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It can be easy to fall into unsatisfactory patterns in a relationship.

Couples therapy exercises can help bring about change. Here we go through different examples of exercises that you can do together.

What are exercises in couples therapy?

Couples therapy uses different exercises to help couples break patterns and develop a better relationship. In this article, we go over some exercises that you can do with your partner on your own or as part of couples therapy.

The goals of these exercises are to improve communication, resolve conflict, build trust and deepen the emotional and physical connection between partners. Communication exercises focus on developing ways for couples to express their feelings, needs and wants more effectively. Examples include using ‘I’ messages and practicing active listening.

To manage conflict, therapists can introduce exercises to help couples identify recurring patterns and explore the deeper needs behind conflict. This can include techniques for managing intense emotions, such as taking breaks during arguments.

Trust-building exercises aim to strengthen or restore trust in the relationship, which may involve sharing deeper feelings or making small but meaningful promises to each other. Intimacy-enhancing exercises increase both emotional and physical closeness through activities such as maintaining eye contact or sharing personal dreams.

Planning date nights is another exercise that encourages couples to invest time in enjoying each other’s company, which can rekindle romance and play. Practicing gratitude and doing different role plays to deal with different situations can also be helpful.

The use of exercises in couples therapy can give couples tools and strategies to improve their relationship in the long term. By actively participating in these exercises, couples can increase their understanding of each other and build a stronger, more satisfying relationship.

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Examples of exercises in couples therapy

Maintaining closeness and interest in a relationship requires conscious effort from both partners. Start the day by showing curiosity about what your partner has planned. This can be as simple as a short conversation in the morning or a thoughtful message during the day. After a day apart, take the time to really listen to how your partner’s day has been without distractions. Try to make space to share feelings and experiences. Active listening is the key to successful communication, so try to focus entirely on your partner when they speak. Try to understand their perspective and avoid giving unsolicited advice.

Small acts of love, such as buying your partner’s favorite snacks or sending an encouraging text message, can make a big difference. These gestures help strengthen the bond between you, especially when they become a natural part of everyday life. Prioritizing and scheduling time together is crucial in a busy world. It doesn’t have to be grandiose plans. Even watching a show together or trying a new hobby can strengthen your relationship.

Finally, reflecting on and expressing gratitude daily for what you value in your relationship can deeply affect your sense of closeness and appreciation. Taking the time to truly appreciate and be grateful for your partner and what you share can enhance feelings of love and connection. Through these conscious actions, you can build a stronger and more loving relationship together.


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What is couples therapy?

Couples therapy is psychotherapy that helps couples resolve conflicts, improve communication and strengthen their relationship. It is suitable for couples in all types of relationships. It focuses on addressing issues that affect the health of the relationship. In therapy, the couple works with the therapist to understand the core issues, improve communication, manage disagreements and strengthen their relationship.

Therapy involves exploring the history of the relationship, improving the expression of thoughts and feelings, addressing specific problems such as finances or parenting, and developing conflict management strategies. Couples therapy is valuable during crises like infidelity or major changes. The goal is to help the couple understand what is best for them, whether that means staying together or separating in a healthy way.

The therapist acts as a neutral, supportive and objective party who helps the couple navigate through their problems without taking sides or placing blame. Seeking couples therapy can be a powerful step towards revitalizing a relationship and building a stronger, more fulfilling future together.

Treatment for relationship problems

Couples therapy begins with initial sessions where the therapist gets to know the couple and their challenges. Next, joint goals are set to improve the relationship, such as better communication or conflict management. The work phase focuses on developing communication skills, resolving conflicts, working through emotional issues and introducing positive behavioural changes, with active input from both partners. The process ends with an evaluation and a plan to maintain and improve the relationship further. The therapist’s role is to guide and support the couple through this process. Couples therapy aims to provide insights and tools for a stronger and more satisfying relationship.

There are several different approaches to couple therapy. Here are two evidence-based approaches that are commonly used in couples therapy:

1. Integrative behavioural couple therapy (IBCT)

IBCT aims to help couples accept the irreconcilable differences between them and work on increasing closeness and understanding. This is accomplished through improving emotional acceptance and empathic communication. The method combines behavioural changes with acceptance strategies. It is an evidence-based approach, meaning that it has been shown to produce good results in research. IBCT is a further development of cognitive behavioural therapy for couples.

2. Emotion-focused therapy (EFT)

EFT is a method that focuses on strengthening the emotional bond between partners. This is accomplished through exploring the emotional responses that underlie the couple’s interaction patterns. The therapy helps couples identify and express their underlying emotional needs. Ultimately, couples learn to meet each other’s needs in a more satisfying way. EFT is an evidence-based approach that has been shown to produce good results in research.

Each method has its own strengths and may be more or less appropriate depending on the couple’s specific situation and needs. There are also other methods such as the Gottman Method, other couples therapies and literature that can be helpful in learning more about relationships. Many couples therapists use a combination of these methods to best address the couple’s unique challenges.


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12 frequently asked questions and answers about couples therapy exercises

What are exercises in couples therapy?

Couples therapy uses different exercises to help couples break patterns and develop a better relationship. For example, it can be about communication, spending time together or showing gratitude.

Why do exercises together?

Exercises can help to improve communication, resolve conflicts, build trust and deepen the emotional and physical connection between partners.

What are examples of different exercises?

Examples of exercises include showing curiosity, active listening, doing small acts of love, spending time together and remembering gratitude.

What is couples therapy?

Couples therapy is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help couples understand and resolve conflicts, improve their relationship and communication, and strengthen the closeness of the relationship.

How does treatment for relationship problems work?

Treatment often starts with an assessment phase to identify problems and patterns. This is followed by an active treatment phase where work on tools and strategies to change patterns is central. Finally, there is a closing phase where the treatment plan is reviewed and evaluated.

What is IBCT?

IBCT (integrative behavioural couple therapy) is an evidence-based therapy that aims to help couples accept the differences between them and work on increasing closeness and understanding. This is accomplished through improving emotional acceptance and empathetic communication. It combines behavioural changes with acceptance strategies.

What is EFT?

EFT (emotion-focused therapy) is an evidence-based therapy that focuses on building and strengthening the emotional bond between couples by exploring and reshaping the negative patterns of interaction that contribute to conflict and distance in the relationship.

How do you work with exercises in couple therapy?

In therapy, you are often given exercises to do between sessions to practice in everyday life. This can be helpful in breaking patterns and creating change.

My partner doesn’t want to do the exercises, what should I do?

If one party is not motivated to work on the relationship, more support may be needed. Couples therapy may be an option to get more support from a therapist in the process.

Is it possible to do online couples therapy?

It is possible to do online couples therapy via video. Our psychologists and therapists at Lavendla offer remote therapy.

My partner has a mental health problem, can we do couples therapy?

If you or your partner have untreated depression, substance use disorder, or other mental health concerns, it is important to seek help for this separately from couples therapy. Ideally, these concerns should be addressed before you pursue couples therapy to ensure the best results.

Where can I seek help?

If you want to go to therapy, we recommend that you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist who works with couples. You can book a first appointment with one of our therapists here at Lavendla. We make the difficult easier.

Treatment for relationship problems with integrative behavioural couple therapy (IBCT)

Integrative behavioural couple therapy (IBCT) is an evidence-based form of couples therapy. The aim is to help couples improve their relationship by accepting each other and increasing the couple’s emotional closeness. IBCT combines traditional behavioural therapy techniques with a focus on both change and acceptance. Here is how a treatment with IBCT usually works:

Initial phase

  • Assessment: Treatment begins with a thorough assessment of the couple’s relationship. This includes their current problems, relationship history, and each party’s perspectives and experiences.
  • Feedback session: The therapist provides feedback based on the initial assessment. This phase often includes discussions about the couple’s strengths and areas that need development.

Work phase

  • Focus on acceptance: IBCT emphasizes the importance of accepting unbridgeable differences between partners. The therapist works with the couple to help them understand and empathetically accept each other’s needs, desires, and patterns of behaviour that cannot be easily changed.
  • Emotional closeness: By encouraging openness and communication, the therapist helps the couple increase their emotional closeness and understanding of each other.
  • Behaviour change: Although the focus is on acceptance, IBCT also includes strategies for behaviour change. This can involve developing new communication skills, solving problems, and working on improving daily interactions.

Closure

  • Evaluation of progress: Together, the therapist and the couple evaluate the progress made during therapy. This includes discussing any future steps and evaluating the need for continued support.

IBCT focuses on helping couples develop a deeper understanding and acceptance of each other. This, in turn, can lead to a more satisfying and sustainable relationship. By balancing acceptance with active change efforts, IBCT aims to reduce conflict, increase closeness and strengthen the emotional bond between partners.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.