Learning how to communicate effectively can make or break your relationship, but good communication skills require constant practice. That’s where couples' communication exercises come in.
Research has shown time and again that couples who know how to communicate have happier, longer-lasting relationships compared to those who have poor communication.
Healthy communication can help you connect with your partner, support one another, and navigate conflict better.
Couples’ communication exercises can help you hone your communication skills and improve your relationship. Common couples therapy exercises for communication include active listening, asking open-ended questions, using “I feel” statements, and expressing gratitude for your partner.
So while talk may be cheap, communication definitely isn’t. If you want to improve your communication skills, we rounded up seven essential couples’ communication exercises to help bring you closer to your partner and strengthen your relationship.
Good communication isn’t just about talking. At its core, active listening involves letting your partner speak openly without interrupting or chiming in unsolicited. It might sound easy, but active listening requires focus and concentration.
Active listening allows you to process what your partner is saying without being reactive or talking over them. This strategy also allows your partner to share their thoughts and feelings openly, and create a safe space where they’re free to express themselves. This reduces the chances of miscommunication and lets your partner feel heard.
Set a timer for three to five minutes and let your partner speak without interruption. The topic of the conversation doesn’t matter.
Use non-verbal cues to let them know you’re listening, such as eye contact, nodding, or mirroring their body language.
Once they’ve finished talking, repeat back what they said to you and ask for clarifications if you need any. Give your partner the chance to explain further or confirm that you’ve understood correctly.
Swap roles and repeat the exercise.
"I feel" statements — also known as feeling statements or “I statements” — are a communication tool that focuses on the speaker’s feelings, rather than the listener’s actions. Studies have shown that “I feel” statements help couples navigate conflict because they let the speaker express their feelings without placing blame on the other partner. This will help you get your point across without pointing the finger at your partner, who might otherwise get defensive.
Write down one thing that is bothering you.
Reflect on what emotion their behavior evokes in you.
Now write that down by starting the sentence with “I ___” or “I feel”. For example, rather than saying “You don’t make time for me anymore”, try phrasing it as “I feel frustrated that we don’t spend as much quality time together, I’d love to go on a date night next week.”
Take turns voicing your “I feel” statements to one another.
Open-ended questions are questions that don’t prompt a yes or no answer, but instead, leave space for your partner to respond how they wish. An example of an open-ended question is “How was your day?”, rather than “Did you have a good day?”.
Open-ended questions are a great way to stimulate conversation and find out more about your partner, while also conveying the message that their experience is important to you.
Pretend you don’t know each other that well and prepare five questions to ask each other. Try to think of questions you don’t know the answer to!
Make sure the questions can’t be answered with a yes or no.
Take turns asking each other the questions and see where the conversation takes you!
“Always” or “never” statements are a common communication pitfall. They’re statements that begin with “you never” or “you always” and usually signal that one or both partners are speaking in absolute terms. Some examples of “always/never” statements are: “You never listen to me”, “you always interrupt”, “you never do the dishes”, and “you always stay late at work”. Sound familiar?
“Always/never” statements aren’t a form of constrictive communication because they’re highly your partner is more likely to get defensive or withdraw from the conversation entirely. Speaking in absolutes also makes it harder to find a middle ground and reach a compromise.
Think of an “always/never” scenario that is bothering you.
Rephrase the statement by leading with how you’re feeling — remember the “I statements” exercise from earlier?
Try to express a specific feeling and need, but be realistic about how your partner can help. So, something like “you never listen to me” could become “I’m really worried about XYZ. I know you’re swamped with work but I could you someone to talk to, do you have time this evening?”
Relationship research has found time and again that gratitude is a critical component in a successful long-term relationship. Couples who feel and express gratitude for one another are more likely to stay together, feel closer, and discuss difficulties better.
There are many ways of expressing gratitude towards your partner, but sometimes communicating a genuine “thank you” is the most powerful way to show your appreciation.
Next time your partner does something for you, make an effort to express your gratitude. Pay attention to the small, everyday gestures your partner does that you may overlook — such as giving you a ride to work, making you a cup of tea, or taking your dog out for a walk.
Emphasize how they’re showing up for you and why you’re grateful for their actions. For example, you might say: “Thank you for making me tea, I was really craving one but I have back-to-back video meetings and can’t leave my desk.”
Don’t just mutter an off-the-cuff “thank you.” Use your body language to convey your gratitude. Try using eye contact, stroking your partner’s hand, or kissing them to make sure the “thank you” is received with intention.
Couple’s therapist and author of the best-selling book Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, Dr. Harville Hendrix, has spoken at length about the importance of validating your partner.
In Imago therapy — the technique he co-developed with Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt — mirroring, expressing empathy for, and validating a partner is essential for building and strengthening the couple’s connection.
The next time your partner is talking to you, make an effort to give them your full attention. Put your phone down, and create eye contact with your partner.
Instead of saying things like “mmhmm” or “yeah”, use statements to validate their feelings, such as “I hear you”, "I can understand why that would make you feel that way", or “of course you feel that way.”
Ask your partner follow-up questions to understand how they’re feeling. This will show that not only did you listen to them, but you’re truly engaged with what they’re saying.
Having regular relationship check-ins is a lot more important than you think. Check-ins allow you to connect with your partner, talk through any issues you might be having, and involve each other in whatever is going on in your day-to-day lives.
At their core, check-ins are a dedicated time to prioritize your relationship — and your partner. They also allow couples to make sure their expectations for one another are clear.
Pick a time that works well with both your and your partner’s daily schedule. This can be over a meal, such as breakfast or dinner, or during a weekend afternoon.
Agree on how much time you can both carve out — it doesn’t matter whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour, but make sure you can both set that time aside without interruptions or feeling rushed.
During the check-in, ask each other how you’re feeling — and really listen. Make time to talk about your daily lives as well as any relationship anxieties you might be experiencing.
Practice the communication exercises we’ve discussed so far!
Make the check-ins a regular part of your routines, for example as part of your weekly date nights or morning walks together.
Download the Paired app for more communication exercises designed by leading relationship therapists and academics.