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Being married isn't one of those topics where you want to just "wing it". Unlike that lego set your toddler gets, dives into without giving a second glance at the instructions, makes a mess of, then never touches again. we only get one shot at this thing [marriage] and I'm betting you want to do it right.
So read the darn instruction manual.
Unfortunately, when it comes to marriage there are numerous instruction manuals with varying degrees of helpfulness. In fact, some marriage books are flat-out wrong or even dangerous.
(Yes, a book can be dangerous. I did lots of research for this post and was SHOCKED at what some people were recommending. The amount of sexist, poorly-written, poorly-researched, or even flat-out wrong marriage books would make your head spin. Some made statements that clearly endorsed the "women belong in the kitchen" philosophy, others even advocated staying in a marriage through physical or emotional abuse. Please be careful what you read, think critically about what the author is saying, and don't hesitate to chuck the book if they start saying things like this.)
However, the abundance and variety of possible "instruction manuals" didn't deter me. From the second we got on the plane for our honeymoon, I began devouring books on marriage.
For those of you who haven't met me (or have but are suffering from memory loss) I'm a giant, unabashed, no-holds-barred bookworm. If I could do nothing but read, eat, and absorb sunlight I would be the happiest Liz in the land. (Unfortunately, the toddlernado, work schedule, and crushing load of pesky "adult" responsibilities has seriously curtailed my ability to test this theory.)
After much reading, even more research, and more marriage books than I can shake a wedding ring at, here's my list of the 10 best marriage books you need to add to your reading list.
STATUS: Read, multiple times.
This is by far my favorite marriage book of all time. My regular readers will recognize the name John Gottman from other blog entries like Can You Predict which Couples Get Divorced?, Why It's Important to Keep Getting to Know Your Spouse, and How to Keep Romance Alive when the Honeymoon Phase Ends.
The reason I'm such a huge fan of John Gottman is that all of his books are based on actual, psychological, data-driven research.
This means he's not just writing his opinions or his thoughts on what he's seen, but he actually locked couples in his love lab (yes, that's really what he called it), collected information as he watched them interact, then followed the couples (not literally, thank goodness) for years to see which ones stayed together.
This means everything you're reading has the reassuring (to us nerds at least) stamp of "statistical significance". In fact, one of Dr. Gottman's studies predicted divorce with 93.6% accuracy. Not too shabby.
This book is his most well-know piece of work. It goes over the seven most important things a couple can do to develop a happy and long-lasting marriage.
STATUS: Read, bought for multiple friends, reread
While other marriage books might give you subtle, practical tips, this one is more of a 'oh holy crap' type of piano-on-the-head realization.
The basic premise of the book is quite simple: people can express love in different ways (aka different 'love languages') and if you and your spouse don't 'speak' the same love language you could be completely missing each others' attempts to love and/or take care of each other.
(Spoiler alert: you probably are missing each others' signs. Most married couples are, at least a little bit.)
You most likely have heard of this one (or have made your spouse take their online quiz multiple times...oops), but if you haven't actually read the book I would definitely advise that you do so.
It's a decently quick read, but it's packed with really practical and actionable advice that will change your view on your marriage, even without changing a thing.
STATUS: My current read
I'm actually in the middle of this one right now and it's a fantastic premise.
The only background you need (which they explain way better than I'm about to) is that people have different attachment styles (aka securely attached, insecurely attached in an avoidant way, insecurely attached in an anxious way, or some mix of the other three) which are "programmed" into us by our relationships with our primary caregivers.
Years on down the road, these early-established attachment patterns determine a great deal of what our relationship with our spouse is going to be like. This book teaches us how to understand the way our spouse is "wired" and how we can use that knowledge to create a happier, healthier marriage.
This book is the public "coming out" party that brought Emotionally Focused Therapy into the public eye. According to the New York Times and Time, Emotionally Focused Therapy has a higher success rate than any other form of marital therapy.
The two key goals of this book are to reestablish an emotional connection that feels "safe" between partners and to preserve spousal attachment.
I can't wait to read this one not only for its amazing reputation amongst other publications, but because every single user-generated review I read basically stated that it should be required reading for everyone who walks down the aisle.
STATUS: Recommended by PsychCentral (one of my go-to psychology sites)
This one is written by a PhD and has sold over a million copies. It was also the foundation for Imago Relationship Therapy (which I'll admit I had to Google).
That doesn't necessarily make it the holy grail, but it darn well doesn't hurt! (I tend to favor books based on research and authority over those based solely on personal experience, not that there isn't a place for both.)
The overall goal of this one is to eliminate negativity from couples' everyday interactions, which sounds like a quite excellent idea. Given the popularity of the book, I'd wager a bet that it's been fairly successful at it as well.
STATUS: Recommended in one of my "book club" FB groups
As advocated in the title, this book goes through the different "needs" people have in a marriage. Ten of them, to be specific.
It goes at these "vital needs" from the perspective of how we can go about meeting the needs in our partners, under the premise that if our needs are met it will reduce the likelihood of extramarital affairs.
My only hesitation with this one is that I can see how the premise could lead to a pretty sexist take on things.
However, I checked the reviews and it didn't appear to have offended anyone (which is almost impossible to do on the internet these days), so on the reading list it went!
If you've read it, drop a comment below with your take on it!
STATUS: Recommended to me an annoying number of times
Seriously, people, stop recommending this book to me. I swear I'm going to read it.
I'm not sure what it is about this book that makes people so eager to shove it in my face...erm...recommend it to me, but apparently it's a reeeealy good book.
The book description totes its practicality, humor, and frank tone of voice, which is, admittedly, right up my alley.
And now I'll leave you to harangue me about reading it some more in the comments section.
STATUS: Recommended in one of my "book club" FB groups
While some of the other books on this list deal with how to keep a marriage from going bad, the premise of this one deals with how to deal with unfulfillment and problems within a marriage that feels like it's already started to degrade.
This is another one on my "to read" list, but all the reviews I've read use words like "straight talking", "innovative", and "practical", so it's definitely piqued my interest.
It was recommended by smart ladies in one of my online "book club" Facebook groups (stop laughing at me...I can hear you laughing...), so I would tend to trust their well-read opinions.
STATUS: Worth reading for the title alone
Okay, I didn't even have to read a single review to know that I wanted to read this book.
Whether it's the murdery undertones or the Shakespearean reference, this author got me before I even opened the darn thing. This might actually jump the line and be my next read.
The author writes from personal experience, toting the "Six Intimacy Skills" she used to turn her own marriage around. In the bio, it says she noticed her marriage going downhill and began interviewing happily women to try to come up with a solution.
Apparently, the solution ran contrary to everything she'd heard about in marriage counseling.
My only hesitation, again, is this one could endorse typical barefoot-and-pregnant stereotypes. Again, I checked the reviews and I think it's "all clear", but I haven't read it yet so I wanted to give you my full disclaimer.
This one seemed pretty extreme in the title department. (Hopefully few marriages have "violence" on their list of problems...more stuff like "won't take out the darned trash"...)
However, I love the premise of the book: bettering communication based on consciousness, language, means of influence, and communication styles.
I should also mention that this is another one written by a PhD communication expert with a resume the size of my pile of unfolded laundry (read: super huge).
Fun fact: the foreword of this book is written by Deepak Chopra.
I'll keep you posted as I finish reading my way through these books, but for now drop me a comment if you've read any of them! Any favorites? Anything you think should have made the list? Let me know!
Founder | Contributor
Liz is a wife, mom, blogger, coder (and unabashed digital nerd), PhD student (and huge psychology geek), workout masochist, and occasional human being. She founded The Stay Sane Mom after marrying into the role of stepmom to a preteen girl (and Instagram addict) and shortly thereafter having her first bio kid (now a toddlernado supreme). Her goal is to provide tools and support to help other capable, sleep-deprived, soul-hungry moms master their domains so they have the time and energy to be more than just 'mom'.
Stay Sane Mom gives support to the over-worked, under-slept, marker-stained, soul-hungry moms of the world, so they can be more than just "mom".
You just want to keep the house clean, have a happy marriage, raise functional kids, and still have a little left in the tank to be a real person as well.
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