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: For Better….For Worse
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 For Better….For Worse
Gottman, John, Julie Schwartz Gottman, Doug Abrams, and Rachel Carlton Abrams. Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Workman Publishing, 2018.
Whether you are staring out with your sweetie, or are looking to get more serious, this book from the Gottmans’ and the Abrams’ will give you lots to talk about. The book covers eight areas (trust and commitment, conflict, sex and intimacy, work, family, fun and adventure, growth, and spirituality, and dreams) important for couples to discuss to grow in intimacy and understanding of one another. The authors suggest making a date out of each conversation area; hence, eight dates. Ideas are provided for in-home and out-of-home dates, as well as dates that are easy to afford or free. The chapters are short and sweet with real couples who tested the dates sharing their experiences and feelings about them. Date instructions are complimented with exercises and discussion bullet lists. Each chapter closes with a bulleted chapter summary. If you read straight through cover-to-cover, it won’t take long to read. If readers take time to digest, soak up useful exercises and discussion points for their relationship, map out dates, then the book provides that potential for deep learning of one another. If you’re a long-standing pair, you may already know a fair amount about your partner, but this can be a chance for renewal and attentive connection with one another; a check-in, because as the authors stress, we all change. The book closes with a call for cherishing your partner as that will not only benefit you but will also provide a ripple effect to your extended network, including any descendants.
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.
Heller, Diane Poole. The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Relationships. Sounds True, 2019.
Early experiences pool into our implicit memory, shaping how we are inclined to interact in adult relationships. Unstable or neglectful bonds or abandoments from people we should have been able to depend on as children leave people with relational trauma. Essentially, trauma is disconnection, and the residual effects of trauma ricochet through people’s physical bodies and intimacy-seeking behaviors with other people. People might look for intimacy and constant reassurance (ambivalent/anxious), discount and minimize love from a partner because it feels too good to be true, or feel suffocated by and allergic to when they reach a level of intimacy (avoidant). Heller, who was once a student of world-respected trauma expert Peter A. Levine, expresses her expertise and knowledge about attachment style. Not only do attachment styles have research validity, but if we are willing to practice new skills in our relationship, we can actually overcome insecure attachment. After discussing the background information of attachment styles, Heller devotes healthy-length chapters to each attachment style. The most three discussed in the literature are secure, anxious, and avoidant. Profiles of each style are presented. Because secure attachment is the gold standard (our natural birthright had trauma not interrupted), after characteristics of secure attachment are provided, Heller presents twelve key secure attachment skills! These are behaviors like listening, repair, being present, maintaining eye contact, and attending to the good (notice the positive). Disorganized attachment (vacillation between anxious and avoidant attachments) is also profiled. Beautifully, Heller ties the secure attachment skills most relevant to the insecure attachments inside each of the insecure chapters as well. Lists of questions at the end of each attachment style quickly help readers identify which styles sound familiar to them or a partner. The final chapter discusses how all of the attachment styles function in romantic relationships, hallmarks of secure couples, and how to use attachment theory to find a partner. The three biggest things to cherish about this book: Disorganized attachment, where a person vacillates between ambivalent and avoidant attachment, is covered. If people recognize themselves as coming and going between avoidant and ambivalent tendencies, at the that chapter holds the potential to illuminate their course of self-growth and more secure attachment. Exercises throughout the book reinforce the route to secure attachment and harness the power of secure attachment by recalling loving people. Most wonderfully, Heller connects attachment with bodywork and body awareness to help people seek connecting.
Johnson, Sue. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown, and 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 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!
Leahy, Monica Mendez. 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married. McGraw-Hill, 2004. ***
How do you deal with your emotions? Do you like to have a well-planned itinerary or travel without much planning? How do you need to be shown affection? How have your past relationships shaped who you are and your outlook on life? Do you want children? Sitting down with your sweetie to discuss these and more might feel like more like an exercise in dumping an ice bucket on passion, but the more you understand one another sooner before making any life decision whether moving in or marrying will either save you heartache or make your relationship that much more solid. Leahy keeps the text light with the hope readers talk. She organizes lists of questions into chapters such as “Your Past” (Family of Origin), “Children”, “Perspectives” (topics like religion, careers, political beliefs), “Daily Life & Lifestyles”, “Physical Intimacy”, and “Emotional Intimacy”. Questions surrounding special circumstances (marrying a non-citizen, marrying someone of a different generation) are also included. In a final section called “Marriage Builders or Breakers”, Leahy also pragmatically discusses scenarios a couple might want to either part or spread out their relationship timeline, habits that place wedges between couples, and brief information on communication. A to-the-point marriage primer that can be used to supplement premarital/couple’s therapy or even in place of it if extenuating circumstances make professional support not an option.
*** Personal Sidenote : Yes, my sweetie and I went through this book before the question was officially popped. It was incredibly important to me given what I saw in my family of origin to do marriage preparation of some sort, and it was much more affordable for us than couple’s therapy at the time. No, it did not save us from every quarrel, but it gave us a more solid footing of understanding in one another.
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: For Better….For Worse
Richo, David. When the Past is Present: Healing the Emotional Wounds that Sabotage Our Relationships. Shambhala Publications, 2008.
Transference replicates the experience and feelings of earlier relationships on to new individuals in our lives who somehow mirror a former attachment figure, usually a parent but could also be someone like a former romantic partner “seen” in a new partner. Transference is both a bad and a good thing: negative transference can create distressing, confrontational patterns of blocked intimacy. When awareness of transference is present, the transference itself provides data and analysis to actually provide the chance to deepen self-growth, self-kindness, and stronger relationships where real intimacy (“into you I see”) lives and loves. Richo delves deeply into what transference is and how we can become self-aware of it and use it to fuel our relational growth. Richo covers a lot of psychological ground: somatic experiences of pain, understanding of transference, grief work, Buddhist acceptance and non-attachment, mindfulness, and loving kindness are all logically linked together in the quest to harness the power of transference as a data source holding the key to more equal and intimate relationships. When we can utilize the skills Richo offers to be more in tune with ourselves and stand in our own right, without projecting as much onto others of our strength and experience, we enrich our ability to live an authentic and connected lives both with ourselves and others. This book is both good for individual work and could also be used for couples to discuss and understand how they transfer earlier experiences onto one another and how they can truly see one another and relate to one another more authentically.
See Also: Family of Origin
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: For Better….For Worse
Solomon, Alexandra H. Loving Bravely: 20 Lessons of Self-Discovery to Help You Get the Love You Want. New Harbinger Publications, 2017.
In order to truly love another, we have to know ourselves and then segue that self-awareness into practice in our relationships. Solomon collects of a wealth of research from social scientists, some of whom are also practicing clinicians. The chapters are brief but full of research, real couples’ stories, Solomon’s wisdom, and close with exercises designed to boost self-knowledge and loving practice in your relationship. Exploring family of origin patterns, short-changing our loved ones with minimized presence due to technology, effective boundaries that are neither too rigid nor loose, mindfulness, and practicing responses instead of reactions are some of the chapters. Solomon clusters the lessons around four main principles: self-reflection, self-awareness, self-expression, and self-expansion. The central process for self-awareness in Loving Bravely is Name-Connect-Choose. After identifying and giving voice to the truth in our experiences, we must connect to their deeper and central emotional nuances. Having paused and reflected, we then give space to the story and the emotion, and we are then in a position to choose our response. We can make a choice in how we will use our self-knowledge to (you guessed it!) love bravely and authentically with ourselves and with another. When we can truly be ourselves in the world and state our needs and desires and can hold space for another, we truly love ourselves and we can truly love another person. One appendix providing an overview of trauma and another devoted to help readers locate a therapist round out the volume. Readers’ bar of their relational self-awareness will move rapidly toward the sky after this book.
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: For Better….For Worse
Boeder, Ellen. “Emotional Safety is Necessary for Emotional Connection.” Gottman Institute, 4 Aug. 2017, https://www.gottman.com/blog/emotional-safety-is-necessary-for-emotional-connection/
DiDonato, Theresa A. “Which Trajectory Describes Your Relationship?” Psychology Today, 9 June 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meet-catch-and-keep/202006/which-trajectory-describes-your-relationship
Gallagher, Shaun. “A Marriage Registry is More Crucial Than a Wedding Registry.” Psychology Today, 29 May 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/experimenting-babies/201905/marriage-registry-is-more-crucial-wedding-registry
Feuerman, Marni. “The Surprising Ways Unhealthy Childhood Attachment Tricks You Into Giving Up On True Love”. Your Tango, https://www.yourtango.com/experts/marni-feuerman/what-is-attachment-theory-explain-why-people-settle-for-unhealthy-relationships-when-want-find-true-love
Firestone, Lisa. “How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship.” Psychology Today, 30 July 2013, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship
Gaspard, Terry. “How to Nurture Emotional and Sexual Intimacy.” Patheos, 18 Dec. 2019, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/terrygaspard/2019/12/how-to-nurture-emotional-and-sexual-intimacy-and-fall-in-love-again/
Gunther, Randi. “10 Ways Long-Term Couples Work to Keep Their Love Alive.” Psychology Today, 14 June 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rediscovering-love/201906/10-ways-long-term-couples-work-keep-their-love-alive
Higgins, Liz. “Debunking 5 Myths About Premarital Conflict.” Gottman Institute, 11 Nov. 2016, https://www.gottman.com/blog/debunking-5-myths-about-premarital-conflict/
Higgins, Liz. “Marriage is Not a Big Thing; It’s a Million Little Things.” Gottman Institute, 24 July 2017, https://www.gottman.com/blog/marriage-not-big-thing-million-little-things/
Howard, Laken. “How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Love Life.” Bustle, 27 Nov. 2018, https://www.bustle.com/p/how-your-attachment-style-affects-your-love-life-according-to-experts-13112637
Johnson, Sue. “14 Ways to Create the Best Relationship of Your Life.” Alanis, 16 Oct. 2015, https://alanis.com/news/14-ways-to-create-the-best-relationship-of-your-life
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
MacCutcheon, Megan. “Intention Isn’t Everything: 7 Ways to Inadvertently Invalidate Feelings.” Good Therapy, 25 Oct. 2017, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/intention-isnt-everything-7-ways-to-inadvertently-invalidate-feelings-1025175
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
Steelman, Liz. ” 4 Lessons to Learn from People Who Moved in with Their Partners ‘Way Too Soon'” [“What Makes Cohabitation Work – No Matter the Timing”. Apartment Therapy, 24 Oct 2019, https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/cohabitating-early-expert-tips-36655763
“Setting Boundaries: Healthy Relationships.” LoveisRespect.org, https://www.loveisrespect.org/healthy-relationships/setting-boundaries/
Steber, Carolyn. “How Suppressing Your Emotions Can Affect Your Mental Health.” Bustle, 17 Oct. 2019, https://www.bustle.com/p/how-suppressing-your-emotions-in-a-relationship-can-affect-your-health-19215688
Tierney, John and Roy F. Baumeister. “Negativity Can Ruin a Relationship.” The Atlantic, 9 Jan. 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/01/negativity-can-ruin-relationships/604597/
Winch, Guy. “10 Common Relationship Myths (And Why They’re All Wrong)”. Psychology Today, 19 Aug. 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201508/10-common-relationship-myths-and-why-theyre-all-wrong
Wylde, Kaitlyn. “4 Resources for Couples Who Can’t Afford Couple’s Therapy.” Bustle, 26 Nov. 2019, https://www.bustle.com/p/4-resources-for-couples-who-cant-afford-couples-therapy-19374491