Discover the best couples therapy exercises and activities in this article. It is written for therapists and counselors but will also benefit couples who want to improve their relationship with some tools they can even use at home.
The powerful exercises will help to improve communication and listening skills while also helping to develop and (re)build trust.
The exercises include the know-how from different treatment approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Positive Psychology, and Mindfulness-based interventions. All these different approaches work wonderfully together and complement each other.
We included exercises for trust-building, deepening the connection, resolving roadblocks, promoting awareness, and improving communication. Some of them can be used during therapy sessions while others work great as homework in couples therapy.
26 Couples Therapy Exercises and Activities
1.) The Icebreaker
Icebreakers can be a great opportunity to te an interesting conversation going and to learn something new about each other. It’s a great exercise for the early stage of any couples therapy or relationship coaching.
Some icebreaker questions are:
- What is a funny story you’ve never told me about?
- What is a childhood or your anecdote you could tell me?
- What did you want to become when you were a child?
- What is an embarrassing moment of your life you’d like to share with me?
Powerful Couples Therapy Exercises For Trust
2.) Let’s be honest
The rules of this exercise are easy. Both partners should answer each other’s questions honestly. This will enhance the connection between each other. You can vary between general and easy to answer questions and end up with philosophical and thought-provoking questions:
- What is your favorite memory of dating me?
- What is your favorite thing that I do for you?
- What’s something you’re glad you’ll never have to do again?
- Which memory comes up when you think about your childhood?
- If you woke up tomorrow with no fear, what would you do first?
- What is one behavior that you never tolerate?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- What about me made you fall in love?
3.) Try the Trust Fall
The trust fall is an exercise in which one person stands straight, closes their eyes, and lets him- or herself fall without trying to stop it, relying on the partner to catch them. As the name says it’s a trust-building exercise that needs some courage at first.
4.) Share your favorite songs
Each partner is asked to share three of their favorite songs. They should also try to explain the meaning of the songs. Listen to the songs together.
- What does it remind you about?
- Which feelings come up while listening?
- In which mood are you usually listening to it?
Music is very personal and this exercise is a great way to open up and connect with the partner and also express some vulnerability with each other. Maybe the couple even has „their“ song. In this case, both can describe the feelings and emotions that come up while listening.
5.) What do you know about me?
Make a small challenge and find out what the couple knows about each other. After answering one question it’s the other partner’s turn. Some example questions:
- What is the one thing that makes me feel alive?
- What makes me smile?
- What scares me?
- How would my dream holiday look like?
6.) The favorite book exercise
Ask the couple to swap their favorite books. They should tell each other what they like about this book in particular. How did it influence their life?
Reading the partner’s favorite book can be an opportunity to get a look into the partner’s mind and understand each other better. Discussing the book and the impact it has on one is a great way to deepen the connection of the couple. This is a great homework exercise. Discuss the results together in the next session.
Best Homework For Couples Therapy
7.) The Relationship Assessment
The Relationship Assessment is a couples therapy exercise for the early stage. Each partner is asked to answer some basic questions about the relationship. It’s a questionnaire that helps explore the challenges and problems.
It gives you some fundamental background information about the couple. You’ll find out how long the clients know each other, get information about previous relationships or marriages. You’ll also get information about children, the family background, and also stress-factors that may have caused the relationship problem.
This questionnaire should be part of the inventory of any couples therapist or consultant. You can create your own or get the one that’s included here in the couples therapy toolkit.
8.) Identify Relationship Problems
This is another great exercise for the early stage of any relationship coaching or couples therapy. The exercise allows you to identify specific areas to work on with the couple. It’s a set of questions that each partner should answer individually.
You will find out that each partner might identify different problems in their relationship. It’s a homework assignment before or after the first session.
Note the major problems each partner identifies in this questionnaire and specify with them what needs changing.
Possible areas of relationship problems are:
Financial, Child-rearing, Communication, Decision-making, Jobs, Controlling each other…
The full exercise is included here
9.) Identify Relationship Goals
Couples therapy is not only about problems, but also about goals. It’s important to find common goals within a relationship. Something both partners are ready to work for. Keep in mind that a goal should always be SMART.
SMART goal means:
- Specific (Is your goal too generic? Specify it!
- Measurable (How can we measure the outcome?)
- Attainable (Is our goal attainable?)
- Realistic (Is our goal realistic?)
- Time-Bound (We want to achieve our goal until…)
The goals or priorities can be different for everyone. Help your clients create and shape a vision for their ideal relationship. The Toolkit includes a ready-to-use worksheet for your sessions. Ask clients to create their goals separately and then try to find a common goal together in one of the first sessions.
10.) The Problem-Solving Blueprint
After the relationship problems have been identified it’s time to solve them one by one. The first step is to connect the individual problem with real-life situations. This will increase the understanding of the origin and the problem itself. Once this is done it’s time to attack the problem and find strategic ways to solve it.
This exercise prompts the couple to come up with creative solutions. The problem-solving blueprint is best used after the exercise where your clients identified the biggest problems that need solving.
It’s also a great tool that comes in handy whenever new problems come up during the coaching/therapy. Assign the tool to each client individually and discuss their answers together.
Each partner defines the problem, describes it in a real-life situation, and is prompted to come up with a creative solution to that problem. The results can be discussed together with the partner and the therapist. The full exercise is included here.
11.) The Pre-Session Check-In – Prepare for each Couples Therapy Session
This is a vital exercise for any marriage or couples therapy. Each partner should sit down individually the day before a session. They should write down what went well since the last session, which change they saw, and what they want to talk about in the next session. It’s a quick progress report that allows each therapist to make their session preparation a matter of a few minutes.
The clients get prompted to focus on the upcoming session to get the most out of it. CleverMemo allows you to assign these kinds of exercises and questionnaires with two single clicks s an action item. You pick a due date, an optional reminder and clients can fill everything out in the stream they share with their therapist.
12.) Therapy Session Gold Nuggets Exercise
This is the perfect addition to the pre-session check-in exercise. Prompt your clients to write down their key insights of each session and share them with you. This should be done individually.
The notes are super helpful as clients reflect on their session while memory is still fresh. They become aware of what they’ve learned, and you get invaluable insights and feedback about what was most valuable to them. Assign this exercise as an action item within CleverMemo. This allows clients to share their answers right in their private stream. Over time you both have a running record about the entire couple therapy with each partner.
- Possible questions are:
- What did you learn in this session?
- The most valuable insight was…
- What do you want to accomplish until our next session?
The complete exercise is part of the Couples Therapy Toolkit
13.) The Relationship Journal
Keeping a regular relationship journal (daily/weekly) is the perfect exercise to get to know the different perspectives of each partner.
It takes two for a successful relationship. If both parties start journaling about their thoughts, feelings, experiences, mistakes, successes, and wishes, a lot of invaluable insights will be uncovered.
It’s also a great way to call out and keep track of things and habits they don’t like about each other.
The therapist could discuss the journal entries individually with each partner and afterward try to solve and work on them together.
The CleverMemo automation allows you to assign the journal entry as a homework item. Just define how often (e.g. weekly) an entry should be done and the system will send reminders and nudge your clients not to forget their daily or weekly entry.
Rereading past entries is a great way to reflect and uncover recurring patterns, habits, and thoughts. Two journaling templates are included here.
14.) Don’t Overlook Your Qualities And Strengths! – Couples Therapy Exercise
Too often we focus on the bad things and what doesn’t work. This exercise prompts each partner to take a closer look at the strengths. Both their own and their strengths as a couple – as a team Awareness and understanding one’s strengths can be a huge confidence booster.
The couple should make this exercise individually. Sometimes we are sure that we possess certain strengths but our partner may not notice them or take them for granted. It’s also possible that something we consider our strong side (e.g. “I’m a very organized person”) is seen completely different by our partner without us even knowing it (e.g. He/She is a control freak“).
Two great questions to start are:
- Which three big strengths do I think my partner would say I possess?
- What are the strengths we should develop together as a couple?
- The complete exercise is part of the Couples Therapy Toolkit.
15.) The CleverMemo PIT-STOP (R) – Quickly de-escalate any argument with your partner
Even the best couples fight sometimes — that’s just what happens when two people who care about each other spend a lot of time together. But unfortunately, in some cases, arguments can escalate quickly, turning a little disagreement into a big issue.
The CleverMemo PIT-Stop exercise will help your clients to de-escalate any argument or upcoming fight. It’s a simple technique that helps them to step back and become aware of the situation and their feelings. Once the emotions cooled down it’s time to address the topic calmly.
Each time an argument comes up the couple should say some keyword like Pause, Stop, or PIT-Stop and then leave the situation. Each partner takes a seat and writes down their thoughts and feelings. You’ll find the entire exercise including all the questions for clients here.
Effective Couples Therapy Exercises For Communication
Communication and the ability to listen to each other are vital skills for any relationship to be successful. There are several exercises to assess communication issues:
16.) Let’s Improve our Communication
Good communication is an essential part of a healthy relationship. Every relationship has its ups and downs, we all have bad days, but a healthy way of communicating with our partner makes it easier to deal with conflicts and building a stronger relationship.
We cannot read our partner’s mind. That’s why is crucial to tell our significant other how we are feeling, what we want and need and what we are feeling.
Every person has different communication ways and needs of communication. That’s why it’s so important that the couple becomes aware of their current communication patterns. How would they rate their current communication? Are they able to talk about everything with their partner?
This is the first step to improve communication. The whole worksheet is part of the Couples Therapy Toolkit.
17.) The Miracle Question
The miracle question is a great thought experiment in coaching and counseling. The question has its origin in the solution-focused therapy and its name is credited to Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg. The focus is on the future, on the goal the client wants to achieve.
This question helps our couple to become aware of their own dreams and desires and learn about their partner’s dreams and desires. It can be very helpful in understanding what both they and their significant other needs to be happy with the relationship.
Ask them to answer the following miracle question:
Imagine while sleeping tonight a miracle occurred: All your current problems disappeared. What would you notice that would tell you life suddenly gotten better? How would life look like?
Tip: Couples Therapy Questions
The miracle question is just one example that shows how great the impact of the right questions can be in couples therapy. Questions can be a great resource for any couples therapist, and relationship counselor, or coach. We created a collection that will help to identify problematic areas within the relationship.
But even when you’re not a therapist, you can use some of them as an icebreaker exercise to get communication with your spouse going. Check out the list of couples therapy questions for your next session here.
18.) Listening Without Interruption
This famous couples therapy exercise focuses on both verbal and nonverbal communication.
Set a timer for 3 minutes. One partner has the chance to speak about whatever they are thinking or feeling without being interrupted. The other partner is not allowed to say anything but could use nonverbal methods to show empathy and understanding.
After three minutes both can discuss their experience, feelings, and observations. Then it’s time to switch roles so that each partner can improve their listening skills.
19.) Repeat it – Exercise
This is a variation of the „Listening without interruption“ exercise.
One is asked to tell a short story (3-5 minutes) while the partner is just listening. Once the story is over the partner is asked to reflect on what they just heard. It’s great training to enhance listening skills.
Some additional Homework Exercises For Couples Therapy
20.) Send Me a Letter
Both partners are asked to write a letter to each other. In this letter, they can express their frustration, feelings, or desires. For many people, it’s easier to express their emotions and feelings in written form instead of telling it to another person’s face. Each partner is then asked to write a response to their partner’s letter.
Ask your clients to share their letters with you in their CleverMemo stream. You’ll gain invaluable insights that will be useful for the upcoming therapy sessions. Discuss the letters together with them.
21.) Becoming the Best Partner I can be
This exercise will help each partner to find out what they can do to improve their relationship skills and do their part in becoming the best partner they can be.
First, we must recognize our responsibility and not get caught up blaming it all on our partner, even when it appears our partner is the one with the problem.
Let’s take a look at ourselves and what we can do to become the best partner we can be. You’ll find the exercise here.
22.) Get Your Needs Met In Your Relationship
A happy relationship thrives on our understanding of our partner’s needs. Recognizing and communicating our own needs is also very important. If both partners don’t care about or ignore each other’s needs, the relationship will fail sooner or later.
The relationship will only have a future if the mutual and individual needs of both partners are met. Common needs in a relationship are the feeling of security, appreciation, shared experiences of love, tenderness, and affection.
Each partner should ask themselves „What do I need?“ and „What does my partner need?“ and both partners should make it a habit to clearly communicate their needs. It needs some training in the beginning but it can become a routine after some time. The worksheet is part of the Couples Therapy Toolkit.
23.) Explore New Things Together
Prompt the couple to find something new they could learn or try together. This could be a skill, a hobby, or an adventure. It’s ideal if both have never done it before so that they share the experience of trying it the first time together. This could be some sport or going to dance class for example.
24.) Let’s Review Our Life Together
This is a great homework exercise for couples. Prompt them to have a glass of wine or cup of tea and review their life together. They could take a look at their first pictures as a couple and discuss all the things they’ve experienced together throughout their relationship. They can also think of things they still would like to do together. You can discuss the results in the next session.
25.) The Gratitude List
A great couples therapy exercise is the Gratitude List or even a journal. It helps each partner to restructure how they think about their partner and to become aware of all the small positive details that made them once fall in love with each other.
Ask each partner to write down at least five things they appreciate/are grateful for about their partner. This could be followed by three things they could do to make their partner feel more loved and appreciated in the relationship. If the couple is ready for it you could take this exercise a step further and let them keep a daily gratitude journal over 2-4 weeks.
This will help them to focus on the good in their relationship and become aware of the daily little positive things they notice about their partner. A template for this journal is included here.
26.) The Weekly Relationship Check-In
This couples therapy exercise is valuable for every relationship. It improves the communication between the partners and allows each of them to have their speak. Ask the couple to schedule 30-60 minutes per week where they talk about their latest experiences, their wishes, what they want and need from each other, and how they could improve their relationship.
There are not a lot of rules. But the listening partner agrees not to interrupt and take things personally. Both should take this time as a chance to talk honestly to each other without the fear of being judged or that the partner might overreact.
Ask your clients to share the experiences and key insights of this exercise in their CleverMemo stream with you.
Wrapping Up Couples Therapy Exercises And Activities
These were 25 must-try couples therapy and counseling exercises you can use with your clients. Practicing communication, trust, and increasing empathy and awareness for each other are undoubtedly helpful for any relationship or marriage.
If you’re looking to support your couples therapy sessions with a professional software tool you can start a free CleverMemo trial here. And if you want to improve your couples therapy with some ready-to-use worksheets and questionnaires this Toolkit is for you: Check it out