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It can be easy to fall into unsatisfactory patterns in a relationship. Exercises used in couples therapy can be useful in bringing about change. Here we look at different types of exercises that you can do with your partner.

What are couples therapy exercises?

In couples therapy, different exercises are used to help couples break patterns and develop better relationships. Here are some exercises you can do with your partner on your own, or as part of couples therapy.

The exercises are designed 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, for example by using ‘I’ messages and practicing active listening.

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

Trust-building exercises aim to strengthen or restore trust in a relationship. This 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 different types of roleplay in 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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Exercise examples 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, and make space to share feelings and experiences. Active listening is the key to successful communication, so 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. Prioritising 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 relationship types and focuses on addressing issues that affect the health of the relationship. With a therapist, the couple works to understand the core issues, improve communication, manage disagreements and strengthen their relationship.

This 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 such as infidelity or major change, and 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 revitalising 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, followed by setting joint goals 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, where the couple’s involvement is crucial for success. Couples therapy aims to provide insights and tools for a stronger and more satisfying relationship. There are several different approaches to couples therapy. Here are two evidence-based approaches that are commonly used:

1. Integrative behavioural couples therapy (IBCT)

IBCT aims to help couples accept the irreconcilable differences between them and work on increasing closeness and understanding by 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, and is a further development of cognitive behavioural therapy for couples.

2. Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)

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

Each method has its own strengths and may be more or less appropriate depending on a couple’s specific situation and needs. Things such as the Gottman Method, other couples therapies and literature are also 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 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. These involve 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 is summarised for further work after the therapy.

What is IBCT?

IBCT (Integrative Behavioural Couples Therapy) is an evidence-based therapy that aims to help couples accept their differences and work on increasing closeness and understanding by improving emotional acceptance and empathic communication. It combines behavioural changes with acceptance strategies.

What is EFT?

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

How do you work with exercises in couples therapy?

A therapist will often give exercises to do between sessions so you can practice them in your everyday life. These can help break patterns and create 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?

Lavendla’s therapists are available for online sessions done via video conference. This provides you with more flexibility and accessibility.

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

If you have problems with depression or other mental health issues such as addiction, it is important to seek help for this separately from couples therapy. These problems often need to be addressed before or at the same time as couples therapy to get a good result.

Where can I seek help?

Contact your GP for a referral to a therapist. You can also book an online session with one of Lavendla’s experienced therapists. We help make the difficult easier.

Treatment for relationship problems with Integrative Behavioural Couples Therapy (IBCT)

Integrative behavioural couple therapy (IBCT) is an evidence-based form of couples therapy that aims to help couples improve their relationship by accepting each other and increasing their 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, including their current problems, relationship history, and each person’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 as well as areas that need development.

Work phase

  • Focus on acceptance: IBCT emphasises the importance of accepting unbridgeable differences between partners. The therapist works with the couple to help them understand and empathically 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.
  • Behavior change: Although the focus is on acceptance, IBCT also includes strategies for behaviour change. This may involve developing new communication skills, solving problems, and working on improving daily interactions.

Closure

  • Evaluation of progress: Together, the couple and their therapist evaluate the progress made during therapy and discuss any future steps or continued support.

IBCT focuses on helping couples develop a deeper understanding and acceptance of each other, which 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 dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.