8 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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While social networking is a constant highlight reel, the fact is that couples often struggle. Numerous couples experience difficulty and find solace in the assistance of a skilled therapist. If you’re considering starting couples counseling or determining whether it’s a good fit for you, we’ve compiled a list of the most effective strategies and activities to get you started.

Couples counseling is now more accessible than ever thanks to online tools and healthcare. If you’re looking to improve yourself and your relationship, there are a plethora of tactics and exercises available to you.

Contemplative listening. “Reflective listening is a very beneficial exercise where the couple takes turns being active listeners,” Laura Louis, a certified psychologist at Atlanta Couple Therapy, explains. Utilize “I” statements rather than “you” expressions. For instance, instead of saying “You’re wrong for doing X,” say “I’m hurt when you do X.”

“When couples take turns being active listeners, it boosts the couple’s communication as well as conflict resolution skills,” Louis explains.

Couples Therapy Benefits

Emotionally focused therapy. Numerous therapists employ a technique known as emotionally focused treatment (EFT). Couples are encouraged to “identify maladaptive behaviors within their relationship that are impeding stable relationships and attachments,” according to Ansley Campbell, clinical director at The Summit Wellness Group. Individuals “learn and utilize techniques to heal or create safe and secure attachments within the relationship,” she describes.

The use of narrative therapy. Narrative therapy is a style of treatment in which clients describe their difficulties in narrative form and then rewrite their stories. This can assist them in realizing that no short story can fully encompass their entire experience. “There will always be inconsistencies and contradictions,” asserts Sam Nabil, lead therapist, and CEO at Naya Clinics. Couples who believe their relationship is failing as a result of both of their faults may benefit from narrative therapy. “These couples often believe they are subject to this romantic pitfall and emotional trauma because they have been a ‘failure’ from the start and that is what they ‘deserve,'” Nabil explains.

The Gottman Technique. The Gottman Method is a well-known technique used by couples therapists. The strategy is intended to assist couples in developing a deeper knowledge of one another while also resolving relationship difficulties. The Gottman Institute has conducted studies for more than 40 years. It offers live courses and self-study resources for partners, but many professionals have also been trained in Gottman Institute approaches.

Relationship therapy is based on the Imago principle. Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt established Imago relationships therapy in 1980. It explains the link between adult relationships and experiences as a child. By gaining a better understanding of early trauma, the therapy aims to increase couples’ empathy and understanding for one another.

Solution-oriented psychotherapy. If you’re having difficulty with a specific issue or wish to work forward towards a particular goal, solution-focused therapy is worth considering. As per the Institute for Solution-Focused Therapy, the technique is “a short-term goal-oriented evidence-based therapeutic approach that helps clients in change by constructing on solutions rather than dwelling on problems.”

Show some ingenuity. “Having a physically visible vision board can help remind you of your shared desires and goals for when you are having issues within the relationship,” Louis states. She recommends couples get creative by setting goals and amassing images that encapsulate their relationship desires. “It’s a tangible reminder that a marriage is a work in progress and that it takes hard work and time on both ends to create a strong, healthy, and long-lasting relationship,” she asserts.

Identify more in-depth subjects with which to engage. Overcome superficial talks and engage your companion in conversation about something other than “What’s for dinner?” Kelly Sinning, a certified professional counselor based in Colorado, prefers to assign her clients the task of just communicating with one another. “Oftentimes, we get so busy and caught up in the day-to-day needs, we don’t realize that we having conversations about anything else,” she continues.

Express gratitude. By expressing thanks and articulating what works in your relationship, you may help to enhance your mutual appreciation. “Make it a habit of expressing appreciation daily through in-person conversations, texts, or a sticky note in a place your partner will find it,” recommends Meagan Prost, a qualified professional clinical at Center for Heart Intelligence.

Determine your partner’s preferred language of love. Simply being in a relationship does not guarantee that you will experience love in the same manner. Dr. Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” has assisted couples in identifying what makes them feel loved so they can show up for one another.

The five love languages are founded on the premise that each individual prefers a certain method of receiving love:

  • Receiving presents, 
  • Performing acts of service, 
  • Getting words of affirmation, 
  • Spending quality time 
  • Physical touch

Make crucial conversations a priority. Are you looking to have a difficult or important conversation with your partner? Take it from the professionals: Serious discussions are most effective when accompanied by a strategy. “We often engage in conflict because the timing is wrong, and we aren’t in a frame of mind where we can thoughtfully engage in conversation,” suggested  Alisha Powell, Ph.D., LCSW, with Amethyst Counseling and Consulting. She recommends scheduling difficult conversations in advance to ensure that no one is taken off guard.

Schedule one-on-one time. While life can be hectic at times, resist the temptation to let external pressures trump time with your partner. “Scheduling an hour of ‘couples time’ to get intimate is a great start. Scheduling an hour of time to focus on topics that will help improve the relationship can be done several times a week or once a week,” as stated by Grazel Garcia, LMFT.

Fill your container of intimacy. Recognize that you, as a pair and as individuals, both have intimacy requirements.

Garcia refers to this as the “intimacy bucket,” because it encompasses the following forms of intimacy:

  • Intellectual
  • Experiential
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Sexual

Spend time identifying exercises that fit into each bucket. For instance, you can collaborate on a new interest or host a Zoom gaming night with mutual pals.

Practice yoga with a partner. Consider joining a couples yoga class with your partner.

Partner yoga enables you and your partner to balance together, creating and strengthening trust as you flow through tandem exercises. According to a 2016 study, mindfulness is associated with higher relationship satisfaction. By coordinating your breathing, you’ll become one with your partner throughout your practice – and the benefits may even outweigh the benefits of your yoga session.

The six-second kiss. Do not dismiss this strategy until you have given it a try. The Gottman Institute’s founder, Dr. John Gottman, is a proponent of the six-second kiss. It’s a way for couples to incorporate a touch of romance into their daily routines. The kiss is brief enough to be passionate while also serving as a diversion from the day’s activities.

Take an interest in one another’s day. When was the last time you inquired about your partner’s day’s excitement? Spending a few moments discussing your partner’s objectives and aspirations will assist you in supporting and caring for them in your relationship. Prost observes that “curiosity might help your spouse feel connected to you” with her clients.

Create a wish list for your mate. Make a list of three things your partner could do on a weekly basis to make you happy. Share your list with one another while maintaining eye contact. While the lists may not be something your partner can undertake on a daily basis, they can serve as a reminder of activities they can accomplish once a week to help build trust and communication. “The point is that we all express and require affection in unique ways, and it is critical to respect those distinctions in order to feel heard and understood,” explains Nyro Murphy, LCPC.

Incorporate an icebreaker. While you may recall icebreakers from summer camp or work seminars, this tried-and-true conversation starter may help revitalize your relationship and tell you something new about your partner. Reintroduce yourself to your spouse by scheduling time to discuss probing icebreaker questions.

Establish a connection through music. Remember the days when you could create the ultimate mixtape for your high school crush? According to a 2011 study, shared musical tastes strengthen social relationships. Feel the nostalgia and create a playlist of songs that remind you of your sweetheart and the times you’ve spent together. Swap playlists and gain insight into one another’s romantic side.

Begin a two-person book club. Reading together enables you to share an experience at your own speed. Alternate who is responsible for selecting a book that has piqued your interest and arranging a dinner date to discuss it.

Gazing into the eyes. Establishing prolonged eye contact with your companion may help you two feel more connected. Prolonged eye contact can aid in the recognition of emotions, the development of trust, and the enhancement of intimacy. According to a 2018 study, eye gaze is associated with “self-other merging,” the process by which the boundary between you and the other person is reduced to create a sense of unity. Given that the eyes are said to be the window to the soul, why not give it a try?

Develop an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude has numerous benefits, including improving your own and your relationship’s well-being. According to a 2017 study, sharing gratitude with your partner increases oxytocin, a hormone that aids in relaxation and stress reduction. The researchers discovered that thankfulness resulted in a “higher experienced love” among the study’s 129 participants. At the end of each day, take time to express gratitude to your partner by sharing three things you’re grateful for.

Increase the amount of time you spend cuddling. There is a reason that cuddling with your partner feels so good: it stimulates the release of oxytocin and decreases cortisol, the stress hormone According to Penn Medicine, hugging can also help reduce resting blood pressure and manage sleep patterns. If you’re feeling warm and fuzzy, this is a sign that your body is functioning properly!

Make a financial investment in a therapy workbook. Locate a couples therapy workbook in a bookstore or online and schedule time with your spouse each week to complete given activities. Dr. Annie Hsueh, Ph.D., of Hope and Sage Psychological Services, recommends that her clients read and respond to the questions in Dr. Sue Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight.” Additionally, Hsueh advises “The Couple Home Connection System,” a notebook filled with exercises aimed at assisting couples in developing “deeper, more meaningful connections.”

Disconnect from all electronic gadgets. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center research, 25% of persons in committed relationships report that their cellphones distract their partner when they are alone together. If your relationship is being infiltrated by distraction and a sense of absence, try setting aside time to completely disengage and communicate with one another.