Are you and your partner considering couples therapy? One of the most important things to know is that you need to do work at home as well as in session. Couples therapy is designed to facilitate honest conversations so that the two of you can reframe the situation and discover a path out of the negative loop, but all the honesty in the world won’t fix your relationship if it’s not combined with consistent follow through at home. You and your partner will need to dedicate some time every day to fostering the health of the relationship, even if it’s only a few minutes. Are you ready for couples’ therapy? Prepare yourself for the demands of following through on the concepts, ideas and behavioral suggestions that will emerge from couples therapy by doing the following exercise. Note, this exercise is focused on strengthening trust and intimacy, something that most couples can benefit from. One formulaic exercise may not work for all couples. If this does not fit you, skip this exercise and instead call a couples therapist to schedule your first appointment. Don’t give yourself permission to wait any longer to create change. You have the power to start creating change now.
Strive towards relationship health with Daily “I Am” Check-Ins.
What you’ll need
- 5 minutes alone together without kids, cell phones or other distractions. The activity works best if you can find a time either immediately after you’ve both returned home for the day, or before bed
- A timer or stop-watch
Step 1: Check-In
Set your stop-watch for 90 seconds. Partner A will use these to make a series of “I Am” statements about how they’re feeling. These can be a literal description of how you feel like “I am exhausted” or “I’m wearing an outfit I feel really good in.” The statements can also be about what you experienced over the day (“I am so sick of Karen’s office politics”, “I am so proud of the presentation I did today.)
There are no real limits other than: tell the truth, keep each statement to a brief sentence, and avoid discussing your relationship. Check-ins that evaluate the relationship should be saved for more “advanced” work, after you’ve begun seeing a couples therapist. For now, use this exercise to give each other a window into your individual worlds.
Keep going until your 90 seconds runs out.
Step 2: Validate
After Partner A’s time is up, Partner B will mirror back 3 “You are” statements that stood out to them. The purpose of this is for Partner A to feel heard, and for Partner B to share what about Partner A’s day really resonated with them.
This looks like: “You are exhausted, you are wearing an outfit you feel good in, you are so proud of the presentation you did today.”
Step 3: Swap
Set your stop-watch for another 90 seconds. This time Partner B will check in using “I Am” statements. When their time is up, Partner A will validate them by mirroring back 3 “You Are” statements.
So the whole activity will look like this:
A: I am exhausted, I am proud of the presentation I did today, I am worried Shana has lice, I am full of good food, [etc etc for 90 seconds.]
B: You are proud of the presentation you did today, you are full of good food, you are happy to see me.
A: Yes, I am.
B: I am happy to see you, I am still thinking about a weird dream I had last night, I am not looking forward to going to the mechanic tomorrow, I am feeling greasy, [etc etc for 90 seconds.]
A: You are still thinking about a weird dream you had last night, you are feeling greasy, you are happy to see me.
B: Yes I am.
At the end of the week, if you were able to consistently carve out time to do this exercise….then you are a winner and should feel good. It’s an accomplishment. Many couples get stuck here.
Whether you were able to do this exercise once or every day, take some time to reflect with your partner:
- Was it easy or difficult to make time for check-ins every day? What got in the way? What would you do differently next time?
- Did you prefer sharing or mirroring? Why?
- Were there some days it was easier to share than others?
- What, if anything, did you learn about your partner over the course of the week?
- What, if anything, did you enjoy sharing with your partner?
- What, if anything, was difficult to share with your partner?
- How did you stop yourself from reacting or getting into a fight?
- If fights occurred, what topics triggered them?
If you found you were unable to get through this exercise because of hostility or fighting, that’s ok. Don’t force yourself to continue the exercise if it is upsetting or causes fights. Remember that everything that happened is useful information for you, your partner and your couples’ therapist.
As you begin couples therapy, share the results of your reflection with them. It may provide valuable insight into the strengths and challenges of your relationship.