11 Relationship Books That are Actually Helpful, According to Marriage and Family Therapists
Whether you’ve been in a relationship for a few months or a few decades, there are always ways to work on yourself and your relationship with your partner. Sometimes that means reading books that were written for that express purpose. Here, 11 relationship books that can help strengthen your partnership, according to experts in the couples therapy field— including one that a therapist says has actually saved her clients’ marriages.
1. Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel
Best for: couples who've been together forever
Meaghan Rice, PsyD., LPC Talkspace Provider, tells us, “Longer term relationships take the lust right out of the equation if we aren't mindful of its departure. This book is amazingly creative in terms of the skills we need to bring back the sex, the hype and the chemistry that originally existed in the honeymoon phase.”
2. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, PhD. and Nan Silver
Best for: couples considering going to therapy together
John Gottman has conducted relationships and couples research for decades. Of this book, Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, LCSW-C, CMHIMP, CFTP, CCRS, Talkspace Provider, tells us, “I like this book because it has actually saved marriages. She adds, “Although there is not one book that can save all relationships, since all couples and individuals are different, this one is very close to it. It shows some empirical basis and allows the reader to learn and share information as well. For that reason, this book is considered a gem in the therapy world and my number-one as a clinician. Definitely worth reading.”
3. Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab
Best for: anyone with boundary issues
“This book equips you to set healthy boundaries which are key to connecting with yourself and to ensuring that your relationship is supportive and caring,” raves Liz Colizza, LPC
Director, Research & Programs at Lasting.
4. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
Best for: folks who feel stuck
Psychology expert, author and life coach Dr. Cheyenne Bryant tells us that this is one of the best books she’s read, hands down. Why? “This book teaches you principles that awaken your soul and shift your perception to a non-judge mental unconditional loving space,” she says.
5. Mindful Relationship Habits by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport
Best for: couples who have a hard time listening to each other
“It’s so easy to get to a place where we are inattentive and reactive,” Rice tells us, noting that we especially see this with friends, family, kids, and especially our intimate relationships. “But the items we need to put in place to truly understand, listen, and support our loved ones,” she says, “that's the good stuff that this book offers.”
6. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson
Best for: couples in which one partner is struggling
When you’re in a bad place, it can be easy to blame your partner for everything that goes wrong rather than looking inward. Colizza tells us that this book is a reminder that, often, your partner is not the enemy; your negative cycle is your enemy.
7. Mental Detox by Dr. Cheyenne Bryant
Best for: anyone who's ever been in a toxic relationship
Of her own book, Dr. Bryant says that it’s meant to promote awareness around the differences between healthy and toxic relationships. She adds, “It teaches the reader the importance of self-care and self-love in order to obtain a sustain healthy relationships.” Two things many folks could use some more of.
8. Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski
Best for: couples looking to spice things up in the bedroom
Over the course of her career, Rachel O'Neill, PhD., LPCC Talkspace Provider, has worked with couples on issues related to sex and intimacy. Two books that she loves on this topic are Come as you Are and Better Sex Through Mindfulness by Lori Brotto. “Both books can be helpful for couples who may be interested in exploring ways to cultivate shared sexual intimacy,” she says.
9. The Attachment Theory Workbook: Powerful Tools to Promote Understanding, Increase Stability, and Build Lasting Relationships by Annie Chen
Best for: visual learners
More interactive than a typical relationship book, this workbook has practical exercises that help you move from insecurity to security in your relationship, and is a favorite of Colliza’s.
10. Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman
Best for: couples who feel like their date nights have become stale
“I like this book because it involves the readers, inviting them to have eight dates to discuss and improve their relationship,” Catchings notes. “Each one of the eight dates covers one of the most meaningful topics that couples deal with. This is a must have; it truly strengthens relationships.”
11. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
Best for: anyone who's experienced trauma
Everyone experiences trauma in their life and trauma impacts people and relationships, Colizza stresses. “This book empowers you to understand your trauma stories and to work with your body toward healing,” she explains.