When a couple reaches the point where they seek relationship therapy, they may experience many mixed emotions, including fear, discouragement, or hopelessness. They may believe their relationship cannot be saved and the next step is divorce.

If you see couples in your practice, you can teach your clients techniques and skills that may save their relationship – as well as improve communication, build intimacy, and strengthen their bond.

While each couple is different, there are common themes you will see. These are common relationship problems and a summary of techniques that can help.

Communication Problems. Harmful communication patterns can be difficult to break and may include anything that leaves one partner feeling depressed, insecure, disrespected, neglected, or disregarded. Negative communication can be heard in the tone of voice and observed in avoiding eye contact or frequently looking at phones or other devices. Activities you can suggest include:

  • creating daily rituals. Couples can have coffee together each morning before work or spend 10-15 minutes in an evening check-in to connect and share thoughts.

  • scheduling family meetings. Discuss the weekly schedule, budget, household tasks, and so on so everyone is on the same page.

  • establishing rules of fighting. Make a list of what’s off-limits during a fight, and what each partner requires from the other. Help your clients develop rules to follow during conflicts.

  • eye gazing. Your clients can initiate long-held eye contact to strengthen their connection. Prolonged eye contact helps them recognize emotions, build trust, and increase intimacy.

  • mindfully engaging in deeper topics. Suggest to your clients they schedule time avoiding surface-level conversations while becoming curious about each other’s interests, goals, and opinions about current events, or any other important topic.

  • practicing reflective listening. Couples take turns being active listeners, and you can teach them to practice communication skills (such as using “I” phrases instead of “you” statements) to increase trust and build conflict resolution skills.

Affairs and Infidelity. It is possible to rebuild a relationship after a breach of trust, but it does take work and commitment from both partners. Suggest the following:

  • a commitment to honesty and integrity

  • emotional presence

  • exploring each other’s needs

  • engaging in active listening

Loneliness within the Relationship. Sometimes couples become more like roommates than intimate partners. Distance occurs because life gets in the way. Children, careers, and numerous other responsibilities can distract partners over time. Couples can rebuild their friendship and rekindle intimacy by doing any of the following activities:

  • Share a list. Every week, couples write down three things they desire from their partner. The lists may not be something partners can do every day, but a reminder of things they can do at least once a week.

  • Connect through music. Research indicates that shared music preferences create stronger bonds. Clients can curate a playlist of songs that remind them of their partner.

  • Increase cuddle time. Another assignment might be daily cuddle time. Cuddling causes the body to release oxytocin and reduce cortisol. Touch acts as a stress buffer and may help lower resting blood pressure.

  • Go on weekly dates. Partners can take turns planning date nights. They should try something new, or do something they haven’t done in a while, and avoid talking about day-to-day life issues.

Unsolvable Problems. According to Dr. John Gottman in his book 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work, 69% of problems in relationships are not solvable. Becoming aware of the differences between solvable and unsolvable problems is key to learning how to reduce conflict in relationships. It’s not about always solving every problem; it’s how couples discuss problems and work together as a team.

  • Teach clients how to increase their awareness of the differences between solvable and unsolvable problems to reduce conflict.

  • Practice healthy and assertive communication when unsolvable problems include stepchildren, household chores, pet peeves, in-laws, and so on.

Unmet Emotional Needs. Sometimes resentment, disappointment, or hurt are repressed and fester. Disconnection can begin because of unmet or unexpressed emotional needs. Your clients may do the following activities:

  • Identify love languages. Dr. Gary Chapman identified five love languages to help couples explore what makes them feel loved. This theory is based on the idea that each person has a preferred way of receiving love, including:

  • receiving gifts.

  • doing acts of service.

  • sharing words of affirmation.

  • spending quality time together.

  • engaging in physical touch.

Share this online quiz with your clients to discover their love language to better understand each other.

  • Journal thoughts and feelings to identify emotional needs.

  • Use daily rituals to express emotional needs and do specific actionable behaviors.

Mismatched Parenting Styles. Perhaps one partner is the “bad guy” and the other is judged as too lenient. You can help the couple:

  • develop a plan for how they will manage certain situations with their children.

  • create family rules and consequences and have them clearly posted so both can refer to preplanned consequences for behavior.

Coping with Contempt. Perhaps partners roll their eyes or think they are better than their partners. Perhaps they don’t value each other’s opinions, or they feel like they lack support. Couples can practice:

  • active listening.

  • Encouraging roleplay.

  • asking questions and remaining curious.

  • sharpening their communication skills.

  • expressing appreciation and practicing gratitude through in-person conversations, texts, or sticky notes in places their partner will find them or taking the time to share three things they are grateful for at the end of each day.

Intimacy Issues. Lack of sex and affection can slowly erode relationships. Couples can begin to focus on the basics to begin to rebuild intimacy. Prompt them to answer these questions in session:

  • How do they say goodbye and hello to each other?

  • Do they gaze into each other’s eyes?

  • Do they have time for intimate moments such as a massage or showering together?

They may also:

  • plan time for non-sexual intimacy like holding hands, hugging, kissing hello and goodbye, or cuddling.

  • schedule time together. Suggest couples schedule an hour together once a week to be intimate and focus on topics to improve the relationship.

  • practice partner yoga by flowing through tandem moves and synchronizing their breathing.

  • create a vision board as a reminder of shared desires and goals. Couples can write down their goals and collect pictures that embody their relationship desires. Doing an enjoyable project together can increase intimacy.

  • engaging in the 6-second kiss to add romance throughout the day.

Finances. Discussing money can be stressful and add to the tension between partners. Suggest that partners:

  • be honest and transparent with each other about money and finances.

  • develop short- and long-term goals.

  • use budgeting software.

  • actively and regularly participate in conversations about financial issues.

If you work with couples you’ll regularly see these common relationship problems in session.

To help couples build their communication skills, navigate stressful issues within the relationship, learn conflict resolution tools, enhance intimacy, and more, use these suggestions or any number of other effective techniques, Between Sessions therapy assignment worksheets, exercises, and activities to increase the likelihood couples will experience real, positive change.

If you are a Between Sessions member, you can assign couples our digital card decks in the Virtual Counseling Rooms (VCR). We offer more than 20 card decks that rework complex material into simple concepts that your clients can understand. Add a card deck to a room that incorporates many clinical techniques and skills along with interesting questions, allowing couples to open up during non-threatening therapeutic activities.

Click here to get your free worksheets, “What Is Your Love Language?” and “Using the 3-Phase Technique to Cope with Stress as a Couple.”

Find many more couples worksheets with a 14-day free trial where you will also have access to our Virtual Counseling Rooms that include many techniques you can use in couples therapy.