As a couple therapist, I often have couples come to me looking for relationship communication exercises. Since I have so many people asking for these lately,
I know not everyone has the time or money for couple therapy. However, we all want our best relationship. For this reason I wanted to create this free resource so that couples can improve their communication at home.
Please note that not everyone can be helped by these simple exercises. Sometimes you need the help of a couple therapist. I’ve included information below on how to tell when you need to get outside help.
What are relationship communication exercises for couples?
One of the questions I often get are what communication exercises for couples even are. Are they just talking more? Is it a worksheet? Are they difficult? I’d like to answer as many questions as I can here.
What communication exercises for couples are
Communication exercises for couples are things we can do with our partner to help improve communication with each other. They can be complex or simple. The simple ones are very easy to learn and to do.
They are not just talking, but are ways of talking and things to do while talking and listening to our partner. Most do not require complicated worksheets, and can be done at home, in the car, or anywhere you happen to be.
Types of communication exercises for couples
Relationship exercises fall into several categories. There are listening exercises, which help us to become better listeners and make sure we understand what our partner is sharing with us. There are speaking exercises that help us to get our point across to our partner in a kind, loving and effective way.
There are conversation exercises, which help us to have better conversations and understand what type of conversation to have with our partner for different types of topics. The nonverbal communication exercises help us to understand the faces and gesture our partner uses to express thoughts and feelings. My favorite, emotional control exercises, help us to remain in control while having difficult or highly emotional conversations.
The importance of relationship communication exercises
Communication is important in a romantic relationship. When a couple has negative communication habits, passive communication, doesn’t communicate effectively or at all, then the relationship is bound to have problems. Even the most loving couples can become bitter and lose their spark when toxic communication patterns emerge.
Communication exercises for couples are intended to reduce relationship problems by helping you learn effective communication strategies such as compassionate listening, reflective listening, and understanding nonverbal cues. They help you to control your own feelings when you are highly emotional so that you can get your point across in a way that gets your needs met.
The following communication exercises for couples can also help you solve problems in a productive manner. It’s difficult to problem solve when you don’t understand what your partner wants or needs and you can’t get your point across. Good communication skills go a long way toward helping you understand the problem you are trying to solve.
Some people think they only need marriage communication exercises, and that they don’t need to do them as a dating or engaged couple. Many marriage and family therapists and licensed professional counselors will disagree, and feel that you should start practicing good communication exercises as early in the relationship as possible so that negative habits do not form.
Communication exercises teach us how to speak to each other
Speaking can be difficult for some, but being the partner sharing his or her emotions is often a challenge. We often aren’t taught how to communicate with our partners to build a healthy relationship growing up.
Healthy communication exercises like using one or two positive statements to express a need instead of a negative statement about what you don’t want doesn’t seem natural at first, but can become second nature over time. Speaking exercises can improve communication quickly if they are practiced often. This way both you and your significant other can get your needs met.
Communication exercises teach us how to listen to each other
Some of the most effective communication exercises aren’t about speaking, but teach us how to listen well. It can be more difficult to be the listening partner in these exercises than it is the speaking partner. Good listening skills make your partner feel like you care enough to take the time and understand them.
They bring us closer together
In romantic relationships, doing a couples communication exercise can bring us closer together. Often times one partner feels better about a situation in a relationship than the other. In this case division or resentment can build. Having a communication style that works for both of you can promote healthy relationships with our romantic partners.
They promote positive views of each other
Therapist, clinical psychologist and researcher John Gottman talks about couples being in “the negative perspective” with each other. Communication exercises for couples promote a more positive view of each other. These powerful communication exercises help you to see that for each negative quality your partner has there is likely a positive quality as well. Understanding each other’s wants and needs builds empathy. Expressing gratitude to your partner also helps promote a positive view of your partner and the relationship.
How often should you practice communication exercises as a couple?
Couples communication exercises should be practiced often until they become familiar. They will seem difficult or strange at first, however with time they will become easier.
Practicing a communication exercise often makes it second nature. Instead of a communication exercise, it becomes a normal part of your communication skills.
It takes 3-4 weeks to build a habit. The goal of these communication exercises for couples is to create habits that create health communication. This applies to both verbal and nonverbal communication.
Healthy communication takes practice, so you should pick a communication exercise and practice it often, daily if possible, until it becomes a habit. This will help you to improve your communication skills.
Should we be doing communication exercises with a therapist?
Some people want to know if they should be doing their communication exercises with a therapist or other mental health professional. Let’s take a look at the benefits of doing these exercises both alone and with a mental health professional on couples communication.
The point of doing these exercises at home
Doing these powerful communication exercises by yourself can be of great benefit. They can allow couples more time to learn and more practice.
It can feel more comfortable doing these by yourselves as some people feel self-conscious when learning a new skill. Some people can be concerned that a therapist or counselor will judge their communication styles.
Another plus of doing exercises for couples communication with only your partner is that you don’t have to make a lot of time to do them. You don’t need to get make an appointment, get to an office, spend an hour there, then drive home.
Any point in time that you find a few free minutes you can practice your communication skills. Some couples even enjoy making the exercises for verbal communication into a game, keeping score on successes and praising each other when they do well.
When to see a therapist
Doing effective communication exercises can improve a couples communication. However, sometimes it is difficult to learn some of them on your own.
If you find yourself struggling with doing some of these exercises, that is a good time to see a marriage and family therapist or licensed professional counselor. These professionals can help you learn the couple’s communication exercises correctly.
Seeing a therapist to work on couple communication exercises can also be helpful when trying to do the exercises leads to arguments. Effective communication leads to a healthy, loving relationship. Move fights, however, lead to a negative view of your partner.
At times, one partner or the other partner is unable to have assertive communication. This can be caused by many things.
Assertive communication can be difficult if someone is a people pleaser. The partner may find it difficult to tell their partner what they really want or need. Instead of being able to do the assertive communication exercises, they come across as more of a passive communicator.
Assertive communication can also be blocked when someone is used to a more aggressive style of communication instead. They can come off as too harsh and even hurtful to their partner when doing assertive communication exercises.
If you are practicing an assertive communication exercise and having issues with either passive communication or aggressive communication, that is a good time to see a professional.
At times, couples will practice these powerful communication exercises, but they do not help with the relationship. Sometimes, the issue in a relationship is more than just effective communication. At this point it is good to see a therapist.
Seeing a therapist can help you know which of these communication exercises for couples that you should use. They can also help you to understand if there are problems in the relationship that are blocking your success either with communication skills or in general.
At times instead of simple exercises, your relationship would benefit from couples therapy exercises. Couples therapy is more intense and directed than anything you can do on your own.
A couples therapist will determine a relationships’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as any external factors that are contributing to problems. They will then put together a plan to help you meet your goals to have a healthy relationship.
20 couple therapy communication exercises
In this article I have included 20 effective communication exercises for you to practice. These exercises for couples are intended to work on verbal communication, nonverbal communication and emotional control.
I did not cover written communication skills in this article. Written communication is covered in school and college. However, these other non-written communication skills are left out of academics.
It is my opinion that if schools taught children effective communication exercises, then relationships would be a lot easier to make. They would be easier to maintain and stronger.
Since these relationship communication is not taught in schools, then it must be learned somewhere else. Some people learn excellent communication from their families. The rest of us need communication exercises for couples.
These skills do not have to be practiced only with a partner. The communication exercises for couples can instead be practiced with a friend or other loved one. If one partner has communication issues then it is possible for them to practice with a friend, and once they gain some comfort with the skill practice with their partner.
Listening exercises for couples
Healthy communication is not just about talking. Listening exercises help couples practice active listening skills. They can be some of the best ways to learn to communicate because they promote understanding between partners and reduce hurt feelings from poor communication.
While one partner speaks, the other partner listens. When you listen, be sure to pay attention to what your partner is saying instead of thinking about how you can answer them. Active listening will allow you to communicate well and understand them on a deeper level.
1. The miracle question
The miracle question is an technique used by therapists for decades. It helps the therapist to understand what someone really wants out of a situation. The miracle question can also be used to understand your partner’s wants and needs.
An example of this is asking them, “If a miracle happened tonight while you were asleep and the situation was fixed, but no one told you, when you woke up in the morning, how would you know it had happened?”
2. Asking curious questions
Curious questions help our loved ones know we are listening. These are asking for more information, questions about the who, what, when, where, why and how, of the subject.
If your significant other says a coworker upset them, you can ask how it felt to be upset, what upset them, why that particular action was a trigger and so on. This active listening skill can help your partner feel understood
3. Reflective listening
This is a common communication skill. When you do this type of listening, you repeat back a summary of what you think you heard the other person say to ask them if you understood them correctly. This is an active listening skill that helps avoid misunderstanding in conversations.
Speaking exercises for couples
Speaking exercises for improving couple communication are extremely important. You cannot get your needs met if your partner is unclear on what you need.
Poor speaking skills also lead to more arguments as the person you are talking to may misunderstand your intent. You may be asking for help or change and they can understand what you are saying as criticism or contempt.
4. Using I statements when talking
When couples argue using poor communication they often tell each other what “you” did. This can come across as hostile or blaming. Instead, use “I” statements when you talk about problems. “I want to go out more” vs. “You never take me out”. These “I” statements are more positive statements than “You” statements. Many times, using “I” statements can turn an entire conversation around.
5. Using “feeling” words when talking
Another way of promoting excellent communication is to use feeling words when talking. Emotion words help others understand why we need what we need. For instance, instead of saying, “You’re being so mean”, try “I feel hurt when you say that”.
6. Expressing gratitude
One of the best communication exercises is expressing gratitude. This is where you tell your partner the things you appreciate about them and the things you enjoy about your relationship together.
This type of positive verbal communication can help a couple be happier in the relationship, feel more loved and appreciated. I recommend that you express gratitude for your partner on a daily basis.
7. The story of us
Everyone has a story they tell themselves about their life and their situation. An effective communication exercise is to talk to each other about the relationship. This helps to bring yourself together as a “we” and not just individuals.
You can either take turns storytelling, or one partner can tell their story on a particular day. You can talk about things like reminiscing on how you first met, a special date or an event you enjoyed attending. No matter your communication styles this one can be a fun way to bond.
Conversation exercises for couples
Conversations exercises are more than just a combination of speaking and listening exercises. They are conversations, but with a point. These talks have great potential to make your relationship better.
8. Stress reducing conversation
Another of my favorite ways to strengthen a relationship is the stress reducing conversation. This one comes from the Gottman Method. This conversation is not only a communication exercise, but is one of many trust building exercises a couple can do. This is because you are sharing things about your life and NOT talking about your relationship.
In the stress reducing conversation, one person talks about the stress that is going on in their world. This can be job stress, family stress, or anything that is not about their relationship or the other partner.
The other partner simply listens and validates their emotions. Showing empathy for their partner’s stress and communicating being on their side.
9. State of the union conversation
Another relationship communication exercise is the state of the union conversation. This one also comes from Gottman.
In this conversation, a couple takes time to appreciate each other, talk about what is going right in the relationship and process things that have not gone so well. They also discuss needs.
This conversation should happen weekly. Here is a more in depth set of instructions on how to do a state of the union conversation.
10. 5 minute fights
This one was developed by me (Yvonne Judge) in grad school. We had an assignment to create a family therapy intervention that worked with 2 or more people. Thus 5-minute fights was born.
In this exercise you set a timer for 5 minutes. One of you talks about something that is bothering you, use I statements and be kind.
Once the timer goes off, your turn is over. The listener doesn’t comment back, but instead sets the timer again and takes their turn to talk about a different topic.
Each person HAS TO talk about something that their partner does that is bothering them. The goal is that the partner that talks too much about things is time boxed to 5 minutes. The partner that never talks about anything has to talk for 5 minutes.
11. Find the triggers
This is an effective communication exercise to help couples better understand what upsets their partner. This helps people to keep from hurting each other and raises empathy.
The goal here is to talk about a previous fight and discuss what your own triggers were in that fight. A trigger is something that almost always makes you mad or upset.
For instance, you could say that when your spouse disagreed with you it felt like thy were calling you a liar. When you feel someone doesn’t believe you it always makes you upset. This is a trigger.
The goal here is to not blame your partner for hitting a trigger. It is simply to show them what they are so they can not hit them accidentally anymore.
12. Making repairs in conversations
Repairs are one of my favorite Gottman techniques. For his words about repairs view the video below. Repairs are things you can say to help de-escalate a conversation. Repairs can be as simple as “I’m sorry” or complex as telling a joke.
Repairs keep the couple’s communication positive. You can find a list of repairs and a deeper explanation of how to make a repair on this website.
It is easiest to memorize a few of these that fit you and your significant other. Then you can practice using them in conversations.
Body language exercises for couples
Body language is important to understand. It helps us to understand the feelings of the people we love. It gives us more empathy for them. Try these communication exercises for couples to increase understanding and empathy in your relationship.
13. Eye contact
Eye contact is one of the most powerful communication exercises for couples. One experiment even shows that it promotes closeness in strangers.
The goal of this exercise is to spend five minutes just staring into each other’s eyes while talking. You can start out practicing the exercise talking about every day topics. However, it is most powerful when you talk about the relationship, hopes, dreams or each other with a positive attitude.
At first this will feel odd, but after a while it will be easier to maintain eye contact for a longer period.
14. Identifying emotions from facial expressions
Some people have a difficult time reading other people’s emotions. When this is the case it makes understanding nonverbal language more difficult.
The purpose here is to learn to identify facial expressions that link to emotions. This can be done both alone and with a partner.You can start working on these alone by thinking of something that you know gives you an emotional response. For instance, thinking about something that makes you feel sad. Then look at your facial expression in the mirror while holding that thought.
Notice the area around your eyes, forehead, lips and cheeks. See what position each part of the face is in. This will help you identify these faces when others make them.
You can also do this with your partner as well. Have your partner think about something emotional and look at their face. Try to guess their emotion.
If you are correct, try another. If not, ask them to make the face for the emotion you thought they were making and compare the differences.
15. Mirroring exercises
Mirroring is another way of understanding emotions. It is also one of my favorite trust building exercises. In mirroring, you try to move, sit or stand in the same way as your partner.
This mirroring can help you to understand the feelings behind emotion. It can also bond you more as people tend to feel more comfortable with people who are like them. When you mirror body position and gestures it makes you more comfortable with each other.
Emotional control exercises
One of the more difficult things during conflict is keeping control of your emotions. It is easy to get overwhelmed with sadness, anger and other feelings.
These emotional control exercises will help you to solve problems with your partner easier. They will also help you talk about things more calmly in order to get your needs met.
16. Taking a time out
When our children get upset and overwhelmed we give them a time out, but most adults do not think about taking one for ourselves. These breaks from conflict are instrumental in helping us keep ourselves calm when things are tense.
In order to take a time out, let the person you are talking to know. Do not just walk away. Let them know how long you will be gone (I suggest 20 minutes). And when the time is up, come back and finish the conversation.
It is OK to take multiple breaks in a conversation to finish it. After all, it’s better for your relationship than yelling at each other or stonewalling. See the video below of Julie Gottman talking about the purpose of a timeout and how to take one.
17. Deep breathing
Deep breathing is a wonderful way to keep your emotions at a comfortable level. Simply breathe in and out as slowly as you can. Do this for at least 10 breaths. It works best if you can continue breathing deeply through the rest of the talk. View the video below for a guided deep breathing meditation.
18. Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation helps us to relax our bodies and our minds. To do this, you start at either your head or your feet and relax one group of muscles at a time. It is best to let the person you are talking to know you are doing this, otherwise they might wonder when you start to tense up or make funny faces. view the video below for a guided progressive muscle relaxation.
19. Grounding in the present
Sometimes we lose control of our emotions because we are focusing too much on past hurts. At other times it is because we are worrying about the future. If we are paying attention to the present, then we only have the emotional charge from the present.
In order to be in the present, start to focus on things in the room with you. Notice every detail of that one thing. You can focus on a decoration, or even on your partner.
20. 5-4-3-2-1 exercise
This exercise helps to get you out of your head, and back into the present moment when you are stressed or anxious. It makes you notice what is going on around you so mental health professionals use it for everything from anxiety to depression to personality disorders. It’s very simple, you simple notice things about the room around you.
- 5 things you can see:
- 4 things you can physically feel
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that you have learned more about communication. If you feel you could benefit from help, reaching out to a therapist can improve your relationship. Therapists at Columbus Therapy and Hypnosis sees clients throughout the state of Ohio via video or in person. Reach out to us for more information about the types of therapy we offer and how to get on our schedule.