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When we meet the person we’re going to marry, we don’t tend to think about the effort it takes to sustain a relationship over the long term. We skip blissfully through the honeymoon period. We enjoy the slow, melting feeling of experiencing our relationship deepen and grow. We make our way toward the marriage proposal. And then we become so focused on the wedding—on orchestrating that perfect day—that we don’t think about what comes after.
We expect marriage to be easy. Because this is true love, right? So we tend to be blindsided when it all falls apart.
If you’d like to strengthen the foundation of your marriage now so as to better be able to weather the rough spots, the seven books below can help. And if you’re already teetering on the brink of a full-scale collapse, the lessons in these books may be able to yank you back.
1. “Project: Happily Ever After” by Alisa Bowman
Bowman felt stuck in her unhappy marriage, seemingly at a crossroads: fix things or move on? She decided to go all in, systematically scrutinizing each aspect of her and her husband’s life together, trying to fix each element one by one. By the end of “Project: Happily Ever After,” Bowman and her husband are renewing their marriage vows. How did they get there? I don’t want to give any spoilers, but one of the most important things I learned from Bowman’s memoir is that you can’t change your spouse, nor should you try. Rather, look to your own internal struggles, work through them, and notice the ripple effect that follows.
2. “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman
I read several of Gottman’s books back in the day, at a time when ny marriage was still fairly new but I was already coming to realize: Dude. This marriage stuff is hard! Gottman’s “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” is a classic of the genre, providing seven standards couples should use as guides on the path toward a long-lasting marriage. The one that stood out for me the most? The importance of having respect for each other, above all else, championing each other even in the moments when you find each other annoying.
3. “Communication in Marriage” by Marcus and Ashley Kusi
The lessons above are all well and good but, personally, I’ve found that the most important element of a successful marriage is strong communication. When you stop communicating, you stop being a team. How can you learn how best to communicate within your marriage, aside from ending up in couples therapy and being given reflective listening exercises? “Communication in Marriage” should do the trick. The book contains tips on listening to your spouse, cultivating patience, managing your expectations and more.
4. “Mating in Captivity” by Esther Perel
At the beginning of a relationship, lust tends to burn brighter than love, drawing you and your partner closer to each other, helping you to establish an intimate connection. But the longer you remain with one person, the tougher it can be sustain that white hot heat.
“There is an assumption,” Perel writes, “that we need only pursue what we don’t yet possess.” “Mating in Captivity” forces readers to upend these assumptions, allowing partners to see each other without all the baggage that a long-term relationship can carry.
5. “The Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility” by Jeff Motske
Ten years into my own marriage, I still have this one on my bookshelf. That’s because money is often a leading cause of marital conflict. For us, the income disparity between us means the issue of money has never gotten any easier. I like “The Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility” because it provides us with a solid game plan for managing our finances as a seamless-as-possible unit. This means open communication (see above!) about and goals and expectations related to money.
6. “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Pop science junkie? Does knowing the neuroscience behind a common behavior help you manage it? Then you might enjoy “Attached” more than some of the straight self-help books out there. Levine and Heller explain the three attachment styles… and how they may shape how we approach our marriage. The premise is that once we know what our attachment style is, we’ll know how best to strengthen our intimate relationship.
7. “Leave Me” by Gayle Forman
Finally, because fiction can often carry the deepest truths, I recommend Gayle Forman’s “Leave Me,” a novel that came out just last year, and whose narrator I instantly connected to. In Forman’s book, the protagonist is a harried working mom who feels overwhelmed and under-appreciated by both her husband and her children. After receiving no reprieve even after suffering a heart attack, she runs away from home. How can this book save your marriage? I don’t want to give too much away, so you’ll have to read this one through to the end to learn the same lessons the narrator does.
Tell us: What books have you read that have helped strengthen your relationship?