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Couples Exercises for Building Intimacy

  • Brought to you by: MyLifeStages and Fran Fisher, PhD

  • Looking to build more intimacy in your relationship? Therapist Fran Fisher, PhD, a certified sexuality counselor working with the Integrative Medicine Program of Sutter Medical Group in SacramentoOpens new window , advises couples to try the following series of exercises. Dr. Fran says they’re a great way to strengthen a couple’s bond by encouraging receptiveness to physical intimacy on the part of both partners.

    Take note, however, that these exercises will ask you to behave in a way that is not your norm. Be ready to stretch yourself out of your current comfort zone. A change can only happen when you are willing to change.

  • Exercise #1 - Practice Random Acts of Kindness

  • Before going to bed at night, try thinking of ways to show your love to your partner the following day. That may be as simple as sending an "I love you" text during the day or making a cup of tea to wake your partner. It might be a single flower as you walk in the door at the end of the day.

    A warm hug and kiss before you leave the house, without any agenda (no comments or expectations), helps to build trust that every hug does not have to lead to something more. Do this consistently for one week and you will likely see a change in your relationship.

    Not feeling especially kind? It may help you to reach back into your memory and pull up some examples of rosier times. How did you behave when you first met? What did you, or your partner, do that has become a sweet memory of your life? Just turning your attention here can help shift your own mood, making the random acts of kindness easier.

    Dr. Fran notes that one client reported: "I couldn't believe how easy it was to make my wife happy." His wife simply needed to be held in his arms with no agenda other than to feel loved, which allowed her in turn to show love because there was no pressure. Dr. Fran reports that, given a little time, this behavior will likely result in more sexual activity because it is a natural progression of tenderness and appreciation for the other. This creates a win/win rather than a lose/lose.

  • Exercise #2 – Listening

  • "I can't tell you the number of times I've heard ‘She/he just never listens,’ as I work with clients wanting to improve their relationship and sex life,” says Dr. Fran. “Unfortunately, once communication begins to deteriorate, the other person's talking can begin to sound like white noise, or even worse - a constant irritating buzz. "

    Sometimes when emotions rise, our reasonable intelligence, and even our kindness, goes down. We might instead exchange tense statements, angry glances and verbal barbs. Clearly, this is not going to improve one's sex life. So how can you stop this cycle in its tracks, before the conversation declines into the abyss?

    This exercise can be called: "You sit in my seat." Yes, it's slightly unnatural and will require some effort from both of you. But it can help break the cycle of poor communication.

    1. Develop an agreed-upon code word or phrase you will use the minute you sense things are on the decline; you want to make an important statement; or just really need your partner's attention. Make it simple: "Can I have my three minutes now please?" is a statement that will work just fine.
    2. The person who requested the time goes first, as the speaker.
    3. Set a timer so the statement lasts no more than three actual minutes. This means the speaker must gather his/her thoughts, be precise and succinct.
    4. The listener simply listens - no comments, no facial expressions, no challenging what is being said.
    5. Now change seats. The listener is now in the speaker's seat and the speaker is now the listener.
    6. The first listener now gets to repeat - to the very best of his or her ability - exactly what they heard their partner say. REMEMBER: This is the new pattern, so no embellishments, no interpretations, no defending yourself, no making it your own speech (even if it’s tempting to do so).
    7. Return to your original seat and thank each other for taking the time for this exercise.
    8. If the first speaker didn't feel properly heard - guess what? The first speaker needs to take another turn, to express their thoughts more clearly.

    If you are dedicated enough to carry through on this exercise, it can change the paradigm. Give it a try a few times, and trust that it can begin to shift your conversations.

  • Exercise #3 – Just Hug

  • This exercise can work for those who just aren’t ready for or receptive to deep, personal conversations. It can create a form of intimacy, without words, that may allow more talking intimacy in the future. Even if it doesn’t, it can help restore a sense of closeness with our partner.

    One frequent complaint from women is that they don't like their partners kissing them or touching them because it "always leads to the expectation of sex."

    One way to stop this habit is to introduce the practice of holding each other in a comfortable, non-sexual hug. Do it standing up wherever you are in the kitchen, garden, garage, anywhere. Simply hold each other until you feel the stress and pressure leave your body. That's all -- no other agenda and no required connection to any sexual behavior.

    At first, the hug may feel uncomfortable as you experience the stress in your and your partner's body. Try not to let go too soon. If you hang in there, you will reach a point where you feel yourself and/or your partner softening. Try to wait for that moment before you pull away.

    “I have seen remarkable shifts in relationships when this exercise has been employed,” says Dr. Fran. “Both partners love the touch and enjoy the warmth of closeness with no agenda. And, interestingly, it can be the beginning of the road back to passion.”

  • Exercise #4 – 15 Minutes of Tenderness

  • Like exercise #3, this is another exercise designed as a conduit to feeling safe and to being able to experience loving touch again, while letting go of the anxiety of allowing your partner into your space.

    You can do this exercise in front of the children, and you can even do it in front of your mother (so no excuses). It's one that almost every woman in Dr. Fran’s practice has loved. And in reality, most men enjoy the loving attention, too.

    You and your partner sit comfortably, both facing in the same direction – for example, you could be sitting on the sofa with your partner at your feet. Remove eyeglasses, jewelry and watches, and maybe loosen sleeves. Grab a hairbrush and /or comb.

    The person sitting behind begins to stroke the other’s hair (with brush, fingers, comb, as desired.) If you partner is bald, use soft touch, perhaps with lotion. Generally, slow, long gentle motions are preferred. If the receiver is uncomfortable, one hand can be placed on giver's hand and new instructions can be given (i.e. less pressure, or switch the comb for a brush).

    Proceed to brush and caress the hair, in silence, for at least 10-15 minutes. See how tenderly you can do this simple task for your partner. When done, the person brushing the hair can give a "goodbye" pat to the hair.

    If comfortable, you can comment on the exercise. For example, "Your hair is so soft," or "I felt pampered." Don't be critical. For example rather than, "You are a bit heavy-handed," comment about liking the lighter touches.

    To complete the exercise, partners switch roles. This may be done immediately following the first set, or postponed to a later agreed-upon time within a few days.

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