Marriage therapists make the most of the sessions they have with clients who are trying to work through some weighty issues: communication breakdowns, sexual dry spells, emotional labor falling on one spouse’s shoulders.
But a couple’s work doesn’t end the second those sessions are over. Often therapists assign homework, asking their clients to read books that could give them a better understanding of any longstanding marital problems.
HuffPost asked therapists across the country to share the books they recommend most often ― or find themselves returning to in their own relationships. Check out their recs below.
Amazon"This is a timeless book that continues to resonate with couples. It's one of those books you take off the shelf every decade or so to be reminded about the true nature of love: that it is an art that requires knowledge and effort. It is about increasing one's capacity to love, and understanding the confusion between falling in love and the permanent state of being in love. Loving is not simple. It is an art like any other that needs to be practiced on a regular basis, with concentration and patience. This small book will inspire couples to look at their relationships from a new perspective." -- Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, a marriage and family therapist and the author of "A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage: The Essentials for Long-Lasting Togetherness
Get "The Art of Loving" by Erich Fromm
Amazon"The one lesson in this book that really stuck with me -- that I always share with the couples I work with -- is that space creates intimacy and growth for the relationship. Too much togetherness dilutes the curiosity needed in a relationship for it to thrive and grow. In essence, space provides closeness and intimacy. Couples need time apart not only for personal growth but to maintain a healthy dose of independence within the confines of a relationship. And quoting Dr. Perel, 'When intimacy collapses into fusion, it is not a lack of closeness but too much closeness that impedes desire. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection: this is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.' I love that! What I love about her writing is that she is real. She gets it. She has spoken to hundreds of couples and really is an expert." -- Kristin M. Davin, a therapist in New York City
Get "Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence" by Esther Perel
"The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal in Your Relationship"Amazon"This book normalizes a lot of what couples find mysterious. It's based on data obtained from nearly 100,000 people. It's a great tool for couples to level set as they navigate the more complicated parts of their relationships." -- Zach Brittle, a Seattle-based therapist and co-host of the podcast Marriage Therapy Radio
Get "The Normal Bar" by Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz and James Witte
Amazon"The book I recommend to almost every couple client, as well as to many individual clients, is 'Attached.' I firmly believe that an insecure attachment style -- one in which people are either too anxious or too aloof -- is at the root of most relationship problems, especially those with ongoing conflict. What therapists see a lot is one person with abandonment issues in a relationship with someone who needs a lot of distance -- this typically results in chaos and drama that makes both people miserable. I'm amazed at how well the authors distill something as complex as attachment theory so that the reader can easily apply it to their lives. I also love that they give people actionable tools on how to modify an insecure attachment style. The authors go against conventional wisdom by discouraging anxiously attached people from playing hard-to-get games in the beginning of the relationship, which will just attract someone who avoids intimacy. Instead, they urge people with abandonment issues to be transparent about wanting a serious relationship; this will weed out the commitment-phobes, and attract those who are ready for a secure, healthy relationship." -- Virginia Gilbert, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles and the author of "Transcending High-Conflict Divorce
Get "Attached" by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller
Amazon"I was a therapist for years before I found this book, and for a long time I felt hopeless about my work, about relationships and about marriage. Sometimes I sat with couples in my office and thought, 'I'm not sure what to tell you. Get divorced, I guess.' The couple felt hopeless and so did I. And then I found 'Getting the Love You Want.' And it made sense: why couples get together, what they are looking for in a partner, why they argue and that basically we are all fundamentally drawn to someone that we are incompatible with -- this is true for all of us. But now I understood why. We are always going to be drawn to someone who has the capacity to heal us from our childhood wounds. Reading this book, I got it. As a therapist and as someone in a relationship, it was clear to me why I picked my spouse and why we argued, and how to heal and grow from those arguments. I became a better therapist and a better person because of this book." -- Tammy Nelson, a sex and relationship therapist and author of "Getting the Sex You Want"
Get "Getting the Love You Want" by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly
Amazon"This is still my go-to classic. I’ve been using exercises from this book with my clients for over 25 years, and they are as powerful today as they were when the book was written. This is a great book for couples who want to reclaim their sexual and emotional intimacy and for singles who want to attract the love of their life. This book is really good for men and women, and it gives easy, step-by-step techniques that couples can immediately apply to give and get the love they want and need. I highly recommend." -- Sheri Meyers, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles
Get "Make Love Last A Lifetime" by Barbara De Angelis
Amazon"This is a great book for couples who are committed to each other and want to push through the gridlock and disappointment in their relationships. Real does not mince words, and he gets to the heart of why some couples become stuck in negativity and destructive behavior patterns. He helps both parties see that they are responsible for their own contribution as to why the relationship is not working out. As he points out, 'Do you want to be RIGHT, or do you want to be married?' But he doesn't just point out the negatives, he also highlights what he calls 'winning strategies' as he guides his readers into actionable steps that will significantly improve the relationship." -- Linda Lipshutz, a marriage and family therapist in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Get "The New Rules of Marriage" by Terrence Real
Amazon"So many spouses of people with ADHD have no idea how to deal with it. This book is straightforward and down to earth and normalizes and validates the experience of spouses of people with ADHD. If your partner is impulsive, seems to ignore what you say, is all over the place all the time, and frustrates you, read this book. For many of my clients, it is life changing!" -- Samantha Rodman, a psychologist in North Bethesda, Maryland
Get "The ADHD Effect on Marriage" by Melissa Orlov
Amazon"A lot of the individuals and partnerships that come into my office find themselves repeating patterns and struggling with harmful belief systems. They're caught in harmful and unconscious power struggles and believe they can keep agreements that are unrealistic (but maybe feel romantic). These couples have a lot of confusion around boundaries, intention and individuality vs. separateness. This book is practical, accessible, easy to relate to and apply, and provides clear examples to explain patterns and see the ways in which we all bring our projections to our relationships." -- Jesse Kahn, the director and therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City
Get "Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment" by Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks
Amazon"After 30 years as a marriage therapist, Gary Chapman came to realize that the word 'love' is a verb, implying action, and that you can't love another person unless you are doing things for them that ultimately make them feel loved. He noted that not all individuals value the same actions, but five categories seem to cover everyone's needs. These are the five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and gifts. Some people only need one of them, some all, and others two or three, but it is these loving actions that make a partner's heart sing, To knock your vow to love out of the park, you have to know your spouse's love languages and practice them numerous times a week. I can't count the couples who have told me they wish they had learned them sooner." -- Becky Whetstone, marriage and family therapist in Texas and Little Rock, Arkansas
Get "The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts" by Gary Chapman
Amazon"While emotions and attachment styles aren't the most exciting subjects for some people, men in particular, this book presents them in a more approachable manner: conversations. We all have emotions, even though some us pretend otherwise, and they effect everything we do, especially our relationships. Better understanding our emotional selves and how we form relationship attachments and emotional bonds with others, specifically our partner, is a huge piece of getting the love we want." -- Kurt Smith, a Roseville, California-based therapist who specializes in counseling men
Get "Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love" by Sue Johnson
Amazon"I keep copies in my office to practice the skills, which include expressing appreciation, coordinating chores, planning for good times, and addressing problems and challenges. The communication skills enable a couple to address and resolve small problems so they don't fester into huge resentments. The author does a fantastic job of illustrating softening one's request for change until it's one your spouse is willing and able to make." -- Dorie Rosenberg, a marriage and family therapist in San Rafael, California
Get "Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love" by Marcia Naomi Berger
Amazon"This book is not only great for couples, it's great for communication in general. It has several great sections that are specifically devoted to couples. One of the parts I like involves a technique that is very useful for couples when they're arguing or discussing a tense topic: When you start to hear frustration or defensiveness in your partner's voice, gently suggest that you'd like to pause for a moment to really confirm that you totally understand what they're saying and how they're feeling. The book goes further into detail about the technique, but this step alone will often disarm your partner if they can see that you truly want to focus on understanding them rather than just winning an argument." -- Chloe Carmichael, a psychologist in New York City
Get "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High" by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
Amazon"Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) has been proven to be the most helpful couple therapy approach. Given that my clients respond so positively to EFT, I often recommend this book to those who want a deeper understanding of our work together. There are difficult-to-explain concepts broken down really well in the book for the layperson to grasp. I see this book as going 'behind the curtain' to learn what a couples therapist does to help them get out of dysfunctional patterns, defensive behavior, fighting and disconnection. The case studies that are woven throughout the book show off the skill set and wisdom the authors possess." -- Marni Feuerman, a psychotherapist in Boca Raton, Florida and the author of "Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart About Healthy Relationships"
Get "Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy for Dummies" by Brent Bradley and James Furrow
Amazon"This is my go-to book to recommend to couples and probably always will be. The Gottmans have taken years of research and evidence of exactly what makes relationships succeed and compiled it into easy-to follow steps. It’s the perfect handbook for how to help your relationship not only get better, but thrive." -- Danielle Massi, a marriage and family therapist in Philadelphia
Get "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver