Coupling game: Get talking about family planning and relationships

Kenya, Dec 3rd 2018

The Coupling game is a tool that helps to get a deeper understanding of how young people approach relationships, sexuality and family planning.

Coupling is a game tool that helps explore how gender and interpersonal dynamics affect family planning decisions and behaviours. Participants begin by together adopting a female and male persona – a persona couple – that they retain for the duration of the game, allowing them to dissociate and share insights more freely. The game navigates what participants imagine as sexual or relationship encounters for the persona couple, which could range from casual to more serious, and the considerations that affect the kinds of choices he or she makes about contraception and other family planning services. The tool can be used to explore any topic that is influenced by gender or interpersonal dynamics, for example financial planning goals. In Core the game was used in the context of relationships, sexuality and family planning in Kenya.

A group of men playing the Coupling game in Kenya


The objective of the Coupling game tool as used for Core is to understand:

  1. The factors that affect people’s decision making when forming relationships
  2. Male involvement in family planning
  3. The triggers, barriers, channels, information sources, and taboos in talking about and accessing family planning


  • The Coupling game board: We printed the game board on a reusable flex material like vinyl.
  • 1 Dice
  • 1 Player piece or peg
  • 10 Persona cards (5 men, 5 women)
  • 10-15 Question cards
  • 10-15 Surprise cards
  • 10-15 Family planning method cards
  • Sets of questions for each Relationship stage printed for the facilitator
  • 1 Facilitator


The goal of the game is for the participants to jointly arrive at the relationship type they select for the couple persona at the beginning. The relationship types in the game are: casual relationship, committed couple without children, single parenthood and family/marriage with children.

Young women choosing the persona to play Coupling with.


Participant profile 
Craft your sample in a way that allows for participants to speak freely. Our sample consisted of small groups of friends (3-4 friends), or small groups of women or men belonging to a similar age and life stage. Mixed teams with both male and female participants are not ideal as it may inhibit or affect the way participants respond.

Length of the session and size of the group
The game is designed for two or more participants/players. The ideal number of participants is 2-4, in order for everyone to have a chance to voice their thoughts. The length of the game session is approximately 2 hours.


The players are all in the same team throughout the game and they play as the same persona couple which is jointly selected. They make decisions together, via discussion, that leads to moving forward in the game.

How you move forward
By rolling the dice, and by collectively answering the questions asked at each step.

Relationship stages
Relationship stages are the round big images on the board. Upon landing, they allow the facilitator to ask five directed questions so as to gain an understanding of the couple’s dynamics at each stage. Remember to probe the participants about the meaning of the different relationship stages and to listen carefully to the language they use when they talk about relationships, sex, partnership, etc. (Scroll down to see the Suggested Questions for Relationship stages).

Green dots & Question cards
The green dots stand for Question cards: Upon landing, they allow the facilitator to ask key questions that can help collect more insightful information. Players must answer before moving forward. For example. the question can be: “Who is making more decisions right now?”, “Is one of them hiding something from the other?”.

Red dots & Surprise cards
The red dots stand for Surprise cards: Upon landing, they serve to add another dimension to the life story that the players are crafting for their couple persona. It sets forth a challenge that needs to be solved before moving on (for example finding out that your partner has a STI or finding out that your partner has lied to you).

Family planning method cards
When participants discuss family planning and methods, the facilitator picks a card from the Family planning method card deck. The cards have images of different family planning methods to aid and probe the discussion.

How you end the game
The game ends when the couple persona achieves the relationship type goal which is set at the start of the game.

The game as a design research tool

  • Remember that the main persona player as well as the partner are imaginary but thinking of them as people, even better as people known to players, helps keep it realistic.
  • Remember to probe after each answer whether the response reflects the reality as typically experienced. You might do this by simply asking after each answer: “So tell me, does this happen typically here in your village?”.

How to play

1. Warm up
Mention to the participants that you are here to learn from them, that you don’t wish to make assumptions about the experiences of the men/women in the target communities, and that you would like them to help you understand how relationships usually unfold in the place you are located in. Let them know from the outset the approximate time required for the full interaction. Tell them that to make this fun, you have brought along a game, called Coupling.

A group of Kenyan men engrossed playing Coupling

2. Roll out the game board
Put out all the components of the game for everyone to see. Set the Question and Surprise card decks, as well as the Persona card and the Family planning method card decks upside down in their slots. Place the game pieces on their places.

3. Selecting the player personas
a. For the main player: Take out the Persona cards (if the group consists of girls/women, take out the female Persona cards, if the players are men, take out the male Persona cards). Ask the participants to jointly pick one image from the Persona cards as their main player persona. Once chosen, ask them for the reasons for picking that particular persona. Remember also to ask why other personas were not found appealing.

b. For the main player’s partner: Present the Persona cards of the opposite sex and spread them
on the table. Ask the participants to jointly choose a partner for their main
player persona. Once they have chosen a partner from the deck, use this moment to
ask them why they picked the one they did. Remember to ask why other personas were not selected.


The Coupling game board. Scroll down the page and you can download the hires version.

4. Setting a relationship goal for the main player personas
Players get to choose their goal for the game from the four relationship types denoted by pictures on the yellow section of the game board (casual relationship, committed couple without children, single parenthood and family/marriage with children). The players choose one for their persona couple, and this is the goal that the game is geared towards. The game ends once this is achieved. If the participants find the pictures hard to choose from, explain what is in the pictures and discuss. Once the participants have chosen the image for the relationship type, use this moment to understand why they chose it and how they perceive this goal.

5. Start the game
Once the goal is set and a couple paired, the game can begin.

  • The game begins at First Meeting, but the players can jointly select the path that the persona couple takes from that point on.
  • Ask the participants which direction they are heading next and why. There are different paths to choose in the game that lead to the selected relationship type goal: one can for example move to the Having sex stage or to the Dating stage.
  • For every relationship stage the players land at, ask them five questions. They will always answer questions from their player persona’s perspective. For instance when the couple persona lands on the Dating relationship stage, probe the players by asking for example: “What does dating mean to him/her? Why does he/she want to meet him/her again? How do they know they are in a relationship?” (Scroll down to see the Suggested Questions for Relationship stages).
  • Remember: When something of interest is said, probe further with additional questions. Feel free to change and come up with new questions or skip a question if not relevant at that point. The stage is cleared after getting answers to the five questions. Throw the dice to move forward.
  • When one lands on the red dot, a Surprise card is picked. Ask them what this surprising scenario or situation means for the main persona and how is he/she going to react to the situation. Ask further questions to understand the reasons for the persona’s specific reaction.
  • When one lands on the green dot, a Question card is picked. The question must be answered before moving on. Ask further questions to probe deeper.
  • If, before reaching the goal, the player persona couple decide to split (it is a possibility), the game can restart by the main persona selecting another partner and setting another goal.
  • If family planning related discussion arise during the game, the facilitator can pick a Family planning method card to probe further to get a deeper understanding of the participants’ views on contraceptive methods and family planning.
  • Reaching your goal, that is, landing on the selected relationship type on the yellow section of the board ends the game.
  • Feel free to ask any follow up questions that you may have. Hopefully you would have got all the answers you need!

 Suggested questions for the Relationship Stages 

First meeting

  • How and where do they meet? • Who makes the first move? • What does he like about her and what does she like about him? • What do they talk about? • How does he try to impress her/how does she try to impress him? •


  • Why does she want to meet him again? Why does he want to meet her again? • Who asks the other person for a date? • How do they get to know each other? (What do they do together?) • What does dating mean? • How do they know that they’re in a relationship, how would you define it? • What would they like to know about each other, but can’t ask each other directly? •

 Having sex

  • How do they know that it’s time to have sex? • Who makes the move? Can you elaborate? • What kind of importance does having sex have to her / him? • What kinds of risks does she see in having sex ? What does she/he fear? • What are each one’s responsibilities in avoiding risks associated with sex? How do they go about avoiding these? Where do they get contraceptives and safe sex information? •

Having children

  • When is it an appropriate time to have children? How do they know? • What does it mean to him to have children? What does it mean to her? • What determines the number of children that they will have? • How does having children change the relationship? • What are each one’s responsibilities in having children, in parenting? •

Avoid having children

  • Why doesn’t she / he want to have children? • How do they go about avoiding pregnancy? Where do they get advice? • What kind of responsibilities does she/he have in avoiding pregnancy? • How do other people see them when they are/are not having babies? • What would happen if she became pregnant by accident?

A steady relationship

  • When does the relationship become steady? How does it affect use of contraceptives, what happens? • What does having a steady relationship mean to her? Him? • How do the discussions that they have change when things get more serious? • What kind of decisions do they have to make about their future? Who decides? • How would you describe their roles in the relationship? •
Programme Manager Amal Mohamed playing the Coupling game with a group of young Kenyan women

Women playing the Coupling game in Kenya

Moving in together

  • Why do they decide that it’s time to move in together? • How does it happen? • What does it mean for her/him to live together? • What are each one’s responsibilities in having their own apartment/house? Who takes care of what? • What kind of things might cause them arguments? •

 Getting married

  • How do they get married, who takes the initiative? • Why do they want to get married? • How does their relationship change when they get married? • How would you describe their roles as a married couple? • How does their contraceptive use change after getting married? Why? •


◆ Example of a surprise card

◆ Example of a persona card

◆ Example of a question card

◆ Example of a family planning method card









The Coupling Game Board

Persona cards

Question cards

Surprise cards

Family planning method cards

Tips and Notes

  • Remember to carry project consent forms translated to the local language if necessary, including photo consent and minor consent forms.
  • Set out all Coupling game materials beforehand: the game board, dice, game pieces, Persona cards, Question cards, Surprise cards and Family planning method cards.
  • Bring an audio recorder, camera and notebook to capture interesting moments from the interaction.
  • As you get set to interact with participants, try setting a tone of humility as well as of inclusivity, flexibility and open-mindedness. Ensure they understand that in the interaction there are no right or wrong answers, and that everything they say is valuable!
  • Make participants aware that they will spend about two hours at the interaction and acquire their verbal or written consent. Ask them if they’re comfortable being photographed and recorded (audio and video) for parts of the interaction. Let them know that the interaction is intended to be fun for all involved, and maybe even a way to strike friendships in the process. Start with a round of introductions.
  • Make sure everyone understands the basics before starting.
  • The discussion and communication that the game inspires is most important as opposed to the exact rules of the game or where participants end up at the end of the game. Probe, ask and encourage the participants to talk during the game session.
  • The sessions with men should be done from a man’s perspective, and the sessions with women do this from a girl/woman’s perspective.