Experienced couples coaches and therapists know that intimacy building is a teachable skill. With the right techniques in your toolbox, you can help bring couples closer. But because every couple is different, the more couples therapy exercises you have available, the more likely you are to have something that works for every unique situation.
The couples therapy exercises presented here are based on years of experience and feedback from the Somatica Training and our Couples Training Master Class. We’ve worked closely with our students and clients to build the best couples therapy exercise toolkit, and now, we want to share some exercises with you.
Remember that you don’t need to use all of these practices — find ones that work for you and your clients, or use them as inspiration to create versions of your own.
How to Prioritize the Right Couples Therapy Exercises
Before a couple’s session, you’ll need to consider which activities will be most pertinent to the issues they have come in to work on. For example, some couples might want to work on their empathy or listening skills while others really need to be able to talk about sex and share erotic desires.
Use these techniques as a jumping-off point as you work with clients to figure out what is important to them, where they need work, and what they respond best to.
A good starting place is going over the range of exercises with them and letting them guide you toward what they feel might have the largest benefit. This approach also gives you insight into how they think and what they prioritize, which will help guide your future sessions.
Easy, Important, Tough
One way to prioritize is to have your clients look over the list of couples therapy exercises and rate each as ‘easy’, ‘important’ or ‘tough’. There may be some that feel easy for one partner, but the other partner sees them as quite difficult, and vice versa.
Start with one that feels easiest to both of them. Use these as icebreakers before moving on to the ones they classified as important and tough, finding out first if they feel more connected and ready to give them a try.
How to Approach Couples Intimacy Exercises
If you really want your clients to take these intimacy exercises seriously, you will need to encourage them to make practicing them a priority outside of their sessions.
Print out the following list of four guidelines (PDF) and spend time going over them with your clients:
- Set aside dedicated time: Make sure you find a time when you both can feel fully engaged in the activities without any distractions or interruptions. If you have kids, this may be after they go to bed or when you can get a sitter. If you don’t have kids, weekends might be your best opportunity to set time aside. However, if your work schedules differ, try to find a two-hour window during which you can both be fully present.
- Create a comfortable environment: Choose a quiet, relaxing place. If there is messiness that’s distracting to either of you, try a “two-song cleanup” — put on two of your favorite upbeat or sensual songs as you clean up — before you start your exercise. This can be an embodied practice in and of itself. Feel free to dance your way through the set-up — it makes it much more fun!
- Practice clear and honest communication: Before you start the exercise, have a conversation to establish boundaries, desires, and any concerns or limitations. Throughout the exercise, make sure you continue to share openly about anything that comes up so you both feel safe and respected.
- Bring curiosity and openness: Remember, each of you has unique experiences and desires that might be similar or vastly different. Allow your partner to have their feelings and uniqueness, understanding it’s about them, not you. Try to approach each experience with openness and empathy. Exploring without judgment will greatly enhance your intimacy.
3 Exercises for Shared Embodiment
When both people feel fully embodied, they will be much closer to creating deeper emotional and sexual intimacy. There are many pathways to deeper embodiment, including yoga, movement, dance, and sometimes even exercise. Shared embodiment exercises can bring couples close in a more fun and playful way.
Exercise 1: Mirror Movements
- Have the couple stand or sit facing each other.
- Choose one partner to lead the movements while the other follows.
- The leader will perform a series of slow and deliberate physical movements (e.g., raising an arm, swaying side to side, jumping up and down, making faces at each other).
- The follower’s task is to mirror the leader’s movements as closely as possible, synchronizing their motions.
- After a few minutes, they can switch roles, allowing the other partner to become the leader.
- For the final round – and this is the one that can often be the most interesting – have them see what it feels like to try following and leading without choosing a particular follower and leader. Instead, tell them that they should switch back and forth without having to communicate.
- Take some time to talk about the experience. How did it feel to lead and be followed, and vice versa? Which role did they feel more comfortable in if any? What did they notice about their synchronization? Did they experience a sense of connection or empathy? What did it feel like when there was no designated leader or follower?
Exercise 2: Guided Sensory Exploration
- Have the couple sit comfortably, facing each other, maintaining eye contact.
- Guide them to take 10 deep breaths together, in through the nose and out through the mouth, allowing their breath to flow at its own pace. They don’t need to synchronize their breath.
- Choose one partner to be the guide and the other to be the explorer.
- As the guide, they will gently and slowly lead the explorer through a sensory journey, describing different physical sensations (e.g., warmth, pressure, tingling) or visualizations (e.g., take them into a natural scene like the beach or a garden).
- The explorer will close their eyes and fully immerse themself in their guide’s descriptions, letting their body feel whatever sensations and see whatever visualizations they are offering.
- After a few minutes, have them switch roles.
Follow the exercise with questions about the experience. How did it feel for each of them to guide and explore? Did the descriptions resonate with their own sensations or visualizations? Were they able to feel the experience in their body? How did it enhance their connection with each other?
Exercise 3: Body-Based Emotional Sharing
- Have your clients sit facing each other, keeping eye contact and maintaining a comfortable distance.
- Have them decide who will share first.
- Ask that person to take a few minutes to remember an emotional experience that they’ve recently had or are currently feeling and let it show up fully in their body.
- Without talking, the first sharer gets to express their emotions using only facial expressions, body language, movement, and vocal tone, without using any words.
- The listener’s task is to stay fully present with the sharer’s non-verbal expression and allow themself to go into a state of embodied empathy with their emotions. You can explain that going into embodied empathy means, as much as possible, letting themself feel the emotions their partner is sharing with them throughout their own body.
- After one partner has fully shared, have them switch roles.
- Guide a discussion about how it felt to communicate and understand emotions without words. What did it feel like for their partner to take them on this feeling journey? Did it deepen their understanding and connection with one another?
2 Exercises for Emotional Connection
Emotional connection is a key to happiness for many couples.
While that’s easy to point to its importance, it can be difficult to grasp what emotional connection is, or how to make it stronger. One of the mainstays of emotional connection is empathy, it’s also the piece that is often skipped. Use the empathy exercises below to help couples gain awareness and mastery around empathy.
What is Empathy and Is It Learnable?
One key for a couple’s happiness is helping them really understand their partner for who they are. This means allowing for and valuing their differences. It also requires that they understand their partner’s feelings even when their emotional reactions to things might be quite different.
While some believe that empathy is a built-in trait, it is actually possible for people to learn to be more empathetic through practice. Start by defining empathy for your clients. The word get’s used a lot but most people don’t take the time to think about what it really means to empathize with someone else.
You might share the following definition: Empathy is the process of putting yourself in another person’s shoes and allowing yourself to feel their feelings with them. When empathizing, you don’t want to make it about you or feel their feelings more strongly than they do. Instead, you want to make room for their feelings and to step into their emotional world and experience.
By using the following exercises to actively practice empathy, the couples you work with can improve their understanding of each other’s emotions, perspectives, and experiences, fostering a stronger emotional connection.
Exercise 1: Story Time
This is a great exercise to send home with your clients so they can practice it as homework. Print out these instructions for your couples clients:
- Find a comfortable place where you can share stories with each other. You can be sitting or lying down, but it’s important that you can see each other’s facial expressions, body postures, and movements as they can give you insight into what your partner is feeling.
- Decide who will share and who will listen first.
- Set a time limit for how long you want the story to be. A good place to start is 15 minutes for each sharer and then you can see what is right for you as a couple.
- The first sharer talks about a personal experience or memory that holds emotional significance. It can be positive or negative.
- When you share, make sure that you describe the experience in detail, including the emotions you felt, any thoughts that arose, and any significant sensory details.
- As the listener’s you want to listen closely without interrupting and let yourself fully feel with your partner.
- After the sharer has finished, the listener should reflect back what they heard, and, most importantly, name any emotions that were shared. Try to use the emotion words your partner used. For example, if they say they were happy, you want to use that work instead of saying joyful or some other similar word. There is something very affirming when you hear your partner acknowledge your specific feelings Focus on understanding and empathizing with your partner’s experience and DO NOT offer any solutions.
- Switch roles, allowing the second partner to share their own story. Repeat steps 4-7.
Take a few minutes to reflect on the sharing: How did it feel to share and listen to each other’s stories? What emotions were evoked? Did you gain a deeper understanding of each other’s experiences?
Exercise 2: Empathic Inquiry
It is better to have your clients do empathetic enquiry in your office so you can help them if they get off track.
Share the definition of empathetic inquiry with your clients. You might say something like, “Empathic inquiry is about understanding your partner’s feelings and thought processes with curiosity and without judgment.” Remind them not go into “interviewer mode” where they are coming from a disconnected desire to gather information. Instead, help them focus on connecting to their partner’s emotional journey.
- Make sure that your clients are facing each other so that they can see each other’s facial expressions or body postures and movements – this will help them better read each other’s feelings.
- Have one partner choose a topic or issue that they are currently facing or feeling uncertain about. It could be related to work, relationships, or personal growth. It’s ok for them to brainstorm this together if one of them draws a blank.
- The partner facing the issue becomes the speaker, while the other partner becomes the empathic inquirer.
- Guide the enquirer to ask open-ended questions that elicit thoughts, emotions, and perspectives related to the chosen topic. Examples include: “How does this situation make you feel?” or “What do you think is driving your concerns?” Tell them it’s better not to ask “Why” questions as those often come off as judgmental even if they are not meant to be.
- Guide the speaker to share their thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears as vulnerably as possible. Point out that the more vulnerability they bring to an emotional topic the more empathy their partner is likely to feel. Make sure you interrupt if you notice that they are just reporting from a disconnected place, and remind them that it will be more difficult for their partner to empathize unless they are connected to their own feelings.
- After a set period of time, 15 or 20 minutes is a good amount to start with, have them switch roles, allowing the other partner to become the speaker and the empathic inquirer.
- For the debrief, have them talk about their experience with empathetic inquiry: How did it feel to be the speaker vs. the empathic inquirer? Did the empathic questions help them gain a deeper understanding of the issue? Did they feel more or less comfortable in either of the roles? Have them share any new insights or perspectives they gained.
2 Exercises for Erotic Communication
When people go into sexual situations, it’s rare that they take time to savor the experience and allow for a slow build up. While there’s nothing wrong with a quickie once in a while, most people need more build up and connection to have the hottest sex possible.
Unfortunately, when people have sex, especially if they’ve been together for a while, they often jump right to touching each other’s bodies or kissing before establishing a connection at all. Some people even jump right past touching and kissing to touching genitals, oral sex, or intercourse with very little buildup.
Talking about sexual desires can be one of the more challenging forms of seduction and arousal. At the same time, it can add an additional layer of creativity, excitement, and expansiveness to your sexual play.
The erotic exercises below start with erotic communication, move to stoking and sharing erotic energy through eye contact, and then proceed through sensual touch. Progressing through these exercises will help your clients learn to enhance the seduction phase of sex, and deepen their erotic skills for heightened pleasure, sensation and connection.
Exercise 1: Share a Dear Lover Letter
For this homework assignment you can send your clients with these instructions for writing the letter:
You are going to write a letter to your lover about your deepest desires and fantasies and then, you will bring it back in here and read it to them. Sometimes it can be a great ice-breaker to write something and then read it, which can be a stepping stone to talking openly about sex in the moment.
Take some time to imagine a sexy experience that you would love to share with your partner and then write it down in a letter. Make sure that you are very specific and as explicit as you are comfortable being. When you write it, start by saying “Dear Lover…On our next sexual adventure together I’d like to start out by… (and then write the whole arc of the experience from beginning to end).
You might want to include:
- The build-up to the sex (if you like build-up). For example, do you have a date before or do you want your partner to send you romantic or sexy texts beforehand? What will emotionally and erotically warm you up?
- The location – where are you? what is the setting? are you outdoors? in your bedroom? kitchen? or at a sex party?
- Attire – what are each of you wearing, if anything?
- Who is there with you? Is it just the two of you? is someone watching you? are you playing with a 3rd person, are you in a public place where others can see you?
- Scent – are there candles or perfumes or do you prefer the scent of each other’s bodies?
- Accoutrement – has one of you prepared a towel with your sex toys or do you have scarves and feathers for tying up and teasing? Do you have chocolate syrup by the bed?
- Acts and positions – are there any specific sex acts that turn you on the most? Make sure you ask for them!
- Orgasms – do you want one or more? If so, what helps you orgasm?
Remind your clients to wait to read this letter to each other until their next session so you can create a safe space where they can both feel comfortable sharing these very vulnerable desires!
When they come back into the office, you will want to:
- Create a safe space for open and explicit communication about desires, fantasies, and boundaries. It is essential that this is a non-judgmental space. Remind them that, no matter what their partner wants, they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do, but that it is essential that they do not judge their partner’s fantasy!
- Have them take turns reading the letters to each other. Have them read one at a time and then give time for their partner to respond.
- Remind the listener that it is important that they remain attentive and (this can’t be stressed enough) non-judgmental. Make sure they are listening and celebrating the fact that their partner is sharing their desires (even if there are some they don’t want to participate in). Let them know that it’s important that they celebrate their partner’s desires before laying out their boundaries.
- After the listening partner celebrates what their partner has shared with them, help them have a conversation to discuss the fantasies, desires, and boundaries each of them have. This is the time for them to ask any clarifying questions, negotiate boundaries, and explore areas of mutual interest. Make sure they both get time to fully share and talk about their fantasies. This can take a few sessions.
- Help them consider incorporating aspects of the shared fantasies or desires into their intimate experiences, if both partners are comfortable and consenting.
- Have them talk about about how it felt to openly communicate their desires and fantasies. Did it deepen their understanding of each other’s desires? Do they feel closer because they shared themselves so vulnerably.
Exercise 2: Sensual Eye Contact
This exercise is about sharing erotic energy before two people even touch. Couples can begin building up erotic energy and connection between them using eye contact as a way to appreciate and seduce each other. They can try this sensual eye contact exercise to get the juices flowing.
- Sit or lie comfortably facing each other.
- Gently and slowly, let your eyes meet and maintain eye contact with your partner.
- Take a few deep breaths together, allowing yourselves to relax and be present in the moment.
- Allow yourselves to explore the emotions, sensations, and connections that arise during the eye contact. Notice any feelings of vulnerability, intimacy, or desire.
- Now, take turns becoming the giver and the receiver of the erotic gaze.
- As the giver, allow your gaze to express desire, passion, and sensuality. Let your eyes drift from your partner’s eyes to their body and then come back to eye contact, communicating your attraction and appreciation for your partner’s presence and beauty.
- As the receiver, embrace and revel in your partner’s gaze, allowing yourself to feel desired and cherished.
- After a few minutes, switch roles, allowing the other partner to be the giver and the receiver.
- Share how it felt to give and receive the erotic gaze. Did it stimulate your imagination or enhance your connection?
1 Sexy Assignment for Your Clients to Do as Homework
If you are a licensed therapist, your clients will not be able to do this exercise in your office so you can print it out and offer it as homework (PDF).
Homework: Touching Presence
When you touch your partner, you can either touch the surface of their skin – or you can really feel them. For this, you need to bring presence and awareness to your touch. This means you want to be deliberate about when and how you begin to touch – and especially in those moments when the first whisper of your fingertips or squeeze of flesh starts the seduction.
The focus of this experience is touch – and taking the time to bring presence to caress. Pay attention to the sensations that arise during this experience. Notice that the energy in your hands and body can flow into your partner’s body when you concentrate on sharing in this way.
- If you’ve already done the sensual eye contact exercise, you can begin with some playful, passionate and sexy eye contact and breath.
- Choose which partner will be the toucher first.
- Look in your partner’s eyes, then, if you are the toucher, look at the part of the body that you want to touch. Then, look back in your partner’s eyes, and approach that body part with your hands, being particularly mindful to bring sensuality to that first contact.
- As you explore your partner’s body with your hands, see how much you can let yourself enjoy touching.
- Try different kinds of touch and different locations on their body. Notice how your partner responds to your touch. Does their breath deepen? Do they move with your touch? Is their body relaxed or tense? See if you can sense and flow with their responses.
- If you are receiving the touch, bring full presence to the feeling of being touched. See if you can flow with and enjoy your partner’s touch.
- Throughout the activity, maintain open communication, checking in with each other’s comfort and pleasure levels.
- If you are the toucher, make sure you close the touching exercise by briefly holding on some part of your partner’s body before slowly removing your hand fully.
- Switch roles so the receiver can give and the giver can receive. Repeat steps 3 – 8.
- After you’ve both had a turn, take a moment to connect and reflect together, sharing your experiences, sensations, and emotions. What was it like for you to give and receive deliberate touch? Were you able to stay fully present? If not, what brought you more into or out of the experience? Let your partner know if there was any touch that you particularly loved and any touch that you don’t want to have again.
This article is full of examples of couples therapy exercises you can offer to your clients as a coach or therapist. However, they barely scratch the surface of the tools and techniques you will learn in somatic sexology coaching programs like those offered at the Somatica Institute.
If you’re a marriage and family therapist, LCSW or LPCC who wants to better support your existing clients as they face their unique intimacy challenges (and make more money doing so!), enroll in our BBS-approved Somatica Core Training to earn continuing education units.