Eye Contact Challenge | Counseling | Therapy

Eye Contact Challenge

Shannon Oliver-O'Neil , LCSW — Therapist, director of intern program, director of rhode island office

eye contact challenge: couples therapy exercises in philadelphia, santa fe, ocean city, image

Intimacy is the product of two people allowing themselves to be vulnerable. It’s normal for intimacy to ebb and flow over the course of long-term partnerships. It’s the product of allowing yourself to be seen as you truly are. While intimacy can be cultivated intuitively or even accidentally, sustained intimacy benefits from intentionality.

Intentionally creating eye contact (or intentionality) can feel overwhelming, especially when work, or kids or just the same old arguments have created distance between you and a partner. But with patience and a willingness to be vulnerable, you can take great strides in your relationship. A great way to do this is just to get comfortable with being literally seen by your partner.

Eye Contact Challenge

Set aside five minutes every day for one week to take this “eye contact challenge.”

Each person needs one piece of paper and one marker.

  • Sit facing your partner, with your knees touching.
  • Designate a person A, and a person B.
  • Person A lowers their pen to paper in order to draw a portrait of person B. Once their pen touches the paper, they can’t lift it up again. This means that whatever they draw will be one continuous line, and will look a little funny. If you start drawing an eye and remember you forgot the chin, you have to move your marker down to the correct spot without lifting it.
  • Person A must look at person B the entire time they draw the portrait. If they look away or lift their pen, it’s up to person B to remind them to stay on track.
  • As person A draws, they should try to capture as much detail as possible – every individual eyebrow hair, every smile line, each individual tooth, every age spot or freckle.
  • When person A thinks they have completed their detailed portrait, they can put down the pen.
  • Person B will then take draw person A in the same manner, keeping their pen to the page, their gaze on their partner, and capturing as much detail as possible.

The drawings will look strange. They might look like a small child drew them. That’s ok.

When it is your turn to be drawn, resist the impulse to do anything. You may want to make a face, wink, try to make your partner laugh, or comment on what’s happening. These urges are a totally normal response to feeling vulnerable. Instead of taking yourself out of the moment by giving in to these impulses, focus on your partner and your breath. Notice any feelings that may come up without judgment. They are information we will use later.


With your partner, reflect on how the experience felt. Take turns completing the following prompts.

  • Looking at you, I felt _______.
  • Looking at you, I wanted to ___________.
  • To keep myself safe, I ______________.
  • Looking at you, reminded me of ________.
  • When you looked at me, I felt __________.
  • When you looked at me, I wanted to ____________.

You or your partner may have felt scared, loving, angry, hurt, annoyed, bored frustrated, happy or silly. Share your feelings without judgment – they’re going to change as you repeat the challenge. The purpose of the challenge is not to place value on the relationship (i.e. “we are good at intimacy, therefore we are good at this activity.”) The purpose of the challenge is to practice giving and receiving vulnerability. In life, we don’t often allow ourselves to gaze for prolonged periods of time at other people. And unless we are a model or some kind of performer, it’s unlikely that we allow others to gaze at us. This keeps us safe during our day-to-day interactions with strangers, but ultimately does us a disservice in our romantic relationships. Learning how to tolerate the discomfort of being seen by another person is part of learning to tolerate vulnerability. In turn, practicing vulnerability allows us to be truly present with our partners, making us better listeners and lovers.

Go Deeper

After a few days, if you and your partner feel confident in your ability to gaze and be gazed at, go deeper.

As they draw, person A narrates what they like about their partner’s face as they draw. For instance “I’m drawing your eyebrows. What I like about your eyebrows is____. I’m drawing your nose. I love your nose.”

Example prompts include

  • What I like about your [body part] is _____.
  • I’m drawing your [body part]. I love your [body part.]
  • I’m drawing your [body part]. If we were to have kids together, I would want them to have it because ______.
  • I’m drawing your [body part.] It reminds me of ____.

Feel free to add your own! Whatever helps you articulate the positive aspects you see in your partner’s face.
After person A has completed their detailed portrait, person B should take a turn using the same narration techniques.

After the portraits are complete, reflect using the prompts below:

  • When you said _____, I felt _______.
  • Looking at you, I felt _______.
  • Looking at you, I wanted to ___________.
  • When you looked at me, I felt __________.
  • To protect myself, I typically do __________.
  • When you looked at me, I wanted to ____________.To help me feel ____________, I could __________________.

After a week of the Eye Contact Challenge, you may notice it is easier to make eye contact and spend time with your partner. You may notice that you trust them, or that it’s easier to talk to them. Practicing vulnerability is a life-long task, and one with big pay-offs. The more we practice, the easier it becomes, and the easier vulnerability becomes, the more capacity we have to be honest in and grow from our relationships.

Of course, not all wounds can be healed in a week. If this activity brought up more hard feelings than easy ones, or if you and your partner are ready to dive even deeper call 267-324-9564 to make an appointment with a sex therapist and relationship counselor today.

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