A small disclaimer: The principles work the same. You can substitute your significant other in the place of husband or wife if you like (i.e. not married).
From my experience helping couples in counseling create lasting change, most wives want their husbands to take more of a leadership role within the relationship. They want to see, know, and feel that their husband values them. That they are more important than all the other distractions in their daily life (work, kids, other friends, video games, golf). As such, most of the exercises I recommend to help marriages’ in trouble often rely on the husband taking on more of a leadership role.
One such exercise I use is a handholding exercise. This exercise has multiple benefits to why and how it works. Let me teach you how to do it.
To begin the husband extends his hands out palm side up (as if serving someone some food). There is a visual significance to the placement of the husband’s hands. They are on the bottom, the foundation, holding the weight of the relationship and family (a burden most men feel). The wife then places her hands on top of the husband’s hands. Interestingly one of the things most wives do for a husband is cover or protect them. They often protect us from ourselves, help us balance our responsibilities, and protect us from outside attacks. Often at this point, something interesting happens the husband’s fingers will curl around his wife’s hands. I find it striking that the husband’s fingers grab ahold of the wife’s hands. In essence, putting boundaries (safety and security) around the relationship, as well as holding on to what he holds near and dear to his heart.
Next, the Husband (while looking into the eyes of his wife) will ask her: “What were the three best things that happened to you today?” The husband then listens to his wife’s list of the best things that happened to her that day. After she has described her three things, she then will ask the husband the same question: “What were the three best things that happened to you today?” She then listens to her husband’s list.
Eventually, couples begin to ask clarifying questions to gain a better understanding of what made those events so significant for them that day. Some couples have even used this exercise to grow the marriage relationship with God, by asking: “How did God show up for you today?”
So how does this exercise actually help a marriage in trouble? If your relationship is like most couples I’ve worked with you feel that there is not enough “non-sexual” physical touch in the relationship. Often women feel as though every time their husband touches them they are asking, wanting, or expecting sex. (This is often difficult for men to understand that they can touch a female without it having or needing it to lead to more, and frankly, I found it very difficult to understand how to meet my wife’s touch needs because of this). This handholding exercise solves the problem of miscommunicating our intentions of physical touch.
The second thing the exercise is doing is helping couples learn to listen (actually listen without having to think about what they need to say to defend their point of view). The third benefit is that most couples (especially ones that feel their relationship is in trouble) have a hard time seeing any positive things around them and are fixating on how bad things are. Which bleeds into their relationship. Sound familiar? By going about your day looking for what might be on your list at the end of the day you can actually rewire your brain to become more positive.
If the couples I’ve helped in counseling could sit down and tell you about this exercise this is what they would want you to know…
- Men take the lead. Even the most reluctant wife in counseling when the husband didn’t lead the exercise discussed her disappointment in the next session.
- Begin by doing it regularly (daily is best). You are trying to create new habits, break negative thoughts, and grow closer to one another.
- Please for the love of Pete, if one of you says that one of the best things that happened that day was they “got out of bed”, don’t say “really, really, that’s one of your best things…” This almost always makes the person feel inconsequential, and that they have let the other person down.
- Listen to one another. This is time for you to gain a better understanding of the world around your partner.
Try an Experiment
Ok, so now here’s the fun part. Did you know you can try experiments in your relationship? We can try new things to see if it helps the relationship. I invite you to try the handholding exercise for one week. See if anything in the relationship feels different, better. Then let me know what you noticed, comment on this post, and let’s start a conversation about our experiences.