If only relationships were as easy to navigate as reading a book on relationships–but it never hurts to have a selection of helpful hints from the experts on your bedroom nightstand when you might be going to bed angry again.
In my 20-plus years of counseling individuals and couples, there are a handful of books that I continue to refer to and suggest for my clients. Below are those five books featuring a short synopsis of each. Give your relationship a gift of one or more of these for Valentine’s Day…I’m willing to wager that it’s a gift that will keep on giving.
1. Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.
This classic piece, although written some time ago, still holds up. Harville came up with the term “imago therapy, which is effective as a way to create stronger relationships, because it helps couples to become more aware of the way they are all deeply interconnected. It offers insights into the unconscious agenda you bring to your relationships. With this information, you can begin to co-operate with this hidden agenda. As a result, you can choose to grow together in a creative, non-controlling, and healing way that creates understanding and connection.”
He asks couples to mirror, validate and empathize with one another to create a meaningful dialogue that builds strong connections. To mirror means that you reflect back what your partner is telling you so they understand that they are being heard. Something like, “I see how hard it is for you to tell me something that you know is going to upset me.” To validate would be, “I want you to know that I believe it is important for you to tell me difficult things because it is the only way we can feel better about each other.” To empathize would look like, “I know how it feels to you to tell me those things, you are afraid that I will criticize or leave you.”
2. Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David Schnarch, Ph.D.
For Schnarch intimacy and authentic sex begin not with communication but with self confrontation. This requires courage to look deeply into oneself and take responsibility for what you discover. He contends that sex is like a mirror that reflects the key issues of differentiation and separateness. The tension between these two states of separateness and togetherness is played out during sex and this creates a natural imbalance. He believes that this tension can be worked through and changed. Schnarch encourages couples to make love with the lights on and their eyes open. He calls this “wall socket sex” because it is so highly charged.
3. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver.
He began as a researcher. He studied over 12,000 couples over a 20 year period and came up with some very strong evidence for what causes marriages to fail. He contends that whenever the “Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse” are strongly present in the form of criticism, defensiveness, contempt or stonewalling that there is a good chance that the relationship will end in divorce. He stresses the need to repair breaks in connection through a series of techniques that require more supportive conflict styles that enhance a couple’s knowledge of one another. He stresses the need to develop an emotional bank account that nurtures fondness and admiration. With his “love maps” couples keep up to date with the thoughts and feelings of one another by making the relationship a priority. He teaches that couples need to know what problems are unsolvable and which ones are resolvable to streamline conflict styles.
4. Why Can’t You Read My Mind? Overcoming the 9 Toxic Thought Patterns that Get in the Way of a Loving Relationship by Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. and Susan Magee.
The authors contend that it’s not necessarily poor communication that causes relationships to end, but the way we think about our partner that destroys trust, creates distance and kills communication. Psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein shows how nine toxic thought patterns can destroy a relationship. He explains how our distorted, negative and exaggerated thinking can literally poison love and connection. He offers very simple but powerful ideas and approaches that will end toxic thoughts and create positive thinking that helps build positive habits for solving problems that are a part of everyday life. If you are looking for lots of practical ideas and insights for keeping your relationship on the right track this is your book.
5. Happy Together: Creating a Lifetime of Connection, Commitment, and Intimacy by Bill Cloke, Ph.D.
I couldn’t exactly talk about relationship books without including mine. My book is about how love is actually made. I explain how to use C.U.R.E as the letters that represent compassion, understanding, respect and empathy, and form the foundation on which all loving and trusting relationships are built. Filled with practical tips, stories and psychological understandings, the reader is taken on a journey that includes a workbook built into each chapter. Because this book takes a hands-on approach to relationship health it is very usable for couples. It covers everything from intimacy to anger and rage to sex and healthy communication and conflict resolution skills. This book is as much about your relationship with yourself as it is about a part of your relationship with your partner.
The book explains how to bring your partner into your personal process and even how you can include fantasy as a part of an inter-reflective relationship process that allows you to use empathy to see yourself and your partner more clearly. Inter-reflection is a means for gaining valuable insight into the deeply held wants, needs, values and desires within you and your partner. This book shows the reader the difference between a complaint and a criticism and how to fashion a dialogue that not only solves problems but creates more love in the process.