If you and your spouse have fights now and then, it’s not an automatic sign of a relationship on the rocks. In fact, experts agree that arguments between couples is perfectly normal—it’s even a healthy behavior. If you and your partner attend couples therapy to help enhance your communication and mitigate these disagreements, good for you. Therapy teaches you effective skills you can use to strengthen your partnership and iron out any difficulties you’re experiencing as a couple. However, couples therapy, like all therapy, is only as good as the work you put into it, explains Amy McManus, LMFT, relationship therapist and owner of Thrive Therapy, Inc. “You need to be willing to look inward at your own contribution to the dysfunctional couple dynamic (much easier said than done!), and you need to be ready to practice the skills you learn at home,” she says.
Here are some couples therapy strategies that experts recommend practicing at home, whether or not you’re currently in therapy.
Have daily check-ins.
Even if both of you are busier than you’d like to admit, you still have at least a few minutes of time throughout the day or night to check in with one another. “This helps to establish more consistent communication between couples, which enhances the couple’s connection,” explains Rachel Smith, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a state certification in Sex Therapy. “These points of connection do not have to be a long, drawn out process—simply carving out and scheduling just 10 to 15 minutes to sit down with your partner each day creates an opportunity for both partners to be seen and heard in whatever way they need.” She suggests starting with couples therapy strategies and simple conversation starters, such as “How was your day?” and then moving on to more specific topics you know your partner may want to discuss.
Keep a gratitude journal.
When you’ve been together for a while, you can sometimes neglect to remember the little things you love about your partner, as the monotonous, every day aspects of life take a front-and-center seat. “It can become easier to find fault in our partner than notice all the amazing things we so easily noticed in the beginning,” explains Amanda Stemen, licensed clinical social worker with private therapy and coaching practice in Los Angeles, California. She recommends keeping an actual physical journal somewhere easily accessible and making it a goal for each of you to write down at least one thing a day you’ grateful for in each other. “This encourages you to seek out the positive rather than the negative and it makes your partner feel good to see what you love about them,” she says.
Create something together.
Everything is fun and exciting in the first few months of knowing your partner. You’re creating a connection and a bond and everything is inspiring. But after some time, this spark dies. “Having projects to work on together that both are excited about can go a long way in keeping that creative energy and passion alive,” explains Stemen. “Whether it's painting or some other form of art, planting and tending to a garden, cooking meals, decorating your home, or some other project, incorporating both individuals' ideas and hopes will create a greater sense of connectedness and joy within the relationship.”
Go on dates.
Don’t forget the importance of “dating” your partner. That means actually setting aside a day or night to have a “date” where you both enjoy time spent together and try out new things. To reignite the spark, Stemen recommends trying something new. “Many of us don't like change and feel uncomfortable when our partner deviates from what we've come to expect of them, but if we intentionally step out of our comfort zones and nurture our shared passions and values together, it can actually strengthen our relationship so that we can thrive as we change and grow.”
In the midst of your busy day, it’s hard to give your partner the time to share his or her thoughts, feelings and concerns. And even if you do lend an ear, many times you might not be actually listening. “Giving your partner your undivided attention daily will help you to feel connected to each other, help you feel involved in each other's lives, and remind you why you are with them,” says Amanda Ruiz, licensed professional counselor and founder of The Counseling Collective. She recommends using the couples therapy strategy and prompts like the Gottman Card Decks to generate interesting conversation. “This app has a variety of categories you can select from and then will provide you with questions to answer with each other.”
Create a game plan for when you fight.
Ruiz recommends having a plan in place for when arguments do arise so that you’re able to “fight fair.” “Some examples include no name calling, no swearing, or perhaps no raised voices,” she says. “Also, consider how you’ll handle the situation if one of you needs to take a break, but the other wants to keep talking/fighting—can you agree on a set amount of time to let the one take a break and cool down?”
It’s easy to take our partner for granted, especially when we’re so comfortable with him or her. “We often forget that essentially, everyone wants to feel appreciated and likes to be acknowledged and for the hard work that is done everyday to keep the relationship and family afloat,” says Smith. “Expressing love, gratitude and appreciation can help shift the perspective and experience of a relationship from negative to positive.”