reading lists

The 6 Best Books for a Healthy Relationship, According to Authors and Psychiatrists

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Listen: we’re not suggesting you buy your significant other a book on how to achieve a healthier relationship for Valentine’s Day. Chocolates or flowers will likely yield better results. But in case the holiday has you taking stock of the state of things, we’ve assembled a list of books that’ll help you and your partner better discuss frustrations, improve your sex lives, and work through big fights. We consulted a bevy of relationship savants, including Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology and the co-author of Modern Romance; Guy Winch, the author of How to Fix a Broken Heart; Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of Stumbling on Happiness; Neil Rosenthal, therapist and the author of Love, Sex and Staying Warm; Susan Gadoua, the co-author of The New I Do; Dr. John Gottman, a psychological researcher and the co-author of Eight Dates; Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist and author of Bad Boys; Peter Fraenkel, psychiatrist and author of Sync Your Relationship, Save Your Marriage; Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Love Sense; Esther Perel, therapist and host of relationship podcast Where Should We Begin?; Jeanne Safer, a psychotherapist and author of Forgiving and Not Forgiving, Laurie Watson, sex therapist and author of Wanting Sex Again; Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages; Ellen Wachtel, a psychologist and author of We Love Each Other, But …; Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a psychologist and co-author of Loving Bravely; Ty Tashiro, the author of Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome. As always, we’ve only included books on our list if they’ve been recommended by at least two of our experts.

Six of our experts cited The All-or-Nothing Marriage, by Eli Finkel — which combines a historical overview of marriage from 1620 to the present with practical hacks to improve communication and responsiveness — as one of their favorite books on improving romantic relationships. Esther Perel put it in her top five, as did Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Alexandra Solomon, Eric Klinenberg, Susan Gadoua, and Daniel Gilbert. “Experimental psychologist Eli Finkel is the nation’s preeminent scholar of relationships,” says Gilbert. “His book explains how marriage has evolved over centuries, why the best marriages today are better than those of the past, and what people can do to increase the odds that their marriage will be one of them. No one knows more about this topic than Finkel, and his data-based prescriptions are both important and provocative.” Says Gottman: “The book surprises us with the history of relationships, and helps us see how they have evolved today. The new challenge is to be able to support our partner’s dreams.”

Five of our experts — Laurie Watson, Jeanne Safer, Peter Fraenkel, Alexandra Solomon, and Guy Winch — recommended Perel’s Mating in Captivity. Perel, a New York City therapist (and the host of the popular relationship podcast Where Should We Begin?) analyzes the (paradoxical) relationship between domesticity and sexual desire, and gives helpful advice on how to create more exciting sex in long-term relationships. “This book is mandatory reading for lovers! Esther has a brilliant mind and she’s a beautiful writer. This book will help you cultivate both closeness and passion with your partner,” says Dr. Solomon. “Perel’s first book brings much-needed nuance and complexity to understanding the factors that lead to sexual boredom and how to overcome it,” says Frankel: “How to sustain creativity and passion in a relationship, particularly in the couple’s sexual relationship.”

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Dr. Carole Lieberman and Guy Winch both recommend Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. The book — a practical, step-by-step manual — helps people figure out which of five “love languages” (affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch) their partner speaks, and how to use that knowledge to better communicate with them. Says Gadoua: “This book has proven invaluable as a tool for clients in understanding that we all have different ways of feeling loved. One partner may give kind words because that’s what he needs in order to feel loved, but his partner may need quality time instead. Giving what your mate needs rather than what you need increases your chances of feeling connected.” “This book is a perennial best seller and has been for decades,” says Winch. “ And for good reason. It’s simple, short, and effective.”

Julie Gottman and Dr. Sue Johnson both recommended Come As You Are, by women’s sexuality instructor (and Ph.D.) Emily Nagoski. The book explores why and how women’s sexuality works, based on research and brain science. “This book is down-to-earth and encourages women to define their own version of their sexuality,” says Dr. Johnson. Gottman adds: “Nagoski, aided by the best available scientific data, unravels what women really need in their relationship to heat up sexual desire. Hint: It is not female Viagra.”