Although I believe it is in understanding our interactional patterns that is most critical to establishing healthy communication, there are some fun activities that we can use to get us talking and learning about each other. Here is one of my favorites! My wife and I attended the Becoming Soul Mates marriage retreat almost 15 years ago and this activity was in the Participants Guide. Although we followed the directions closely the first several times, we found ourselves paying more attention to the positive behaviors we appreciated in each other and, most importantly, sharing those observations more freely/safely (even the concerns/complaints). When we were able to share both the positive with the negative, it helped us greatly! Thank you to Les and Leslie Parrott for this great activity!
This exercise will help you and your partner keep a clean emotional slate and avoid needless conflicts. Begin by writing two things your partner has done in the last forty-eight hours that you sincerely appreciated, but did not tell him or her. For example, “I appreciated the compliment you gave me as I got out of the car yesterday,” or “I appreciate the help you gave me in writing my proposal last night.”
Next, write one thing your partner has done in the last forty-eight hours that irritated you but you did not say anything about. For example, “I didn’t like it when you borrowed my umbrella without telling me,” or “I didn’t like it when you said nothing about the meal I prepared for us last night.”
“I didn’t like it when…”
Once you both have written your statements, take turns sharing them. One person shares all three statements one after another. Then the other person shares their three statements. Here is an important part of the exercise: The person on the receiving end can only say “thank you” after each statement. That’s all. Just “thank you.” This rule allows couples to share something that bugs them without fear of a blow-up or a defensive reaction. It also allows couples to receive critiques at the same time as positive affirmations.
This exercise can be done every day. Once you get the hang of it, you don’t need to write your statements down. All it takes is for one partner to say “Do you want to do withholds?” Then each of you can take a moment to gather your thoughts and away you go. Sharing withholds can save hundreds of hours of needless bickering.
(from Becoming Soul Mates Seminar: Participants Guide by Les and Leslie Parrott – http://www.lesandleslie.com/)