This is a list of the top 10 books that I recommend to clients, both in individual and couples counseling. Each one provides a unique way to better understand who you are and how you typically act within relationships. You don’t have to be in a relationship for these books to be helpful; in fact, if you read these books before you get into a relationship, you’re much likelier to attract the right person. Even more importantly, you’ll know ways to stay happy and connected once you find the person for you.
This book is truly life-changing. You will finally understand why you picked your partner, even though they often trigger you and may seem like the worst possible choice for you on many levels. Hint: it has to do with repeating familiar patterns from your childhood. There are wonderful exercises as well, for you and your partner to do together to make you feel closer.
Another worldview changer. This book discusses the concept of attachment panic,which explains why you may feel so anxious and off-balance when your partner withdraws or acts distant. This is a completely normal response for human beings, and Dr. Johnson explains how you and your partner can get out of this “dance” of closeness-withdrawal and genuinely connect on a level you did not think was possible.
For couples who are struggling with one or both partners experiencing low sexual desire, this is a wonderful, resource-filled book that provides education, clinical examples, and practical ways to jumpstart a fulfilling physical relationship. Whether your decreased desire stems from boredom, deep seated hurt and lack of trust, or biological reasons, this book can provide you with new hope.
4. The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You
Are you a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Do you need your alone time, hate chaos and loud noise, and feel overwhelmed and stressed when your routine is disrupted? Whether you are partnered with another HSP or someone who constantly feels that you’re “making a big deal out of nothing” and entreats you to “just go with the flow,” you need this book. It can help you learn to get the most out of your intimate relationships, while being true to yourself and your needs.
5. The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa Orlov
Since ADHD affects 4 percent of adults, there are many readers out there who want to learn how to deal with this issue within their relationships. Even if you just suspect your partner may have ADHD, read this book. For spouses of individuals with ADHD, this book can save your sanity. Finally you see that it’s not just you being hyper-critical; ADHD truly has a devastating impact on marriages if partners do not work together to ameliorate some of its effects. Also discusses the phenomenon of the hyper-focused courtship, where someone with ADHD becomes focused on the relationship to the exclusion of all else, which feels great for the partner. Soon after marriage though, focus often switches to something else, and the partner feels bereft. Sound familiar? Get the book.
6. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman
This classic book explain how have partners often different “love languages,” which means that what is meaningful and loving to one may not what is valued by the other. It’s wasted effort and harmful to your relationship if you keep giving someone what they don’t want, e.g. planning surprises for a guy who prefers affectionate touch, or doing the dishes for a woman who would rather hear verbal expressions of love. This book helps you figure out your love language and that of your partner, and how to use this idea to create a closer connection.
7. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last by John Gottman
John Gottman is one of the most respected and renowned relationship researchers of our time. In this book, he guides you through figuring out what you’re doing right and wrong within your marriage, using self-tests (do you love quizzes? I do) and straightforward advice. This book is science-based yet easy to understand, and will give you concrete advice to help your relationship thrive.
8. The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love by Ty Tashiro
Ty Tashiro was a professor on my dissertation committee! And even if he hadn’t been, I would have loved reading his acccessible, yet research-based book about why we pick our partners. He discusses why our decision making abilities, so effective in other realms of life, often lead us astray in the area of choosing a partner, and what we can do about this. And he’s funny too. Singles will have a special preference for this book, because they are still in the choosing-a-partner process.
9. Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel
Why do people eventually stop connecting physically and romantically after a few years or so of being together? I am coining the word monotogamy to refer to this phenomenon, and although Esther Perel doesn’t mention this word (because I invented it yesterday), she has written a fascinating, un-put-downable book rife with clinical examples that show why relationships fall into a stale and boring pattern, with creative solutions to rekindling your desire.
10. Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love by Dorothy Tennov
Did you know that evolutionarily, we are only expected to remain passionate about our lover (the feeling of infatuation or limerence) for two years, so that the couple can stay together long enough to conceive a baby and raise it for it’s first year of life? We are wired to become virtually obsessed with new partners, particularly when it’s uncertain whether they reciprocate our feelings. This is truly an eye-opening read about why people become so infatuated with their crushes and new partners. It was published in 1979, but has become a classic and is just as relevant today.