Couples Therapy Techniques: Therapy Approaches & Exercises

Published on: 19 Nov 2021
Clinically Reviewed by Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
two men talking to a couples counselor

If you’ve been together long enough, sooner or later you’re going to hit some bumps in the relationship road. Even new partners could potentially benefit from couples therapy interventions designed to ensure relationships stay on the right path. 

Learning to communicate better, trust more, let go of resentments, or control our emotions can be worth the effort it takes to better our relationships — because none of us are perfect. When two people are experiencing relationship distress or have relationship issues they need to deal with, knowing when to ask for help may be the very thing that saves the relationship

If this sounds like you, online couples therapy might be just what the doctor ordered. Keep reading to learn more about couples therapy techniques that have proven effective for thousands of couples just like you. According to The American Association of Marriage and Family, more than 97% of surveyed couples feel like they got what they needed using one or more forms of couples therapy techniques. Learn how to make your relationship stronger with some of the techniques below.

“Couples counseling is an amazing way to get our partnership to its full potential. We have the chance to explore the roots behind why we both are behaving a certain way. With that understanding, we are more apt to try specific tactics that work for our relationship rather than trying a global approach that’s not catered to our needs. Finding the approach that works best will be explorative, but at the same time it is amazing what we can learn along the way.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC

Different Types of Couples Therapy

If you’ve never been before, you might be tempted to think that all therapy is the same. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is, there’s a type of therapy out there that’s perfect for you and your specific issues and needs. When it comes to couples therapy techniques, the options are plentiful. You can rest assured that you and your partner can find the exact relationship counseling technique that’ll work for you. 

1. Reflective listening

Reflective listening is a specific type of couples therapy that can be beneficial for partners who want to work on their communication skills. By being in a healthy, safe environment where each person takes a turn being an active listener, giving the other partner an opportunity to speak freely, communication can be greatly enhanced. Read our guide on communication exercises for couples to learn more. 

When we rephrase our statements using “I” phrases instead of “you” statements, a more productive conversation can be had. 

For example, rather than saying “you hurt my feelings when you’re late,” you could express your feelings more productively by saying something more along the lines of “I feel hurt when you are late.

“Reflective listening is a skill that we have to practice because, for most of us, it doesn’t come naturally. A lot of couples are focused on winning a conversation, which puts our focus on our counter argument rather than putting our focus on how well we understand our partners. In couple’s counseling, it is less important about what content is exchanged and way more important to focus on how it is exchanged.

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC

2. Emotion focused therapy 

Emotion focused therapy (EFT) is an effective couples counseling technique. EFT can help identify destructive patterns in a relationship that begin to interfere with attachments, ultimately preventing two people from bonding. By focusing on those patterns and behaviors that create a disconnect in the relationship, two people can begin healing and bonding in a more positive manner.

The American Psychological Association (APA) states that EFT is effective and helpful for about 75% of couples who use it.

3. Narrative therapy

Narrative therapy is a very specific therapy technique that involves both partners describing their relationship problems in narrative form. They’re then encouraged to rewrite their stories. The goal of narrative therapy is to help couples see that one single story on its own can’t truly encompass an entire experience together.

Narrative therapy is typically helpful when both people feel they’re to blame for the demise of a relationship. It can be a great form of therapy when each partner has the mindset that they’re a failure, and thus, they deserve a failing relationship.

4. Solution-focused therapy

Solution-focused therapy works best for couples who have a specific issue they want to work on in their relationship. The approach is helpful when working towards a short-term relationship goal. It helps couples create a solution to relationship issues they’re having instead of sitting in the same place and dwelling on the same problems.

5. Gottman method

The Gottman method can help couples create a deeper understanding of each other even during times of conflict in their relationship. The method aims to give couples specific problem-solving skills that enhance intimacy and friendship between partners. 

While traditionally it utilizes live workshops and homework in the form of take-home training materials, many therapists have trained to use adapted techniques of the Gottman method with couples in a private setting during therapy sessions. 

6. Imago relationship therapy (IRT)

Imago relationship therapy (IRT) helps couples identify childhood experiences that have created an impact on adult relationships. For example, imago therapy can help you uncover the reason for commitment issues or relationship anxiety. Through an extensive exploration of childhood trauma, couples can become more understanding and empathetic towards one another.

Couples Therapy Exercises to Try

Couples therapy interventions can be reinforced through various exercises and activities that are designed to promote understanding, deeper connections, forgiveness, or any other issue you’re struggling to overcome in your relationship.

1. Identifying feelings

Disconnects in a relationship often stem from a simple inability to quickly and effectively identify our feelings. Practicing how to do so in a safe place like therapy can help you begin to express your emotions in a more productive way whenever you need to.

2. Focusing on solutions

Resolving issues, focusing on the positives, and redirecting negative behaviors are all effective ways to practice solutions-oriented patterns that can ultimately better your relationship.

3. Exploring the past

It’s not uncommon for the past to haunt future relationships. Trauma you experienced, fear you can’t seem to let go of, negative behavior patterns you’ve developed, or even hurt that makes it difficult for you to trust, can all affect how you behave with your partner today. 

By looking at the past and identifying any unhealthy patterns you’ve created, you can begin to heal and establish a healthy relationship, both in the present and in the future. 

4. Alignment

Alignment can help you deal with difficult issues or conversations by reinforcing the positives. This can be done using memories and feelings from the beginning of your relationship, which is typically a happy time, or by connecting on a deeper level to reinforce your partnership so you can tackle and navigate those challenging times.

“My favorite therapeutic exercise with couples is “alignment.” While it seems less complicated than it actually is, I encourage couples to go back to when they first met. All those sensations. The feelings, the thoughts, the physical sensations. For many, it is a time of great happiness. So that is where we go before we present a challenging topic…Prepping our partners for a conversation allows us to get a better idea of where they are and alignment helps to connect us from the very beginning.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC

5. Expressing gratitude

It’s well known that gratitude is an effective way to enhance your mood and help you keep things in perspective. Research has shown us that expressing gratitude increases the hormone oxytocin, which helps reduce stress and create a sense of calm. 

By regularly expressing gratitude with your partner, and openly sharing the things you’re grateful for in them, you can begin to create a bond that’s built on trust, appreciation, and mutual respect.

6. Identifying each other’s love language

We’ve all heard of the five love languages. Determining what both of your love languages are can allow you to have a deeper understanding of what it takes to make each other tick. Then, you can begin to act based on that knowledge. 

The 5 love languages are essentially just the broad categories that can explain what everyone wants (or needs) to feel love:

  • Receiving gifts
  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

7. Penciling in time together

Life’s busy. Establishing a concrete time for each other might be the only way that you can make quality time happen. Literally taking the time to pencil each other in can make sure that your partner knows they’re your priority. Even if all you can manage is an hour at a time, the benefit is in letting each other know how important your relationship is. 

Finding a Couples Therapist

Talkspace makes couples therapy techniques accessible and flexible through online therapy. Get the individual or couples therapy your relationship needs, when you need it and how you need it. Eliminate the additional time traditional therapy takes getting to and from a therapist’s office and reduce some of the hassle of trying to schedule appointments.

Talkspace helps you create a seamless experience so you can focus on a healthy relationship and create a solid foundation to nurture and grow. Our flexible plans are designed to meet the lifestyle and needs of any couple so you can fully experience the benefits of couples therapy.

Whether you’re looking to work on your relationship problems or improve relationship satisfaction, couples therapy can be a rewarding investment.

Sources:

1. About Marriage and Family Therapists. Aamft.org. https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx. Accessed October 27, 2021.

2. American Psychological Association (APA). https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/. Published 2021. Accessed November 4, 2021.

3. Algoe S, Kurtz L, Grewen K. Oxytocin and Social Bonds: The Role of Oxytocin in Perceptions of Romantic Partners’ Bonding Behavior. Psychol Sci. 2017;28(12):1763-1772. doi:10.1177/0956797617716922. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5734372/. Accessed November 4, 2021.

4. Johnson S, Hunsley J, Greenberg L, Schindler D. Emotionally focused couples therapy: Status and challenges. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 2006;6(1):67-79. doi:10.1093/clipsy.6.1.67. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1093/clipsy.6.1.67. Accessed November 4, 2021.

5. Rogers S, Howieson J, Neame C. I understand you feel that way, but I feel this way: the benefits of I-language and communicating perspective during conflict. PeerJ. 2018;6:e4831. doi:10.7717/peerj.4831.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5961625/. Accessed October 28, 2021. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

You May Also Like