A marriage therapist asks couples to do a 2-week exercise before their first session, and it's much harder than it seems

PH888/ShutterstockImproving your marriage is like getting in shape — they both take a lot of effort.
  • Marriage can be challenging, and couples can fall into destructive cycles.
  • To help break those cycles, couples therapist Peter Pearson often prescribes the “Daily Double” exercise: Each partner must display only positive behaviours toward each other for two weeks straight.
  • Pearson has found that it’s much harder – and more revelatory – than it sounds.

Peter Pearson likens improving your marriage to getting in shape, in the sense that “it won’t happen without effort.”

Pearson is a couples therapist and the cofounder, along with his wife, couples therapist Ellyn Bader, of the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California.

When couples sign up for an appointment with him, he often has them agree to do the “Daily Double” beforehand, which he says is both an intervention and a diagnostic exercise.

The exercise sounds much simpler than it is: Twice a day, each partner has to say or do something to express to their partner that they love, value, respect, or appreciate them. At the same time, they have to avoid displaying any negative behaviours.

Ideally, the exercise would last a month, but Pearson said most couples can’t make it that long, so he typically prescribes two weeks. The kicker? If one partner slips, the couple has to start the exercise from scratch.

On the Couples Institute website, Pearson shares examples of positive behaviours, such as “I asked several questions before butting in with my reactions” and “When I had negative thoughts about my partners, I shifted to thinking of what I appreciated.”

Examples of negative behaviours include sarcasm, blaming or accusing, and “psychoanalyzing my partner during a difficult discussion.”

Couples who haven’t signed up for an appointment with Pearson can certainly try the exercise on their own. You can think of it as gamifying your relationship, the same way many app-makers have gamified the process of getting fit.

But beware: “It’s harder than it seems,” Pearson said. “People start learning some really interesting stuff about themselves.”

For example, having to stop yourself every time you’re about to berate your partner for being annoying might lead you to realise just how often you’re berating the person. And struggling to display politeness in a conversation with your partner might reveal how brusque you are typically.

On the website, Pearson writes: “You are the one in control of whether or to you do The Daily Double for thirty days. You can’t blame your partner if you don’t do it.”

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