Effective communication in marriage can mean the difference between a long lasting happy union with minimal stress and one that is tumultuous, toxic, and destined to end. Luckily for you, mastering communication exercises is something that anyone can do with enough practice. And the best part about these exercises? They can all be done from the comfort of your own home! Read on to discover the best communication exercises and activities for couples that will help to improve your communication skills within your relationship or marriage while also helping to develop and build trust.
Why are communication exercises for couples important?
For decades, people have attempted to understand and decipher the padlock to a healthy relationship. Over the years, theorists and professionals have hypothesized several theories to predict whether a relationship will make it down the aisle, or whether it has the capacity to persevere into old age. Despite differing opinions, it is generally agreed upon that communication is the vital key into demystifying and opening the padlock.
In the early 1990’s, society learned that “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”, as inherent gender characteristics were blamed for the miscommunication between couples. Several years later, the concept of the “Five Love Languages” made its debut, which asserted that all individuals, regardless of gender, express and understand emotions differently.
To date, humanity isn’t sure if it should be booking an educational expedition to Mars or Venus, or if it should be acquiring a well-versed translator. Nevertheless, mental health professionals and relationship gurus both agree that couples need to communicate well to maintain happy and trusting relationships. Communication exercises can be utilized to either resuscitate a troubled relationship, or to maintain connection in a happy one.
These exercises can be led by a mental health professional in a counseling setting, or can be implemented by a couple in their own home. Communication exercises seek to improve the verbal, non-verbal, and written communication skills of each partner in addition to fostering the development of interpersonal communication.
How often should couples do communication exercises
A person’s childhood, background, and upbringing has a significant impact on how one communicates as an adult. During the first few years of life, children keep a watchful eye on their parents, as they observe whether discussions between their role models end in heated confrontations, or whether ideas are generated and perspectives shared.
Children can either bear witness to negative communication habits, such as blaming, name-calling, and criticism, or they can observe healthy techniques, such as listening, validation, and respectful tone. Despite one’s upbringing, toxic communication patterns can always be abandoned when healthier techniques are presented.
Practitioners recommend that couples engage in communication exercises at least 2-3 times per week, which allows for structure and consistency. If a couple is participating in counseling, the practitioner will often assign communication exercises as “homework” assignments so that couples can practice new techniques in between sessions.
Best practice suggests that couples focus on and master one area of communication before moving onto the next area. The old adage, “practice makes perfect”, is highly applicable when it comes to improving interpersonal communication. Through committed effort and consistent practice, couples can feel secure while practicing their new skills in a safe and nurturing environment.
Effective communication exercises for couples
There is a variety of communication exercises to choose from, all of which target different verbal, nonverbal, and written skills. Verbal activities teach partners to express themselves utilizing respectful tone and verbiage. Nonverbal exercises assist individuals in learning the importance and subsequent impact of body language, facial expressions, gestures, and eye contact.
Written communication activities educate couples about expression through written composition. Despite targeted skill set, all exercises attempt to re-establish connection and trust within the relationship. Enclosed are examples of communication exercises that target verbal, nonverbal, or written communication.
Exercise #1: “Fireside Chats”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt utilized informal radio broadcasts to address the nation during his presidency. The term “fireside chat” was said to invoke images of one chatting with the President in front of a cozy fireplace. In this verbal communication exercise, couples are encouraged to schedule a “fireside chat” with each other once per week for a 15 to 30 minute duration. This exercise teaches partners to utilize calm and respectful words to discuss various issues. All distractions are to be eliminated and ignored, with the focus being squarely on each other.
“Fireside chats” can explore either surface or deeper content and usually depends on the magnitude of a couple’s issues. If the magnitude is large, it is recommended that a couple begin with “safer” conversations, such as pop culture, world events, or entertainment, before moving onto more heated, controversial topics.
Exercise #2 “High-Low”
This verbal communication activity allows individuals to freely express themselves, while their partner employs attentive listening techniques. This activity should be utilized during the latter part of the evening (i.e. during dinner or bedtime) and allows a couple to check-in which each other about the most important aspects of their day. Each partner is asked to share the best part of their day, their “high”, and the most disappointing part of their day, their “low.” As one partner is sharing, the other utilizes active listening techniques to convey empathy and understanding.
Exercise #3 “Listening Without Words”
This is an exercise that focuses on both verbal and nonverbal communication. A timer is set for 3-5 minutes and one partner is given an opportunity to verbalize what they are thinking and feeling without any interruption. Meanwhile, the other partner can only use nonverbal techniques to convey empathy, understanding, and encouragement. When the timer goes off, the couple processes the experience by discussing observations, feelings, and ideas. Each partner will then switch roles to get an opportunity to practice both skills.
Exercise #4 “Eye See You”
This is a nonverbal communication exercise focusing solely on eye contact. In this exercise, two chairs are placed facing each other in a quiet, relaxing environment. Both parties are asked to maintain eye contact for five minutes, without breaking or looking away. During this activity, individuals are encouraged to allow internal thoughts and feelings to surface. At the conclusion of the activity, couples are encouraged to discuss their experience, levels of comfort or discomfort, and bodily sensations. Each individual is given an opportunity to guess what their partner was thinking to assess connection and whether nonverbal messages came across.
Exercise #5 “Send Me a Postcard”
This is a communication activity targeting written communication. Both partners are given a blank postcard with directions to write a message depicting a frustration, a feeling, or a desire. Each partner is then asked to “mail” their postcard by giving it to their partner without verbal interchange. Each partner is then asked to utilize another postcard to write a response to their partner’s message.
Assertive communication exercises for couples
Communication styles fall into three main categories, passive, aggressive, and assertive. Passive communication occurs when one does not stand up for himself/herself and instead acts as a “doormat.” People who are passive sacrifice their own wants and needs for the wants and needs of someone else. Aggressive communication utilizes intimidation tactics to bully others to get what one wants. Finally, assertive communication occurs when an individual respectfully and appropriately asserts their wants and needs in an open and direct way.
Assertiveness training allows individuals to become aware of their most used communication style and assists them in developing a stronger, assertive style. Assertiveness training empowers couples by stressing the importance of communicating one’s own thoughts and desires, while being respectful to the wants and needs of their partner. Assertive communication bolsters self-esteem, increases respect, and allow both partners to feel valued and heard.
Exercise #1 Using “I statements”
A common communication pitfall is when words like “you”, “should”, and “could” are used during self-expression. These words result in a defensive reaction, while the individual feels attacked, blamed, and criticized. This assertiveness training activity teaches couples how to eliminate these words by educating them how to express themselves in an “I statement” format. One partner states “I feel ____ when you ___ because _____. I would like for you to _____.” The other partner is then asked to respond to that statement with another “I statement.” The other partner answers, “You sound ____ because ____. Next time, I will ______ and I _______.”
Exercise #2 “Say It Again”
This assertive communication activity asks couples to identify three critical statements that were used during a past disagreement or argument between them. The couple then works together to reformat each statement of how the message could have been conveyed without criticism or attack.
Exercise #3 “Sticks and Stones”
This assertiveness training exercise addresses name-calling and self-esteem. Each partner is asked to independently list disrespectful and hurtful names that their partner has tagged them with. The couple then comes together and each individual is given the opportunity to read their list. Each partner is given a chance to explain how each term impacted their feelings of confidence and self-worth.
Communication and trust building exercises for couples
One of the most important building blocks in a relationship is that of trust. Trust conveys feelings of emotional and physical security and builds over time from honest, reliable, and direct communication. One of the most popular scenes from “Titanic” depicts Jack holding his hand out to Rose, while asking “Do you trust me?” Thankfully, in everyday life, trust activities can be accomplished in far less dramatic scenarios, but the principle remains the same. A relationship can withstand almost any obstacle if it is based on a strong foundation of trust.
Exercise #1 “Copycat”
This activity is goal directed and its success is directly related to the level of communication and trust between partners. A couple is asked to sit back to back with the same set of building blocks. One partner creates a structure and is then given an opportunity to provide verbal directions so that their partner can build the same structure. Each individual needs to trust that their partner is giving them clear, concise, and accurate directions so that they can be successful in reaching their goal.
Exercise #2 “Minefield”
In this activity, each partner creates an obstacle course with various objects serving as “mines”. This partner then utilizes verbal communication to guide their blindfolded partner through the course, while protecting them from the “mines.” Trust is vital in this activity, as the blindfolded partner is relying solely on their partner to communicate accurate directions in order to keep them “safe.”
Exercise #3 “Give Me a Hand”
In this exercise, couples have to work together to achieve a common goal with an arm tied behind each of their backs. Both individuals need to communicate directions and actions concisely so that each partner can use their free hand to meet the objective. Any goal can be utilized, such as buttoning a shirt, zipping a zipper, tying a shoe, or clasping a necklace.
Communication exercises for engaged couples
With today’s exorbitant divorce rates, premarital counseling is becoming a more common and sought after service. Couples are seeking to strengthen their relationships with guidance and practice before marriage in attempts to avoid being another statistic. Communication exercises can be utilized as part of premarital counseling with a mental health professional, or can be employed by the couple themselves. These exercises attempt to make individuals aware of their own communication styles, while educating them about healthier and more useful patterns. Additionally, these activities seek to increase connection and trust within their relationships.
Exercise #1 “Mirror Mirror On the Wall”
This communication exercise helps couples to practice verbal communication and active listening skills. One partner is asked to tell a detailed story for five minutes, upon which their partner is asked to reflect back what they heard. The partner reflecting is tested on their ability to employ active listening strategies, to assess their level of understanding, and to determine accuracy in mirroring back what was said.
Exercise #2 “Future Goals”
This activity assists a couple in identifying and communicating future goals and desires with each other. Couples are encouraged to consider and discuss short-term and long-term goals in an effort to understand what each partner needs in order to be happy and satisfied within the relationship.
Exercise #3 “Music Lyrics”
This activity utilizes music and song for self-expression. Each partner chooses three songs that they can relate to and then shares the lyrics with their partner. This activity is meant to prompt conversation about why songs are meaningful, the types of feelings that are evoked, and reasons way a particular song was selected.
Exercise #4 “It’s All in a Name”
This activity is meant to foster connection, closeness, positive feelings, and gratitude amongst partners. Each individual is asked to choose a compliment or positive quality to describe their partner for each letter of their partner’s name. Each individual is then asked to read their list, while describing the impact to their self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth.
So there you have it! These are some of the best and most powerful communication exercises for couples. Whether you’re looking to save your marriage or simply grow closer together as a couple, practicing communication exercises in your relationship will undoubtedly save you a lot of grief and headache in your marriage. Which exercise are you going to try first? Let us know in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you!