Chapman, Gary. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Northfield Publishing, 1992. *
Chapman argues that in order for people to feel loved, their partners need to speak their love language. If love is not transmitted through the appropriate channel, a person’s “love tank” will remain empty, beckoning conflict and feelings of depravity. The five languages are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. The chapters are quick reads and provide introductions of what happens when the “in-love” state recedes and love tanks aren’t pumped full of the early feelings of romantic love. One chapter is devoted to explanation of each love language and a real-life illustration of at least one couple. The later chapters teach readers how to discover their love language (hint: your primary love language is most likely the opposite of your chief complaint in your relationship) and advise people on understanding love as a choice we can choose to continue with anyone. We can even continue loving someone who is unkind to us. There are two caveats to keep in mind with this book: where there are endnotes, it is often scripture, and that is quite different from academic literature generated conducting experiments using the scientific method. The second caveat is the chapter on loving someone who is unkind seems like it could approach acceptance of abuse in an extreme circumstance. That being said, if one delves into the academic literature, the love languages have some “construct validity” (a fancy way of saying that their concept has some support for being a thing), although their existence, operation, and functions are far from settled by social scientists. At the very least, this is a great book to get readers thinking about (and maybe even talking with their partners about) what makes for those in the pair feeling loved!
*See Also: Prepare for the Long Haul
de Marneffe, Daphne. The Rough Patch: Marriage and the Art of Living Together. Scribner, 2018.Finkel, Eli J. The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work. Dutton, 2017.
Psychologist de Marneffe (Maternal Desires) normalizes the rough patch of marriage: when we feel mortality’s pull, when we are sandwiched between generations, financially strapped, and needing to communicate more than ever as responsibility makes time scarce. The trick is not denying the turbulence, de Marneffe argues, but rather addressing it with the golden ring. She invokes the golden ring as a place readers can address marital struggles with emotional regulation, benefits of doubt, and as joint problems. Each chapter profiles common issues of contention for couples including money, addiction, and aging. De Marneffe discusses these themes via couples’ stories, including some same-sex couples. She orients to the attachment perspective: we need to depend safely on loved ones from birth, and that safety need extends to marriage. De Marneffe closes with encouraging conversation, as it will have people move past the roughness with love, competence, and safety with their spouses. Endnotes are provided on a by-chapter basis. VERDICT A solid choice for readers seeking information about common struggles in marriage, but this book is slim as a how-to. A best choice for readers who have a deep interest in the field of marital therapy and already have some subject-specific knowledge of psychology.
The above review was published in Library Journal and reproduced here with permission from the publication.
Finkel, Eli J. The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work. Dutton, 2017. *
Northwestern professor Eli Finkel’s label “all-or-nothing marriage” signifies his argument that as marriage has shifted from pragmatic (ie, marriage for survival) to love-based to finally self-expressive (helping us meet our authentic selves), the ability to have a great marriage where we reach our dreams has gotten incredibly harder at the same time the reward for doing so has become astronomically great. Picture our marriage needs straddling different altitudes of a mountain: the lower altitude like food and shelter rest at the base, while higher altitude needs climb all the way to the peak where reaching self-expressive, authentic fulfillment in marriage sits at the top. Just as climbing mountains requires oxygen, reaching the peak of marriage requires “oxygen” (investment in the relationships). This “oxygen” is where Dr. Finkel’s research chimes in. His lovehacks and recalibration align with economists’ supply and demand principles of the free market. We can learn research-based tricks for adding more “oxygen” to our relationship (the supply side) via gratitude and global assessment, or in lean self-expression times (unemployment, the survival-only phase of welcoming a newborn) learn to recalibrate (temporarily) our demand of needs from the relationship (expect less). Explaining how society got to a self-expressive marriage encompasses the first three parts of the book. Those readers solely seeking the relationship interventions could squeak by and get a lot out of simply reading the fourth and final part of the book. However, it is worth the time to delve into the American evolution of marriage in the first three parts. Finkel combines theory, research, and specific tasks to help your relationship in an engaging writing style.
*See Also Prepare for the Long Haul
Gottman, John M. and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. Three Rivers Press, 1999. *
John Gottman has spent decades studying couples’ relationships in his Love Lab. He shifted the couple’s therapy field from the creed that teaching communication skills was key to determining through careful research that excellent communication skills alone can’t save a marriage or maintain its contentedness. Gathering physiological data (heart rate, etc) during along with long-term follow-up, Gottman has been able to predict with eerie accuracy if a couple will eventually divorce. In Seven Principles, Gottman shares the principles for a solid, happy marriage that he saw over and over again in his research. To have a loving relationship, some of the things we must do are accept our partner’s influence, solve the solvable problems, find a way to maintain and be content and respectful with one another even in impasses, and get to know our sweetheart’s hopes, dreams, and what makes he or she feel loved (“love map”). This book is recommended for couple’s who are overall emotionally safe with one another as if there is not emotional safety, it would be incredibly difficult for readers to “hear”(read) and implement Gottman’s principles.
Gottman, John, M., Julie Schwartz Gottman, and Joan DeClaire. 10 Lessons to Transform your Marriage. Harmony Books, 2006.
Marriage affords an impeccable petri dish to put our vulnerabilities, insecurities, frustrations, and deepest fears into a changing and growing relational muck. While the muck’s composition is ultimately unique to each couple, mucks have some universal strands organized into ten complaints and criticisms that are discussed chapter by chapter. What this book delivers best is real-time transcribed conversations from real couples went to the Love Lab. Each couple has two conversations about a pressing problem or issue in the relationship. The first conversation in the lab occurs before working with Drs. Gottman, and the second transcribed conversation documents the discussion after counseling. Each conversation is spread out into two columns: the left column is the couple’s actual words, and the right column is John and Julie’s coding (what is a blaming, harsh statement? Did the partner deflect to avoid, or use humor to lighten up a tense moment) into positive or negative for the relationship. These add or subtract from the emotional bank account. Readers get a real-life comparison of each couple’s specific statements to the conversation and what they meant to the relationship. Essentially, it’s real-time, explicit examples of what to avoid or what to do more of. Start thinking like the Gottmans to avoid the four horsemen (contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling) and to build that sound relationship house (see The Couple’s Syllabus review of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work to read about its building materials). The book also has lots of questionnaires to do individually or as a couple to grow understand and connect more deeply.
Johnson, Sue. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown, & Company, 2008. */**
Do you or your sweetie get upset during a fight in a way that seems way out of proportion to the issue at hand, or do you find yourselves having the same fights that start and end the same way over and over again? John Bowlby through attachment theory found that children thrive when their parents are able to respond to their emotions, and Dr. Johnson has discovered and validated through scientific research that adults have the same needs of emotional support and emotional bonding. She argues that our emotions are “music” that spur us into action, and our music collides with our sweetheart’s, and we both act (“dance”). While music can spiral into positive cycles, we can get locked into negative cycles that while on the surface seem to be about an acute, discernible issue, these negative dances are surrounded by deeper, more vulnerable attachment needs. Dr. Johnson walks readers in easy-to-understand language how to have seven-key conversations for understanding our negative interaction cycles, how and when our dances with our partner trigger deep emotions, and most importantly, how we can learn to reach for our partner. When we can hold our partner tight and allow ourselves to be held tight with our deepest emotions, we can shape our interaction cycles and repair and deepen our love relationship.
** Personal Note: My sweetie and I had a decent amount of relationship skills, but NOTHING CAN COMPARE to how close and safe we felt with one another once we learned to have these reaching-for conversations. My regret is not knowing sooner about this. If you decide to read only one book from my syllabus, this would be the one!
Lerner, Harriet. The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships. Harper Collins, 1985.
Too much assertion and expression of anger results in women being disavowed, written off, judged, character maligned. Backing down and showing softer emotions of vulnerability in critical settings may lighten the anxiety that comes along at the start of true change and a shift in relational dynamics, but backing down easily bucks lasting change. As a person attempts to change a relational pattern, countermoves by the other person begins. Countermoves derive from protest driven by anxiety about the familiar patterns no longer remaining the same, and they attempt to get the person asking for change to drop the attempt – that is, to restore relationship homeostasis. Readers get a lot of real life illustration of these patterns in action, and she also discusses triangulations that further complicate relationships in a family system. While there may be two people in direct conflict at least to start, there are always other people circling and interacting with both members of the dyad. Other chapters are devoted to becoming interdependent from our family of origin and considering where our responsibility to sooth, problem-solve and offer advice begins (and ends!). Other than a few triangulation illustrations, the book is entirely text. Readers will find endnotes and an index rounding out the book. Lerner demonstrates that using anger as a tool for change and growth is sometimes not only the healthiest course of action, but also the most vulnerable. This book is a great choice for couples and especially women in a partnership navigating anger with their spouse and extended family members.
Lerner, Harriet Goldhor. The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships. 1989. Perennial Library, 1990.
Like life on earth, intimacy requires a delicate balance of conditions just right within a relatively narrow margin to sustain itself. Instead of the presence of water and neither too hot nor too cold in temperature, Lerner is discussing the we and the me. Both, the individuals and the third-entity we, exist. Too much of me, and the resentment pools and the we collapses without nurturance of acting in consideration and on behalf of another. Too much we, and dreams and needs are denied at the expense of me, and without two functioning me’s that can both assert their power as well as think of another, intimacy won’t flourish. Because of family systems of underfunctioning/overfunctioning, power differentials, and very stereotypical gender messaging (women nurture relationships; men don’t), true intimacy is hard to come by and maintain. Often, it requires deep change, and individuals who make up relationships are rarely on the same “change plane”; that is, the same level of readiness for change. Fear, comfort with the status quo by both (or multiple parties within a family system), and anxiety preclude change toward intimacy.
That individuals collectively maintain a status quo together is a prominent idea in family systems theory. To keep the status quo, families unconsciously develop dynamics like triangulation, which diffuses the stress in a two-person dynamic by placing interaction patterns onto a third person. To avoid feeling the anxiety of uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings, family members can also pull together tightly (enmeshment) or pull away too much into severe distance. The status quo protects against the anxiety of change, the strong emotions, and the work change requires. However, balancing the MEs with the WEs can ultimately make relationships healthier and more intimate. Some of the status quo results from gender differences and who has traditionally held power in our society. Traditionally, the dominant (male) culture does not pay as much attention to the subordinate (female) culture of nurturing, and this is the intersection where women need to learn to assert the changes in their reactions and responses to the status quo.
Lerner guides readers into creating more agency of the self while preserving and blossoming healthy connection. Mostly heterosexual romantic relationships and family relations are featured, but there is one person who is illustrated using Lerner’s principals in coming out to her family. It is a valuable book, one that would do well to be updated (with this original still keeping its place and value) with dynamics and issues pertinent to LGBTQ and mixed-race relationships in mind.
See Also: Family of Origin
Szuchman, Paula, and Jenny Anderson. Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes. Random House, 2011.
With a clever title and a clever aim, Szuchman and Anderson seek to bring a relationship distress recession to your relationship. Each chapter illustrates one economic principle like loss aversion or moral hazard and its history and relevance to society at large and between individuals. Sometimes famous economists are profiled and behavioral economics research is cited. After principal introduction, the chapters segue into case studies of marriages encountering problems where (you guessed) applying research and insight about the economic principle is used to solve the relationship problem. Understanding and implementing solutions are facilitated by graphic tables and charts throughout the book. The book is engaging, attention-keeping, and jovial. Its strength (solutions backed by economics research) is also its weakness: it barely references clinical therapy literature. Dr. John Gottman, easily the most well-known relationship researcher, is only on one page, and his wife Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, an experienced therapist and researcher as well, is completely absent. Backing up behavioral economics research with clinical literature could have given this book more gravitas. However, because behavioral economics looks at how people move in the market (a group of people interacting), readers can look at perpetual or acute relationship problems in a unique lens to hopefully support one another in developing a solution.
*See Also Repair & Apologize
Levine, Amir & Rachel S.F. Heller. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2010.
A date seems hard to reach, or partners in a relationship are bothered quite different expectations for communication, affection, and time spent together. Something is off, and people keep getting hurt and frustrated with one another, but understanding it is fuzzy. Understanding people’s attachment systems lifts the veil where these mismatches are seen with irrevocable new clarity. Anyone on the dating scene looking for long-term love needs to devour this information. Anyone currently in a relationship concerned with discrepancies in desire for closeness will pinpoint their relationship’s attachment styles at play. Attachment theory has many years of empirical support backing its claims that our general attachment style is an interaction between our ease with intimacy and our anxiety when it comes to interacting with other people. And contrary to lots of psychology that shuns codependency, attachment theory argues that codependency is our human state based down to the core of our biological functioning. Human beings need other people for soothing, comfort, and connection for their entire life spans. After a brief history of attachment theory and scientific evidence for its support (blessedly written for the non-scientist), Levine and Heller dive into three of the styles: secure, avoidant, anxious (also known as ambivalent style in lots of literature). In attachment literature a fourth style called disorganized is a combination or vacillation between avoidant and anxious but is not mentioned in this book. Quizzes aid readers in discovering their own and their attachment styles. Profiles of the three styles moving about the world so clear pictures emerge. A relationship where someone has an anxious attachment style and another an avoidant attachment style is particularly grueling for the couple, and an entire section of the book is devoted to how those styles mix so overwhelmingly, how an anxious-avoidant couple can reach for understanding and ultimately security with one another, and how to break up if the relationship has become too toxic and unsalvageable (Levine and Heller describe it at the point that one partner has become “the enemy” to the other). Effective communication and working through conflict round out this work. A main takeaway is that communication can be frightening, especially for those with insecure attachment who may ignore a feeling that something is off because they fear loss, but using direct communication that pays attention to the signals of someone’s attachment style (and how it will interact with one’s own) will truly help readers discern partners where they have a good chance to co-create a healthy relationship or those would likely entail heartbreak (or if a relationship is already in existence, determine how to move forward). Narratives, quizzes, and exercises on relational attachment styles and skills pepper the entire text. Suggested further reading closes down the text save for the subject index. Any person at any stage of co-creating love will benefit from this new “prescription” for seeing the relational world.
See Also: Prepare for the Long Haul
Safer, Jeanne. I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics: How to Protect Your Intimate Relationships in a Poisonous Partisan World. All Points Books, 2019.
Slim books can have an enormous impact in a conversation, and Safer’s is one of those. Healing as a whole yet polarized nation is addressed as healing through intimate relationships. The political has become personal, marring if not ending relationships, and Safer hopes to restore those relationships (a latent political statement in is own right that our relationships are not worth the demise from opposing beliefs). She argues political beliefs have been channeled as a litmus test for morality, goodness, and tenderness when voting record or party affiliation not a benchmark for goodness or decency. Someone of any political orientation can be a fanatic, unkind, inconsiderate, and cruel. We equate political orientation with being a good person when they are not actually the same thing. Safer is not talking the talk while refusing to walk her walk; she is a liberal therapist married for multiple decades to a senior editor at the conservative publication The National Review (spoiler alert: her husband is a conservative). Rather than seeing clients as a couple’s therapist nor a mediator or coach, Safer guides people to recognize the deep emotional origins of surface political disagreement. Her book walks people through recognizing where and how these emotional triggers are inflamed in political debate and how everyone in the relationship contributes to the dynamic. She provides lots of romantic relationship and family cases while hiding identification to illustrate the deep emotional tugging from all parties that propelled continuous battles. Safer wants us to give up conversion of our most intimate loved ones (yes, give up the political battle for the sake of the relationship), determine core values of even those we disagree with, observe how someone treats other intimates including ourselves, and employ specific political-battle-unique relationship tactics to calm the relational waters. These include things like refraining from sending unsolicited political articles to loved ones with the goal of conversion, avoid raising voices (Gottman’s defensiveness), assume the loved ones goodwill (mirrors Gottman’s Positive Sentiment), and accept that political fights are unsolvable problems (mirrors Gottman’s Overcome Gridlock).
See Also: Prepare for the Long Haul
Tatkin, Stan. Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship. New Harbinger, 2011.
The Psychobiological Approach to Couple’s Therapy (PACT) uses both human physiology and psychology to facilitate fighting fairly and kindly for better relationships. Tatkin presents PACT in ten principles for operating in romantic relationships. The primary principle is maintaining a “couple bubble” – full, ultimate influence, decision-making, support, and loyalty is given inside the couple bubble others can’t penetrate. Even individual goals and desires in the couple, while still important, are dulled in service to the relationship. Every other principle scaffolds the couple bubble by helping couples deeply know one another, disagree kindly without acting out triggered primitives who will tilt toward defending oneself and not tending to love, constantly remaining the go-to people for one another in joys and sorrows, and using all of these principles to ultimately heal one another. Tatkin’s principles are bolstered by both our understanding of the brain and its components work and attachment science. In jargon-free language for the nonspecialist, Tatkin explains how different parts of the brain keep us safe. Primitive structures help us act from danger (even if the danger we think we see is not really there), and ambassadors help us act graciously, empathetically, and in cognition with other people. As he explains attachment theory and attachment styles, Tatkin takes care to use non-pathologizing terminology for describing attachment styles beyond “insecure”: anchors (secure), waves (ambivalent/anxious), islands (avoidant). It is important to note that while Tatkin refrains from describing non-secure attachment styles as “insecure”, he is still ultimately striving for couples get to the gold standard of secure (his term: anchor) attachment. The book is laid out well, supplemented with practical exercises, and ties a great deal of subtopics (brain structure, rituals, attachment theory, family systems) and relationship research.
See Also: Prepare for the Long Haul
Young-Eisendrath, Polly. Love Between Equals: Relationship as a Spiritual Path. Shambhala, 2019. *
Young-Eisendrath infuses her Buddhist faith into her clinical work as a therapist. As human beings, we are always operating under the conditions of interdependence, impermanence, and imperfection. We are all connected, despite our denial and our cultural pinnacle of independence. Everything, including our very bodies, will someday be no more. And despite our best efforts for control and perfection, nothing will ever be so. Newly in love, we see our lover through rose-colored glasses and our own glowing possibility. Once the infatuation passes, what we have idealized and overlooked in the relationship now is front and center to make peace with. While this stage often disappoints people, and the most dejected may constantly shuffle from relationship to relationship, the dissolving of that high allows for a truly intimate and loving connection that allows for conflict and disappointment and repair(imperfection), peace with relying on another person (interdependence), and cherishing the time we have together (impermanence). This is a great work that opens up love relationships to study in a Buddhist perspective.
* See Also Repair & Apologize
Most of these articles are going to be free online. If the article is not freely available, I will indicate that. In that case, check with your local librarians! Please first ask your librarian at your local library before buying online – many times you can get an article at no cost through one of your library’s databases or interlibrary loan.
Benson, Kyle. “Relationship Conflict: 9 Signs Yours is Unsolvable and Destructive.” The Good Men Project, August 2020, https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/relationship-conflict-9-signs-yours-is-unsolvable-and-destructive/
Borresen, Kelsey. “The Most Common Marriage Problems That Arise After Ten Years Together.” Huffington Post, 2 Jan. 2019, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/marriage-problems-solutions-10-years_n_5c2a4a80e4b08aaf7a92bcfb
Cohen, Elliot. How Emotional Neglect Damages Relationships.” Psychology Today, 11 Nov. 2013, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-would-aristotle-do/201311/how-emotional-neglect-damages-relationships
Colvin, Caroline. “Here’s How to Build Confidence Before a Big Talk with Your Partner.” Elite Daily, 29 April 2020, https://www.elitedaily.com/p/heres-how-to-build-confidence-before-a-big-talk-with-your-partner-21773387
Gaspard, Terry. “What To Do If You Don’t Trust Each Other.” Gottman Institute, 24 April 2019, https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-to-do-if-you-dont-trust-each-other
Gillen, Katherine. “4 Ways to Deal When You and Your Spouse are Emotionally Exhausted.” Pure Wow, 1 Nov. 2018, https://www.purewow.com/family/emotional-exhaustion-relationship-tips
Glassburn, Sharon. “Relationships and Work Demands: Finding Time to Reconnect.” Good Therapy, 24 Nov. 2015, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/relationships-and-work-demands-finding-time-to-connect-1124145
Gray, Heather. “How to Break the Silence in your Marriage.” The Gottman Institute, 21 April 2017, https://www.gottman.com/blog/break-silence-marriage/
Keller, Rachel. “4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Couple’s Therapy.” Good Therapy, 31 May 2017, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/4-ways-to-get-most-out-of-couples-therapy-0531175
Khalaf, David & Constantino. “4 Ways to Stay Connected During Life Transitions.” Gottman Institute, 22 June 2017, https://www.gottman.com/blog/4-ways-to-stay-connected-during-life-transitions
Manes, Rebecca. “Making Sure Emotional Flooding Doesn’t Capsize Your Relationship.” Gottman Institute, 3 August 2013, https://www.gottman.com/blog/making-sure-emotional-flooding-doesnt-capsize-your-relationship/
Pearl, Reaca. “11 Things That Will Help You Hold Space for Someone.” Good Therapy, 23 May 2017, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/11-things-that-will-help-you-hold-space-for-someone-0523175
Rutherford, Margaret. “It’s Time to Stop the Stigma Around Couple’s Therapy.” Gottman Institute, 1 March 2017, https://www.gottman.com/blog/its-time-to-stop-the-stigma-around-couples-therapy/
Simonsen, David. “No, Getting Married Will Not Make Everything Better.” Good Therapy, 5 Dec. 2017, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/no-getting-married-will-not-make-everything-better-1205174
Taibbi, Robert. “The 5 Most Challenging Moments in Any Long-Term Relationship.” Psychology Today, 22 March 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fixing-families/201903/5-most-challenging-moments-in-any-long-term-relationship
Weiner-Davis, Michele. “Choosing a Marital Therapist.” Divorce Busting, 2009, http://divorcebusting.com/a_choosing_marital_therapist.htm
Weiner-Davis, Michele. “For the Sake of the Kids.” Divorce Busting, 2009, http://divorcebusting.com/a_stay_for_the_kids.htm
Weiner-Davis, Michele. “Walk-Away Wife Syndrome.” Divorce Busting, 2009, http://divorcebusting.com/a_walkaway_wife.htm
Weiner-Davis, Michele. “Where Were You When I Needed You?” Divorce Busting, 2009, http://divorcebusting.com/a_where_were_you.htm
Weiner-Davis, Michele. “Why Should I Be the One to Change?” Divorce Busting, 2009, http://divorcebusting.com/a_why_change.htm
Whiting, Jason. “You Will Never Win Your Political or Relationship Arguments.” Psychology Today, 1 June 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-lies-and-conflict/202007/you-will-never-win-your-political-or-relationship-arguments
Winter, Barbara. “5 Things to Look For When Choosing a Marriage Counselor.” Your Tango, 15 July 2019, https://www.yourtango.com/experts/barbara-winter/how-choose-marriage-counselor-couples-therapy
Wong, Brittany. “So You Lied to Your Partner: Now What?” Huffington Post, 3 Jan. 2020, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-to-tell-partner-you-lied_l_5e0f76d6e4b0b2520d20d9bd?ncid=newsltushpmglifestyle
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