Ten Couples Therapy Exercises to Try

Do you want to know what exercises are worked on when a couple attends therapy? We show you ten of the most commonly used techniques.
Ten Couples Therapy Exercises to Try
Montse Armero

Written and verified by the psychologist Montse Armero.

Last update: 25 September, 2023

Just as individuals go through different stages, so do couples. In fact, the situations couples experience aren’t always easy and they frequently produce marital crises. In such a situation, going to couples therapy can be an excellent way of solving the problem.

There are multiple difficulties that are treated in couples therapy. However, they can be grouped into two main kinds. On the one hand, are couples who’ve grown apart.

Their problems are usually related to having few interests in common. They also don’t spend much time together and their intimacy is limited or non-existent.

They don’t tend to have huge arguments, but this doesn’t suggest their bond is harmonious. It’s simply because, as they don’t really communicate, there are few subjects on which they could potentially clash.

On the other hand, are couples in which conflict is really close to the surface. They do have frequent arguments, often destructive ones. Furthermore, they make personal attacks and criticisms of each other and tend to adopt defensive attitudes.

The reasons for disagreement may concern serious issues but more often than not they’re due to trivia. Nevertheless, understandably, not all couples follow the same pattern.

Depending on the stage they’re at, both in their own life and that of the relationship, the problems will manifest themselves in different ways.

Angry couple who'd benefit from couples therapy
When there’s continuous conflict between partners, couples therapy can help.

Practical exercises of couples therapy

In this article, we want to show you some of the exercises that are often prescribed to couples when they go to therapy to improve their relationship.

In no way are they a substitute for therapy, but knowing about them might help you improve your relationship if you’re going through a crisis situation.

1. Positive radar

This first exercise consists of understanding that there are two types of radars, positive and negative. The important thing is that you focus on your positive radar, the one that captures more pleasant and enjoyable situations.

The objective is for each of you to activate your positive radars and detect certain things that, in many cases, you might not notice. For instance, you might want to mention a particular attribute of your partner, or how good they look with their new hairstyle.

It’s an extremely useful exercise because it changes your point of view and you move from looking at everything that bothers you about your partner to recognizing what you do like.

2. The first fifteen minutes

You can link this exercise to the previous one or practice it independently. When you return home at the end of the day, spend the first fifteen minutes that you’re together observing the positive aspects of each other.

For example, maybe you liked something your partner said or they did something for which you feel grateful. The second part of the exercise involves reacting positively to this, thereby increasing the positive interactions between you.

3. The Good Times album

This activity is especially suitable if you’ve been together for a long time. You collect photos of some of the most special moments you’ve shared and create a photo album with them.

To improve the experience, you might want to write a phrase next to each photo that reflects the emotion that the memory provokes. It’ll encourage you both to keep the positive aspects of each other in mind.

4. The surprise

Each of you has to prepare a surprise for the other once a week or as often as you agree. The surprise has to be something that you know the other particularly enjoys, otherwise, it could backfire.

This exercise is really suitable if you’re immersed in a routine. It allows you to increase empathy toward each other and it also brings creativity into play since the idea is to change the surprise each time.

5. Post-it homework

This task consists of leaving a post-it with a positive message addressed to your partner in an inconspicuous place, but where they can find it. For example, in a nightstand drawer, under their pillow, next to their breakfast cereal, or inside their purse or wallet.

Several post-its a week are more than enough, it’s not necessary to overdo it. It’s an interesting exercise to see how your messages change over time. Bear in mind that they should always be positive yet also realistic.

6. A day of love

One day a week, you behave in a loving, respectful, and kind way toward each other. It’s particularly appropriate if you argue a lot.

That said, it’s quite possible that one or both of you won’t feel like showing excessive kindness toward the other. However, just a little kindness would be enough. Nevertheless, don’t force the emotion if you don’t feel it. You can agree together if you’ll do it on a set day every week or occasionally, as a surprise.

7. Two compliments for every criticism

Every time one of you starts to criticize the other, you must make two positive comments about them. As time goes on, those two compliments can increase to three, four, or five for every criticism issued.

This activity is especially appropriate if you’re constantly criticizing each other. It’s a way to stop doing it and to focus on each other’s positive aspects.

8. One percent right

Every time you disagree, each of you has to pay attention to the part of the other’s argument that you agree with. That percentage must be at least one percent.

This exercise helps you both to relax your perspectives of each other. In addition, it helps you to empathize with each other.

9. Time out in couples therapy

If you argue on a regular basis, this is a useful exercise. If one of you detects that the discussion is turning into an argument, you make a T sign with your hands and immediately leave the room.

When you’re both calmer, you can talk again, but first, you have to admit at least one percent of your partner’s argument. If the conversation arises again, repeat the procedure.

10. Celebrating progress

This exercise is a way of celebrating progress in your relationship or some important goal you’ve achieved together. You can do it by going out to dinner, spending a weekend away, or going back to the place where first met.

If you’ve gone through bad times and these have been overcome, in part, thanks to the help of other people, they can also be included in the celebration. For example, a family meal or a celebration with those closest to you.

couple having dinner
Celebrating a success or overcoming a difficulty together helps to strengthen the relationship.

Commitment and perseverance

As we mentioned earlier, these exercises shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for couples therapy, but they can help you improve your interaction with your partner if you’re going through a crisis.

Bear in mind that if you only practice them occasionally, they won’t have a great impact on your relationship with your partner.

The key lies in not only finding ways of thinking and acting differently but to know how to reproduce them, consistently, over time. After all, it’s what you do on a daily basis that makes you who you are.

In the event that you try these or other couple exercises and don’t achieve good results, you should consult a therapist specializing in couples therapy.

Although you may be initially reluctant to discuss your intimate problems with an outsider, you’ll find that a professional’s point of view will help untangle the situation.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Beyebach, M. y Herrero De la Vega, M. (2010). 200 tareas en terapia breve. Barcelona: Herder.
  • Cáceres, J. (1996). Manual de terapia de pareja. Madrid: Fundación Universidad-Empresa.
  • Wainstein, M. y Wittner, V. (2004). Enfoque psicosocial de la pareja: Aproximaciones desde la terapia de la comunicación y la terapia de solución de problemas. Psicodebate. Psicología, Cultura y Sociedad, Vol. 4, 131-144. [fecha de consulta 29 de julio de 2022]. Recuperado de https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=5645303

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.