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3 Couples Therapy Communication Exercises

Author: MA RSW RMFT

Professional Couples Therapy Exercises For Communication

Your connection with your partner is primarily built and maintained through words. Words are like bridges between the two of you. When your bridges are healthy and strong, you are well-connected.

The following couples therapy exercises will help you build a strong connection with your partner that will be respectful, loving, and long-lasting.

Although it may be counterintuitive, when it comes to communicating with another person, ‘listening’ for most people is far more difficult than speaking.

In these couples therapy exercises, you will learn how to become an expert listener who can connect deeply and meaningfully with your partner.

Couples Therapy Exercises #1: Understand and Know Mecouples therapy exercises

‘Just listen’ couple communication

In this couple communication exercise, you will learn how to give your partner an emotional massage.

Feeling understood by one’s partner is emotionally very satisfying and meaningful. This is why I call it an “emotional massage.” As your body needs comfort and care, so do your emotions.

When you are the listener, you abandon all of your thoughts and feelings and focus exclusively on the needs of your partner, which is that you listen to him or her. This is just like giving somebody a massage. When it is your partner’s turn for a massage, you are only thinking about their pleasure and comfort and not yours.

Knowing that your partner is listening and trying to understand you is perhaps the greatest relationship tonic there is.

We all need to feel that we matter to others and especially to our life partner. When your partner listens to you with his or her full attention, without giving unsolicited advice or comments, this makes you feel that you are important and matter to him or her.

Unfortunately, listening to another person without giving an opinion, advice, or solutions for many people is unnatural and difficult. However, with determination and practice, it can be learned and used in couple communication.

A couple’s guide to satisfying communication

Tell your partner that you are learning many new couple communication exercises, and this one is particularly important to you. Ask your partner to participate in this couple communication exercise.

With a positive response from your partner, read the following to him or her:

Read to your partner:

I am going to talk to you.

Right now, I need you to ‘just listen.’

Don’t talk.

If you comment on what I say, you have not done what I need.

When I need you to just listen, and you tell me my feelings are wrong – I am hurt!

When you hear what I say, and then you tell me what to do, you have failed me – I don’t want advice!

I am strong, even if at the moment, I am not sure. Just listen.

I am asking for something very simple – just listen and nothing more.

When you listen and let me share with you my thoughts and feelings, regardless of your opinion of what I am saying, I can then stop trying to prove myself to you. And I can then reflect on what I am saying and understand better what is behind my words.

Just listen. Help me make sense of myself.

Please just listen and do your best to understand what I am saying.

When I pause, you can ask me simple questions to understand more about what I am saying.

Wait your turn, and I will then listen to you.

This is a powerful couples’ communication tip to build emotional intimacy

After you have read the rules for this couples therapy exercise, start speaking to your partner. Pick any topic that is of importance to you.

Since your partner is only listening to you at this time, you cannot make any decisions. The goal is only to be understood.

If necessary, remind them that you just want them to listen and do their best to understand.

At all times, both you and your partner must remain calm and be respectful of one another. If either one of you gets heated or upset in any way, immediately stop this exercise and try again at another time.

These couple communication tips are very powerful!

This couple communication exercise creates such positive feelings that many relationships will turn around even when there have been many past problems.

We all need to matter to one another. However, it is often difficult to articulate this and share it with her partner in a clear way. Because of this, many people end up arguing over things that do not matter. The reason for this is that it is felt that one’s partner is not paying attention to what is being said, and what is being communicated is not understood.

With this powerful couple communication exercise, which only requires each of you to take turns listening to one another, you can heal many past relationship problems and get a fresh start for a future healthy, happy, and long-lasting relationship.

Please note this is only one of many couple communication exercises. There are times when “just listening” is not the right communication tool depending on what you are trying to achieve.

This couple exercise is particularly helpful for building emotional intimacy and safety.

Couples Therapy Exercises #2: Build a strong connection with your partner by being an active listener

Summarize what your partner tells you to ‘prove’  you listened and understood 

Healthy relationships depend on healthy communication. Being an expert ‘listener’ is the most important of all communication skills and, for many individuals, the most difficult to do.

Often when conversations get stuck, it’s because both participants are paying more attention to what they are saying and thinking than what their partner is saying. To correct this, the listener must actively work to comprehend and recall what the speaker says. 

When your partner speaks, listen carefully to what he or she says, not to what you are thinking or what you intend to say when it is your turn. This may be not easy, but with practice, you can learn to focus your attention exclusively on the speaker. 

If you do not keep your attention focused on what the speaker is saying, likely the two of you will end up arguing, and both of you will feel misunderstood.

When your partner is speaking to you, prove that you are listening to what they are saying by summarizing in point form what you heard.

When you prove to your partner that you have listened to what he or she has said, they will then be more inclined to listen to your point of view.

Practice these couple communication tips with your partner

Tell your partner that “active listening” is one of the many couple communication exercises you have been learning.

Ask them to help you practice. Hopefully, they will respond positively to participating in learning couple communication tips. 

With a positive response from your partner, agree to a time when you and your partner can speak to each other. 

Ask your partner to pick any topic that does not require a decision to be made. Rather, it is an opportunity to share feelings, thoughts, and ideas for the future.

Also, as this is a couples therapy exercise for communication, the topic should not include anything controversial or upsetting like complaints, hurt, or disappointment.  Once you have mastered these couple communication tips along with other couples therapy exercises, you and your partner will be able to tackle the difficult topics in your life — even topics that involve sharing your hurt and disappointment with your partner and them with you.

After your partner speaks for about a minute, if they don’t pause on their own, ask them to give you a moment to summarize what you heard. Then you can say something like this:

  • What I hear you say is… [summarize in a few words what you heard your partner say]
  • If I understand you right, you are telling me… [summarize in a few words what you heard your partner say]
  • What you said is… [summarize in a few words what you heard your partner say]

Try to use similar words to what your partner used when speaking with you. Be careful not to add any of your commentary, opinions, or suggestions. Be like a tape recorder, playing back what you heard.

Then ask your partner if he or she is finished or would like to continue and tell you more.

That’s it. And when you do use these couple communication tips consistently, most of your arguments will be eliminated, and your relationship will be greatly enhanced.

Practice makes perfect: Couple communication worksheets to help you be an active listener

Get together with your partner to practice this couple communication exercise. Find a quiet time when you will not be interrupted.

Take turns being the ‘speaker’ and the ‘listener.’

The listener

When you are the ‘listener,’ write down what you think your partner said. Then share it with him or her to know if you have understood what the ‘speaker’ is sharing with you.

As the ‘listener,’ start your summary of what you heard with the statement, “What you are telling me is…” or “So, you’re saying …” or say something similar.

The speaker

As the ‘speaker,’ if you feel your partner doesn’t get your point, calmly repeat it, perhaps adding some additional clarification. If you feel understood by the listener, tell them they got it right.

The listener

There is no right or wrong to this couple’s communication. If your partner, after hearing your summary, corrects you, summarize again what you are now hearing. Your partner is the expert in what he or she is trying to share with you. If they are not convinced that you understand, it is to your benefit that they correct your summary so that you have a chance of getting an accurate understanding of what they are telling you.

With each attempt to ‘listen’ and ‘summarize,’ you increase your active listening skills.

Written work for the listener to help with the above couples therapy exercises

For the next week, both of you should take turns being the listener and the speaker.

By the end of the week, your skill and your partner’s skill at ‘listening’ to what each other says should improve considerably.

Couple communication worksheets directions for the listener

Each day, write on your device or a piece of paper answers to the following two questions. You can do this while you are listening to your partner speak, or you can do it at the end of your conversation as a summary for yourself.

Day 1

What was the point your partner said that you acknowledged and thereby proved you were listening?

What was your partner’s reaction to your proof that you heard what he or she said?

Day 2

What was the point your partner said that you acknowledged and thereby proved you were listening?

What was your partner’s reaction to your proof that you heard what he or she said?

Day 3

What was the point your partner said that you acknowledged and thereby proved you were listening?

What was your partner’s reaction to your proof that you heard what he or she said?

Day 4

What was the point your partner said that you acknowledged and thereby proved you were listening?

What was your partner’s reaction to your proof that you heard what he or she said?

Day 5

What was the point your partner said that you acknowledged and thereby proved you were listening?

What was your partner’s reaction to your proof that you heard what he or she said?

Day 6

What was the point your partner said that you acknowledged and thereby proved you were listening?

What was your partner’s reaction to your proof that you heard what he or she said?

Day 7

What was the point your partner said that you acknowledged and thereby proved you were listening?

What was your partner’s reaction to your proof that you heard what he or she said?

Active listening is a necessary foundation for a healthy relationship

Being there for your partner means being an active listener. It is deeply satisfying and meaningful for all of us to be known by those people we live with and care about. Your relationship will be greatly enhanced when you show your love and care by listening to your partner and proving that you understand him or her by summarizing what they said.

As well, you will significantly increase the willingness and desire of your partner to listen and to get to know you.

When you have mastered these couple communication tips, you will be able to talk about anything as long as you and your partner remain calm and respectful.

If decisions are to be made, start with this above couple guide to communication. Once you prove you understand each other by providing ‘accurate summaries of what you heard,’ you can then take turns suggesting potential solutions to a particular problem, issue, or goal.

These couples therapy exercises for communication are like vaccinations that prevent disease. These couple therapy exercises greatly reduce the likelihood that you will have future marriage and relationship problems.

Couples Therapy Exercises #3: Build a strong emotional connection with your partner

Advanced communication skills to increase love, and commitment, and build a long-lasting relationship

Skillful listening is essential to building a close, happy, and healthy relationship. When you listen skillfully, giving your partner your full attention, it is greatly appreciated and valued.

We all want to be understood and known by those with whom we are close. This couple guide to communication will teach you the skills needed to connect emotionally with your partner and fulfill his or her needs to be understood and known.

As well, the closeness built through skillful listening contributes to a healthy sexual relationship and a stable and long-lasting relationship.

When you are a successful listener, you will connect with the talking points and emotional feelings your partner is sharing with you. When you do this, they will feel cared for and loved. This connection quickly builds emotional intimacy and trust.

Note: In this couple guide to communication, the person sharing an idea or feeling is the ‘speaker.’ The person working to understand the speaker is the ‘listener.’

The following 4 couple communication tips are to be used by the ‘listener’:

1. Summarize what you hear the speaker say — this proves you are listening:

After listening for a minute or two, repeat in your own words what you heard the Speaker say. You are not to agree, disagree, explain, or make any personal contribution to the statement you heard.

To be a proper listener, you need to set aside your agenda and completely hold back from making any points, correcting the facts, or introducing your opinion. The only exception is if your partner directly asks for your opinion or thoughts. If you are asked for your opinion, you become the speaker, and your partner becomes the listener.

For example, here is how to start your summarizing: After listening to your partner’s words, you can say, “What I heard you say was…” and then summarize what you heard. Then ask, “Is that what you said?” If the speaker says, “no,” just let him or her restate the message until you get it right. 

The summarizing pattern by the listener is to be repeated many times until the speaker is finished talking.

Note: For additional help with this part of this couple guide to communication exercise, “Summarize what you hear the speaker says,” review the two couples therapy exercises #1 and #2 above.

2. Curious Questions — shows you care about the speaker (your partner) and that you are interested in what he or she has to say:

To deepen your understanding of what your partner is trying to tell you, asking questions for clarification is very helpful.

Asking the right kind of questions is understood by your partner that you are interested in the topic they are discussing. This is emotionally satisfying for your partner.

On the other hand, if your partner feels you are not interested in what they are attempting to share with you, they will be upset and feel you don’t care about them. This is why asking questions is a very powerful communication tool.

Questions communicate to your partner that you are interested in what they are talking about, and when they feel this, they feel you love them and care about them.

There are three types of questions. As the listener, you should only use the third type of question, curious questions.

  1. Leading Questions
    These are the kinds of questions lawyers frequently use to get somebody to make a statement that promotes their agenda. It is not a question. It is a camouflage statement. For example, “Didn’t you know if you came home late, the children would be locked out of the house?” or “How many times have I told you that you are wasting money?
  2. Decision Questions
    This type of question is asked to know what to do. For example, “Would you like one or two cookies?”
  3. Curious Questions
    This is a type of question that is used to learn more about how your partner is thinking or feeling. For example, “What made you choose…?” or “How come you felt like that?”

When connecting emotionally with your partner, you are not to use ‘leading questions’ or ‘decision questions.” You are to use ‘curious questions (#3).’ Curious questions are used to encourage a personal and satisfying exchange of thoughts and feelings. Curious questions are asking questions to deepen your understanding of what your partner is talking about.

Couple communication curious question tips:

  • Try to ask curious questions that cannot be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Ask curious questions that encourage your partner to provide a detailed and complex answer.
  • Don’t start your curious question with, ‘Why.’ The word ‘why’ makes a person feel they have to justify themselves, which can be interpreted as criticism.
  • When your partner has answered your question, summarize the answer you heard to make sure you understood correctly what they said. If they indicate that you did not get their answer correctly, ask them to repeat it.

3. Validate what the speaker says — this tells the speaker you respect what he or she has to say:

This part of this couple communication exercise informs the speaker that you acknowledge that he or she makes sense — that given their point of view and experience, you understand how they came to their thoughts and feelings. You don’t need to agree necessarily, although you may. You can say something like: “Hearing what you say makes sense to me” or “Looking at it from your point of view, it makes sense to me why you feel the way you do.”

It is important that when you validate what the speaker says, you identify it as ‘his or her’ point of view. If you don’t, it will sound like it is also your point of view which it may not be. You are not expected to lie and agree when you don’t—validating means respecting what your partner said regardless of your point of view. See two examples in the above paragraph. 

4. Understand Feelings — shows you understand how the speaker feels:

After doing the couple communication steps listed below (details discussed above):

  1. Summarizing what the “speaker” tells you.
  2. Ask curious questions to learn more.
  3. Validate your partner’s feelings.

Make the following concluding statement: “After hearing what you have said, I imagine you must be feeling…” Then add a feeling word like, ‘angry,’ ‘worried,’ or ‘loved.’

You complete this statement based on what was previously spoken that you think describes best how the speaker feels or felt. Then you ask, “Is that how you feel or felt?” The ‘speaker’ either acknowledges the feelings that you are suggesting are correct or replaces them with a more accurate feeling word. You then summarize the feelings your partner has told you.

Note: Here are some examples of feeling words:

  • Happy
  • Angry
  • Elated
  • Sad
  • Energized
  • Unloved
  • Cared for
  • Hopeless
  • Safe
  • Not seen
  • Respected
  • Resentful
  • Proud
  • Valued
  • Close to you
  • Jealous
  • Excited
  • Worried

For Men: Listening for love and romance

Talking — expressing thoughts and feelings — is very important for a woman. If her partner doesn’t take the time to listen, she feels neglected and unloved.

For a woman, ‘talking’ is an essential part of her thinking cycle. When she talks, it helps her think. Thus, a woman’s emotional health is tied to healthy communication.

If a woman can’t talk it through, her emotions become bottled up and painful. She feels alone.

When a woman talks, a man often responds by giving what he considers good advice. He wants to be his wife’s ‘hero.’ He thinks he can prove his value to her by solving her problems and making her life better. After all, isn’t that what ‘heroes’ do — they rescue fair maidens from dangerous fire-breathing dragons? So he gives good advice, and suddenly and unexpectedly, his wife becomes upset. She gets angry, or she cries. He feels confused and misunderstood! Perhaps he gets angry.

If you are a man, know your wife or girlfriend doesn’t want to be ‘rescued.’ She doesn’t want you to solve her problems. Rather, most of the time, she wants to be understood, that you ‘feel what she feels.’ This means she wants you to listen, listen, and listen — and nothing else.

Giving ‘good advice’ feels to her as if you are trying to end the conversation. In her mind, with the problem solved, you no longer have to talk with her; you can then move on to something else more important. In the end, she concludes she is unimportant to you.
Regardless of what your true feelings are, you must take into account how your wife or girlfriend perceives your intentions. This is what you will live with, how your partner perceives you!

A word to the wise: Unless your female partner explicitly asked for advice, don’t give it. Rather, use the couples therapy exercises provided above.

On the other hand, when you are an expert listener, as described above in the couple communication exercises, your wife or girlfriend will feel close and connected to you. This will naturally increase her desire to be with you in all ways, including sexually.

For Women: Increase your man’s comfort being with you

Most men find emotional conversations awkward, difficult, and to be avoided whenever possible.

Hopefully, your male partner will be convinced by what is written in these couple communication tips about the value and importance of correct listening. However, if your man is like most men, his capacity to listen to an emotional conversation is probably between 10 and 20 minutes.

A word to the wise: Don’t push your man beyond his capacity to listen to you. If you do, he may become argumentative, resentful, or simply tune out. And he may avoid talking with you in the future. Make sure your relationship with your man is such that when he is with you, he is comfortable and not stressed by too much emotional talking.

Try to create a balance between talking about ‘things’ and ‘personal feelings’ (emotional conversations).

If the conversation requires more than 15 or 20 minutes, try to schedule a convenient time when you can come back to the topic you are discussing. Thank him for his time. And leave it at that.

When you are respectful and sensitive to your man’s limitations, and he doesn’t feel as if he is inadequate in your eyes, he will be a much more solid, connected, and responsive partner.

Wishing you and your family the very best,
Abe Kass, MA RSW RMFT

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abe kass

Abe has helped thousands of individuals, couples, and families for twenty-five-plus years. When it comes to relationship expertise — Abe is the real deal and can be trusted!

abe kassProfessional Therapist Abe Kass MA RSW RMFT

Abe has helped thousands of individuals, couples, and families for twenty-five-plus years. When it comes to relationship expertise — Abe is the real deal and can be trusted!