Try These Exercises to Boost Communication With Your Partner
You don’t have to wait for a blowout to work on your communication skills with your SO. Here are some fun, communication-strengthening exercises to try when emotions are calm and cool.
For many couples, being stuck at home has led to strained relationships. Divorce rates are up, couples are finding their once breezy partnerships lacking a spark, and many are at each other’s throats while attempting to balance childcare, work, and navigating uncertain times.
Oftentimes, relationship problems can be chalked up to poor communication skills. But the good news is there are exercises you can do with your significant other at home that can help to improve how you talk to one another.
“Doing these exercises is like brushing your teeth or stretching before going for a run; you’re investing in the future of the relationship,” explains Briony Leo, head coach and licensed psychologist at Relish. She adds that working on communication at home allows for both partners to take our time to really listen and focus – and in a safe and cozy environment.
Shondaland caught up with some relationship experts to bring you these 14 communication exercises to try with your partner. And bonus: The exercises can benefit couples at all stages of a relationship, regardless of if you’ve been married 25 years or are just starting out.
Success and challenge check in
“At the end of the day, take some time to share some of the highlights and lowlights of your day,” suggests Shula Melamed, a behavioral health coach at Ginger.com. This, she says, gets you both opening up about details of your life with each other and gives one’s partner a better sense of what the other goes through in the day — what they are grateful for and where they are feeling stuck. One of the rules for engagement here, per Melamed, is to be sure to allow the other person to share without interruption. “Getting as well as receiving social support can reduce stress levels which supports overall all wellbeing,” she says. “Listening and sharing is a win-win!”
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Ask: “Do you want me to listen or do you want advice?
Melamed describes this exercise as “an in the moment communication boosting exercise/consideration for couples.” When a partner comes to you with grievances about something going on, simply ask them: “‘Do you want me to listen or are you needing help coming up with a solution?’ Sometimes we just want to be heard and when someone starts giving unsolicited advice it can slide directly into unwanted advice and a feeling of not being heard,” Melamed explains. Make it a practice to ask your partner what they are seeking at that moment, as Melamed notes that unsolicited advice can lead to non productive conflict and frustration for both parties.
Mirror, mirror on the wall
This communication exercise helps couples practice verbal communication as well as active listening skills. “And these skills are very important in keeping a relationship good and lasting,” says Harriet Walker, a marriage expert and editor at Mantelligence. The activity starts with one of the two partners telling a story for five minutes. After that, the other person is expected to reflect back on the story that they heard. “This is a test of one’s listening ability and understanding,” Walker says.
Say it on a Post-it
“Being in a digital era doesn’t have to hinder you from sending your partner cute handwritten notes,” explains April Maccario, founder of Ask April. She suggests taking turns leaving each other sweet Post-its in order to show your appreciation for the other person, to remind them that they are loved or to spice things up. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be written long and romanticized,” Maccario says. “A small, complimentary letter attached to maybe his coffee mug or his cellphone will give him a different feeling and is the very most simple but effective way of communication.”
Play 20 Questions
Everyone’s familiar with the 20 Questions game format. To play, Dr. Carissa Coulston, a clinical psychologist at The Eternity Rose says to set aside sufficient time so you can have curb distractions and focus on each other. Have each partner write 20 personal and detailed questions to ask the other. “Try to be as creative as possible – choose serious subjects, silly subjects, questions about different aspects of life,” Coulston suggests. Take turns asking questions and then reverse your lists, asking you partner the same question but about you. So, instead of “what’s your favorite movie?” ask “What’s my favorite movie?” “You’ll find out just how much you really know about each other and also learn new things as well,” she says.
Show your appreciation
Coulston explains that many couples fail to express their appreciation of all the things their partner does for them, and this leads to a lack of intimacy and feelings of resentment. “This exercise recognizes your relationship’s most positive aspects, acknowledging the things each partner does for the other every day and helps to build a stronger intimacy and connection between you as you show each other why they’re so important,” she says. Every evening, put a few minutes aside for reflection and think of the top three things your significant other has done for you over the course of the day. Share those things with each other and say why they were so meaningful before saying “thank you.”
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Create a conversation starter jar
Dr. Dominique Pritchett, CEO at Beloved Wellness Center, says it can be fun to “create a talking jar that has some of the most bizarre questions, fantasies, and desires for when the world opens back up.” This, she explains, is a great activity when couples are finding themselves coming back to the same topics and maybe in social media overload. “It’s time to unplug and get to the back to the basics of just communicating,” Pritchett says. And this is an activity that has a lot of health benefits, as she stresses that reducing social media time can offer more focus and attention and the person in front of you.
The five love languages treat
Understanding the five love languages and how they impact on your relationship is a great way to understand your partner’s (and your own) preferences and outlook on romance and love. “Words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, physical touch and quality time are the five languages and all of us have different preferences,” Coulston explains.
She says to set time aside for a couples treat on a weekly basis and give each other one option from each of the five languages. For example:
1. A back rub – physical touch
2. 30 minutes of undivided attention – quality time
3. Cleaning the kitchen for them – acts of service
4. A meaningful gift – receiving gifts
5. Telling them what you love about them – words of affirmation
If you repeat this exercise frequently, Coulston says you’ll have a better idea of each other’s favorite love languages so you can help to make each other feel special and loved all year round.
Listen to understand, not to respond
This, says Ashley Chambrello, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Connecticut, is something that a lot of couples have a difficult time with. “Oftentimes, the listener is listening only to respond with their side or view,” she explains. “This leaves the speaker feeling like they weren’t really listened to or understood.” Listening to understand, rather than respond, is very different. When listening, Chambrello says to aim for: Refraining from interrupting and paying attention to the feelings connected to your partner’s experience. “After the speaker is done, summarize and repeat back to them what you heard them say,” she says. “Ask the speaker if they feel that you understand their point of view/experience/what they were saying.” If they don’t, the speaker can explain in more detail to help the listener understand their position. “This step is repeated until the speaker feels that the listener gets it,” Chambrello adds.
Analyze a past argument
Talk through a recent disagreement you’ve had with your partner, when you’re both calm. “See if you can be curious and explore how you might have handled things differently,” suggests Leo. She explains that taking a growth mindset for disagreements and arguments means that we can learn from them – we can understand our triggers and our partner’s vulnerable spots. “Using disagreements or arguments as learning experiences also takes some of the heat out of them,” she says. “You can talk through what happened, process it and leave it in the past and hopefully communicate better next time.”
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Try not to blame
It’s common to tend to blame instead of owning our own behavior. But Leo says it’s always important to look at your part in every negative communication pattern that occurs. “Each person has a role in every interaction,” she explains. Try to understand your communication style and make small improvements so you can lift your partner up instead of tear them down. “Notice if you were taking your stress or upset out on your partner,” Leo explains, noting that we tend to lash out at the people we love the most because we feel safe and comfortable doing so. Unfortunately, this can damage a relationship and lead to poor communication. “We want to build our partner up, we want to point out the positive on a daily basis and we want to try to own our own behavior,” Leo adds.
Create time for conscious connection.
“These days, it can feel like one day rolls into the next — our kitchen table is our office, our bedroom, the cinema, our couch, the restaurant and before we know it we are stuck in a routine where we are around each other all the time but not really seeing or creating special moments with each other,” says Melamed. She suggests making time for yourselves to consciously connect: Take time to plan things that make you feel like a couple; if you are watching a film don’t just pass out or mindlessly scroll after – have a tea or wine and discuss. Having take out? Plate it and light candles or at least clear the space out of any non dining related items (i.e. toys laptops etc.). Take time to savor the flavors, bring yourselves to the present moment and enjoy the meal and each other’s experience of it.
Find a way to laugh together
This could mean anything from learning a TikTok dance, to sharing a meme, or goofing off in the kitchen. “Find a way to lighten the mood by becoming playful together,” says Los Angeles-based therapist Dr. Lauren Cook. She adds that since it’s such a heavy and serious year, it can be important to “find ways to incorporate humor in the relationship as it makes the load a little less heavy.”
Let it go
“Sometimes in a relationship, we can end up points-scoring and focused on ‘winning’ arguments, but we know that the real loser is the relationship itself,” Leo explains. If you’re finding this is an issue in your relationship, she says to see if you can let go of something this week, and instead focus on the health of the relationship. “Obviously really important stuff needs to still be discussed, but for the more minor things, you can ask yourself ‘Better to be happy or right?’”
Nicole is a freelance writer published in The New York Times, AARP, Woman’s Day, Parade, Men’s Journal, Wired, Emmy Magazine, and more. Keep up with her adventures on Twitter at @nicolepajer.