Couples Therapy Techniques

What happens to you when you enter the office of a couples counselor? That depends on the counselor but below are some commonly used couples therapy techniques to give you an idea of what’s in store.


Usually, when couples see a counselor, they have gotten to the point where the things that first made the other partner special are now considered flaws. Reframing is a technique that turns these flaws back into endearing traits, or close to it. The partners, with the therapist’s assistance, think of ways the flaws can be seen as a positive. The point of doing this is to help the couple talk through their problems instead of sniping at one another.

For example, one partner may complain the other makes mole hills out of mountains. A more positive view is that this person is not one to be carried away by circumstance and emotion. He or she keeps things on an even keel.


As an antidote to the negativity communicated in a struggling marriage, each partner is asked to identify five things they appreciate about the other. Then, each one shares their appreciation list with their spouse, explaining why they find the quality or behavior positive.

For example, someone might appreciate that their spouse always keeps the finances in order, picks up after themselves, is a generous tipper when they eat out, is kind to their in-laws, and has a wry sense of humor.


The problems in a marriage come from both corners of the ring. The forgiveness technique requires each partner write a letter, forgiving themselves for the unhealthy contributions they have made to the marriage. Besides providing emotional release, it reminds each person which behaviors they need to avoid. When each partner reads their letter to the other, it can also lead to understanding and forgiveness between the partners.

The Open Chair

An empty chair is placed in the room. Partner #1 leaves the counseling office. The second partner (#2) talks to the empty chair as if their spouse is sitting in it, expressing their (#2‘s) feelings about the relationship. Partner #2 then sits in the chair and acts the way partner #1 would typically act to what #2 just said.

Here, partner #1 comes back into the session and listens to their spouse talk about the experience of using the open chair, how it felt and what went through their mind. The therapist then facilitates a discussion as the couple works through the issues this technique brought into the open.

Self-Reflection and Moving Forward

Each person is given paper and pen to write down specific ways they could contribute to a stronger marriage. Then each considers how they have contributed to the marital problems and lists those as well. Since each person is taking responsibility for their part in the difficulties, it can lead to an open and lively discussion.

Then, to get the marriage moving forward, each recites to the other three to five things they promise to regularly do to build the relationship. The actions might be written as a contract that the couple signs or can become vows they repeat to one another each week during their therapy session.

Strategic Problem Solving

The therapist helps each partner look at how they try to solve specific problems, to see whether the solution they achieve is effective, or if it adds more fuel to the problem. The therapist is there to help each person discontinue their unhelpful problem solving patterns and replace them with something that creates a lasting solution.

For example, Lori has had some health problems. If Ed tries to motivate Lori to eat healthier by criticizing her eating habits, his problem solving is faulty. It only makes Lori angry and determined to eat more potato chips. Ed needs a different strategy.

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