Each couple a therapist sees is a unique, small system. They have distinctive cognitive, emotional, and sexual profiles, and I usually try to get a lot of detailed background information before I jump into the deepest level of treatment.
When couples are very distressed and disconnected, I often assign homework that will help move the therapy along. One very basic exercise I give patients might work for you to do at home by yourself to create some new, bonded feelings.
It’s an old exercise, based on one developed by Bornstein and Bornstein for their 1983 book Marital Therapy. This is a simple exercise in giving compliments — something that people in distressed, quarrelsome marriages have usually stopped doing!
Here is the assignment:
Each of you should take a sheet of paper and write “What I like about you” at the top. Then each of you should make as detailed a list as you can of every single thing you like about your partner.
Don’t worry about being silly, and don’t worry about mentioning relatively small things. Just number them and write them down.
Next, make an “appointment” to go over your lists. Only do this on a day that is going well for the two of you, not a day you have had a fight. And make a pledge that you will not spoil the day and the night of that day with any negative feedback or comments.
Take turns going back and forth and sharing the items on your list with one another. Each time you are the receiver, pay attention to what you feel in your body as you receive the positive feedback.
At the end of sharing your lists, talk about your experience. Most people notice a shift in their feelings toward each other. I hope you do too.
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