Marriage Counseling Exercises

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A marriage counselor might offer the following advice: In the same way that your body needs exercise to keep it healthy, so does a marriage. A range of marital counseling exercises designed to strengthen your bond have a lot in common with your gym workouts. They can be tough but rewarding; they can be enjoyable while making you work; and they can have you breaking through boundaries to become stronger than ever. Whether your marriage is in need of a rigorous training plan or you simply feel it could benefit from a few drills, find a good counselor and give it a shot.

Negotiation Practice

Compromise is an essential skill in any relationship, but it requires negotiation, which can swing from civil to contentious in a marriage. It's a skill that takes practice. Perform a negotiation practice exercise over an issue you disagree on that's actually of little importance, such as what to watch on TV or which restaurant to visit.

Before negotiations begin, establish the following guidelines: don't be selfish or resentful; no finger-pointing; be calm, honest and understanding; and understand that there is no perfect solution, only an acceptable one. Also aim to negotiate based upon your interests, and not your core values, such as spirituality, trust and emotions. Conduct the exercise following this format:

  • Clearly state the issue: "We disagree about X. Let's negotiate a compromise."
  • Each person, one at a time and without interruption, will state his position and express his desires and concerns.
  • Each partner can ask questions to clarify the other's points. Be careful here not to attack or get defensive.
  • One partner will propose a solution, explaining why it works for both partners.
  • The other can accept the solution, or accept that parts of the solution work and others do not. In this case, suggest an alternative solution that remedies the issues with the other. 
  • If you can't reach a compromise, agree to come back to the negotiations at a later time. Likewise, if the discussion gets too contentious, take a step back from the exercise and return to it later. 

After the exercise is over, conduct some post-game analysis. Keep it lighthearted, but establish whether you both were truly satisfied by the outcome, and compliment your partner's negotiation tactics. Your calm and fair negotiation of trivial matters can be applied to more serious areas of disagreement in your marriage.

Cancel Out Negatives With Positives

It's common for married couples experiencing discord to form the habit of having negative thoughts and making negative statements about and to each other. This exercise helps break that habit by making you aware of just how often you're negative and helps you form the habit of communicating positive thoughts. Establish a time frame for the exercise, such as the next hour, one day or the whole weekend. Whenever, during this time, you catch yourself or your partner making a negative statement about the other, it must be immediately canceled out with two positive statements. You can continue the exercise alone by performing the same procedure—two positive expressions for every negative one—with your own internal thoughts.

Picture This: Positive Conditioning

In a 2017 study at Florida State University, one group of participants were shown photos of their partner alongside sets of positive pictures and words, and the other shown a photo alongside negative sets. At the end of the study, scientists concluded that it's possible to increase the level of satisfaction in a marriage by creating "positive emotional associations" with your spouse. Try to replicate these benefits in your own marriage by performing a similar exercise.

Choose a photo of your partner that you like. Display it on your desk or make it the wallpaper on your phone. Every day, spend a few minutes or more looking at the photo and consciously thinking happy thoughts about your partner and your marriage. You could think about your partner's positive qualities and conjure up happy memories – your wedding day, vacations you've taken together, or thoughtful things you've done for each other recently and in the past. Ideally, performing this exercise regularly will result in a greater tendency to associate your spouse's face with positive things.