution to the disagreement, and most importantly talking about what they want to do differently the next time they find themselves in a similar situation.

Many couples never return to the issues that led them to get in a disagreement. Most couples tell themselves they don’t want to revisit the topic because they fear it will just blow up again. It is more likely it will return if the reasons for the conflict starting in the first place are not addressed. When they aren’t addressed or talked out, then the couple doesn’t make any progress on ensuring things play out differently the next time they find themselves in a similar scenario. History is likely to repeat itself if the partners don’t investigate triggers and unmet expectations for conflict moving forward.

Taking a few minutes to learn and practice these exercises can save us from a lot of pain and hurt emotions in the future. Prioritizing our relationships, no matter what our love life looks like now is a good predictor to what the next few weeks, months, year will look like for us. We want to make sure that all areas in our life are being serviced and that our partner feels heard and respected in the relationship.

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Dr. Dana McNeil

Dr. Dana McNeil

Founder of The Relationship Place
Marriage and Family Therapist CA License #99008

certified gottman therapist

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