5 Games Couples in Conflict Should Play

couple together in conflict - ingrid sthare

Keeping a relationship healthy and strong is tough during good times. Add a change in our routines, being literally confined with our partners, and a once-in-a-lifetime level of stress and uncertainty, and you’ve got the recipe for some real relationship hurdles. 

Once the honeymoon stage is over, relationships change. Some couples start taking each other for granted, and pet peeves and daily annoyances begin to accumulate. For other couples, major conflicts crop up and begin eroding the relationship. 

Games are a way therapists and coaches can help couples experience some of the curiosity and play that most relationships begin with. Talking through a couple’s problems is important, but when problems are the only focus, the incentive for rekindling the relationship can wane. 

Games offer couples an embodied experience of trying something new together. 

I talked with two experts about what games couples in conflict can play, and here’s what they said.

5 Games for Couples in Conflict

1. 5 Things

Ingrid Sthare uses acting and improv-based games in her relationship coaching practice in Greenville, South Carolina. She came to coaching through her experience acting, where she realized acting is therapeutic because it allows people to feel their feelings. Sthare explains that if we were to put our feelings on a scale from 1-10, most people would only feel emotions at an intensity of around three or four. Games allow her clients to play with a broader range of emotions and emotional intensity. 

One game Sthare uses in her relationship coaching is called “5 Things.” She has her clients name five things they like about each other. This helps the couple remember and focus on the positive attributes of their partner instead of solely focusing on the negatives. 

2. Tug Of War

I also spoke with therapist Margot Escott, LCSW, who will be the keynote speaker at the Florida NASW Conference on June 24, 2020. Escott integrates games into her therapeutic sessions that pull from her wide-ranging training in play and improvisation.

Escott describes a Daniel Wiener game called “Tug of War” that’s based on a Viola Spolin game. Keith Johnstone also has a version of this game. To play Tug of War, the couple pretends to hold an imaginary rope as if they are playing tug of war. It’s important for the couple to really try to visualize the rope. Then, the couple mimes a ropeless round of tug of war with a sense of competition and teamwork. 

Escott then debriefs with the couple about what their experience was like before moving on to the next round, where the partner who lost the first round must win. Unpacking the embodied experience of struggling and dominating or submitting reveals the power dynamic of the relationship, which can be helpful for couples to understand and incorporate into a healthier partnership.

Coaches and therapists need to create a safe and supportive environment for game playing. Part of this comes from what Viola Spolin calls “side coaching.” During game playing, the coach or therapist offers adjustments instead of saying no or interrupting the game. Escott even went so far as to say that all therapists and coaches should read Spolin’s coaching section of her Improvisation for the Theater to learn better how to side coach instead of interrupting the flow of productive sessions.

3. Chair Reversal

Sthare also leads a game she calls “Chair Reversal” that comes from a coaching exercise called “Empty Chair.” In Chair Reversal, the individual sits in a chair and describes a problem they’re facing. Then they switch to another chair to solve the problem with the help of side coaching from the coach or therapist.

Sthare also leads this game with couples, using the chairs to represent two perspectives. The physical act of switching seats is important because it encourages the couple to embody the experience of trying to see their partner’s point of view.

4. Mirror Exercises

Escott also plays a game in her sessions that’s based on Viola Spolin’s mirror exercises. Two people face each other, and one person slowly begins moving. Their partner is trying to see themselves as a reflection of the other, moving in sync with them. 

Then the other partner gets a chance to lead. The therapist or coach should speed up switching leaders until it seems like there is no leader, and the movements are happening simultaneously. 

Mirror exercises are great for building intimacy and encouraging eye contact, which is crucial for fostering connection and collaboration between two people. 

5. Imaginary Gift

Sthare also describes a couples’ game where one partner gives the other an imaginary gift. The couple talks about the gift without naming it or giving obvious clues. The goal is for the partner who receives the gift to figure out what it is—a kind of guessing game. But the real purpose is for the couple to experience creating something together. 

Sthare explains that by using games, couples experience novelty and a sense of curiosity about each other. It’s a way to help them connect and have fun together instead of just talking through what’s wrong with their relationship. 

Final Thoughts

Games are fun, or at least more fun than rehashing the same fight you’ve been having for the last ten years. Games allow couples to try something new together and collaborate and create as a team. It’s not an alternative to traditional talk therapy but is a welcome supplement and salve for couples who are struggling to stay together. 

People are constantly evolving and changing, so couples need to experience new ways of connecting and reconnecting to keep pace with this evolution. Games are one way that couples can get off the couch and start enjoying a novel shared experience. 

Save Your Relationship Today

If you are struggling in an important relationship and need help, contact me today at (864) 270-9303. I’ve helped thousands of people just like you restore their intimate connection with their spouse and restore their lives. There is a better way to have relationships. At Relationship Coaching & Coupling, I take a different approach than normal couples therapy. My time-tested, results-oriented program works to build strong and healthy relationships that last a lifetime. Call me today!

You can also check out my page on Psychology Today.


5 Games Couples in Conflict Should Play
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