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My 10 Favorite Relationship Books

It’s all about relationships! Relationships between people who matter most are core to health and well-being.

I just finished writing a Journal of Family Nursing editorial for the Feb 2011 issue about the importance of relationships in family nursing. Whether you are a health care professional who focuses on healing relationships, a researcher who studies relationships, or an individual or couple who wants to improve your intimate relationship, these 10 books offer a wealth of information for both clinical and personal application.

My 10 favorite relationship books are a step beyond the usual genre of self-help books about relationships.  The authors are skilled clinicians, therapists, researchers, and teachers. I’ve attended their conference presentations, workshops, and training events.  I’ve recommended their books to couples and families.  I’ve given their books as wedding gifts, shower gifts, and baby gifts. The core belief of these books is that the skills needed to sustain and improve intimate, long-term relationships can be learned. Isn’t that great news?


1. The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Workby Terrence Real (2008).  My husband and I attended Terry’s “Couple’s Intensive” workshop and his therapeutic conversations with us provided healing and hope.  Terry is a gifted therapist, author, and workshop facilitator.  He offers a systemic reformulation of ideas like boundaries and self-esteem and shows how these individual dynamics influence couple dynamics and interactional patterns. Another favorite book of mine by Terry Realis, “How Can I Get Through to You?  Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and   Women” (2002). For more information see Real Relational Solutions:

2. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Loveby Sue Johnson (2008).  Based on attachment theory, Dr. Sue Johnson takes the reader inside the therapeutic conversations between the therapist and the couple to explain the key therapeutic ideas of her model, Emotionally Focused Therapy, developed over two decades of practice with couples and research about the practice.  In the “Play and Practice” section of each chapter, she invites the reader to reflect on his/her own intimate relationship. The focus of this book is on helping a couple create and sustain a secure, intimate, loving bond with each other. For more information about the book see:

3. How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny (2008).  This book offers several counter-intuitive ideas for improving intimate relationships that shift the focus away from the usual advice about the need to “communicate more” and instead focus on new ways of thinking and experimenting with new ways of behaving.  Dr. Pat Love and Dr. Steve Stosny offer a very readable book that names fear and shame as obstacles to connection and compassion and provides specific, concrete recommendations and strategies for change. For more information about Steven Stosny’s remarkable healing work with anger and emotional abuse see:

4. And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After the Baby Arrives by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman (2008). Dr. John Gottman’s landmark research with couples found that the birth of the first child is often associated with decreased marital satisfaction in 70% of couples.  This book focuses on ways to strengthen and maintain the couple bond during the important transition to parenthood. For more information about Gottman’s Bringing Baby Home program see:

5. Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: America’s Love Lab Experts Share Their Strategies for Strengthening Your Relationshipby John M. Gottman, Julie Schwartz Gottman, and Joan Declaire (2007).  Based on Dr. John Gottman’s program of research over two decades with couples, this book distills the key behaviors of successful “master” couples that can be learned:  5:1 ratio; the softened startup; avoiding the Four Horsemen; accepting influence; avoiding gridlock over perpetual issues, etc. For more information about Gottman’s research findings and workshops see The Gottman Relationship Institute:  View a videoclip of Dr. John Gottman talking about his “Love Lab” research:

6. Why Him? Why Her?: How to Find and Keep Lasting Love by Helen E. Fisher (2010).  Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist who offers an evolutionary explanation of many aspects of intimate relationships including attraction, mating, sexuality, infidelity, etc. For more information see Dr. Helen Fisher’s website:  View a videoclip of Dr. Helen Fisher talking about her research about love relationships:

7. Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel (2007).  Esther Perel challenges a dominant belief about the importance of familiarity and comfort in the intimate relationship and argues instead that it is distance that invites curiosity and nurtures eroticism.  She provides many useful examples from her own clinical practice with couples. For more information see Dr. Perel’s website:

8. How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To by Janis Abrahms Spring (2005).  The concept of forgiveness in close relationships is fully and boldly explored in this book. Dr. Abrahams Spring challenges our societal beliefs about forgiveness and offers ways to heal from interpersonal injury without the requirement to forgive or necessarily have reconciliation of the broken relationship.  Examples from her clinical practice are offered to illustrate four types of forgiveness. For more information see Dr. Abrahms Spring’s website:

9. For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope (2010).  A New York Times journalist, Tara Parker-Pope, articulately summarizes the research about what is currently known about success in intimate relationships and includes suggestions and implications for improving relationships from many well known studies. For more information about the author see:

10. Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carole Tavris and Elliot Aronson (2007). This book is an exception to the “favorite list” in that it is not a book specifically written about improving relationships per se. The authors examine why admitting mistakes is perceived to be so difficult. Dr. Tavris and Dr. Aronson elegantly summarize the research on cognitive dissonance to show how self-justification and pride create obstacles in relationships at many levels from the personal to the international. They argue for courage to disclose mistakes and for willingness to take full responsibility when mistakes occur because these are the moral choices that make healing and growth possible.  For more information about Dr. Carol Tavris see:

Janice M. Bell, RN, PhD