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How Couples Therapy Is Like an 'Emotional Gym'


You and your partner made the brave decision to go to couples therapy, and you’re not sure what to expect. Maybe you’re concerned that you’re going to get into a huge argument with your husband, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s possible that you’re utterly uninterested in being there, in the session, and you want to jump out of your seat and leave abruptly. Therapy is a place to get help, and it’s essential to remember that. Nobody wants to admit that there are problems in their relationship, but the truth is that once they do this, there’s more of a chance that the connection can be healthy, rather than dysfunctional. But the question is, what exactly happens in couples therapy? There’s a perception that couple’s therapy has to do with complaining about your partner’s flaws. In reality, you’ll learn some couples therapy exercises to help you and your partner.

What exercises are we doing?

Exercising usually means going to the gym and working out, but that’s not what you’re doing here. Couples therapy exercises are like going to the “emotional gym.” These techniques help couples express their feelings and act out what isn’t working in the presence of a mental health professional. Communication is the foundation of every relationship, and when people aren’t communicating as best they can, it causes problems.

During your session, you’ll learn tools known as couples therapy exercises so that you can talk to your partner in a way they understand. People communicate differently, and one of the things that cause discord in relationships happens when a couple doesn’t speak the same emotional language. An exercise that a couples therapist may have you try is to reenact an argument that you’ve had with your partner. They want to see what the issue is and how the communication can be adjusted so that both of you hear one another, and this is called role-playing.

An Example of Role Playing:

Here’s a scenario where acting out an argument helps a couple resolve their problem. Imagine one member of the pair refuses to clean the house. We’ll use Theresa and Hugo as our model couple. Theresa and Hugo have been together for more than 10 years and are raising two kids. Hugo is always cleaning up after the children. He puts the toys away when his two small boys are throwing them all over the place. Theresa is overwhelmed by her 9-to-5 job, and Hugo is resentful of how much he takes on the role of cleaning and household chores. The couples therapist will have them role-play the situation.

Hugo: I’m always cleaning up, and you never help me. It’s not fair.

Theresa: I work hard. You don’t appreciate what I do.

Hugo: You don’t appreciate what I do.

The therapist points out what’s going wrong here. There is resentment between the couple because each of them doesn’t feel valued. Theresa doesn’t think that Hugo appreciates her hard work at the office to bring in money for the family to survive. Meanwhile, Hugo feels invalidated in his efforts to take care of the family home. What comes next?

I messages and paraphrasing.

The couples therapist will ask them to use “I messages.” Here’s an example of how that works:

Theresa: I feel unappreciated when you tell me that I’m not cleaning up. I feel sad that you don’t notice my work to support our family.

Then the therapist will ask Hugo to paraphrase what she said to him.

Hugo: What I hear you say is that you don’t feel that I value what you do for the family and how hard you work. Is that right?

Theresa: Yes, thank you for hearing me.

Now it’s Hugo‘s turn. He gets to express what he’s feeling.

Hugo: I feel frustrated and angry when I have to clean up the toys from the living room, and I don’t feel like you’re helping me.

Now Theresa paraphrases.

Theresa: I hear that you’re frustrated that you’re doing all the cleaning up from the kids and it upsets you that I don’t support you and help you clean. Is that accurate?

Hugo: That’s right. I appreciate you hearing me.

Listening is crucial.

The first step to solving the problem is when the couple listens to one another. Now the two know what the issue is and can come to a compromise and a solution. Theresa and Hugo decide that there are certain days designated for Theresa to clean up after the boys. They choose Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays so she knows which days she needs to help out with cleaning. Hugo makes an effort to tell Theresa how much he appreciates her hard work by taking her out on a date night once a week.

Role-playing is an excellent way for couples to act out their problems and find an adequate solution.

Exercises like these help relationships develop a solid foundation so that a couple learns to effectively talk with one another and hear the other person’s perspective. Healthy disagreements make it possible for couples to work through challenging dilemmas and find ways to compromise. Whether you’re seeing a relationship therapist online or in your local area, practicing couples therapy exercises will help strengthen your connection to one another.

Getty image by monkeybusinessimages.

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