The 25 Best
Books on Marriage
Improve Your Relationship With These Books
We've spent years exploring the science and practice of marriage. It started from our own frustration. We thought marriage would be easy. We thought amazing sex would naturally happen.
We were wrong.
Like most couples, we quickly found out that marriage is more like learning an instrument or training for a sport. It requires work. It requires shifting out of bad habits. And it requires using the best tools to thrive together.
This journey led us to interview over 100 people about their marriages. It led us to consult with the world's top scientists and marriage therapists. Along the way, we compiled our list of favorite books across all categories of love, relationships, and marriage.
So here it is: our 25 favorite books.
We've arranged our list around four primary categories:
- Best General Marriage Books -- These are books that offer a perfect starting point and cover all areas of relationships.
- Best Books on Managing Emotions in Relationships -- These books focus on the emotional game of making your relationship work.
- Best Sex and Intimacy Books -- These are our favorite books for taking your intimacy and sex life to the next level.
- Best Self Improvement for Marriage Books -- These are the must-own self improvement books to show up in your marriage as your best self.
Best General Marriage Books
1. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
By John Gottman
The Big Idea: John Gottman pioneered the scientific study of marriage. This classic book is like a manual for having a healthy marriage. You learn what not to do: avoid the "four horsemen" of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. More important, you learn what to do instead. Gottman emphasizes the power of practices like admiration, appreciation, and friendship. Here, he introduces his now famous 5 to 1 ratio. It's the idea that thriving marriages have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions.
One Key Takeaway: You can get better at fighting. Sounds strange, right? But Gottman argues that the key is to begin difficult conversations with a "softened start up." Start with kindness and respect, in other words, and your arguments will become less exhausting and more productive.
2. The Five Love Languages
By Gary Chapman
The Big Idea: Here's another classic. Chapman changed the game of relationships with this book. His big insight was that we all receive love in different ways. Some people love receiving gifts. But others prefer to have their partner clean up the yard or do all the dishes. This book dispels the mystery by identifying the five primary love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch. Once you know your partner's love languages and your partner knows yours, you become far more skillful at giving and receiving love.
One Key Takeaway: Many couples are stuck in a cycle where they are trying to express love but speaking in different languages. Chapman likens this to speaking English and Chinese. They're both effective languages but, if you don't understand the other language, you can't truly connect with your partner. When you identify each others' love languages, however, you start speaking the same language again. And that leads to greater connection, intimacy, and understanding.
3. The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Relationship
By Nate and Kaley Klemp
The Big Idea: OK, so full disclosure: this is our book. But here’s the thing. We wrote this book because we felt like no other authors had explored the unique context of modern marriage. In particular, nobody had addressed the question all modern couples face: how can you be equals and in love? Our book shows why the ordinary habit of striving for 50/50 fairness breaks down and leads to resentment. We offer a new, better, model of marriage based on the idea of radical generosity. The book is full of practical tools and exercises to create this new mindset of radical generosity. It also offers the tools to create a structure of priorities, boundaries, roles, power, and sex that will allow you and your partner to achieve shared success together as a couple.
One Key Takeaway: Striving for 80/80 radical generosity may sound impossible. But what we found through over 100 interviews is that a single radically generous act creates a contagious upward spiral. It breaks the cycle of resentment and invites your partner to become more engaged, connected, and radically generous toward you.
4. The Meaning of Marriage
By Timothy and Kathy Keller
The Big Idea: This is a more spiritual, Christian-centered, approach to marriage. The Keller's present marriage as a spiritual journey that we undertake with our partner. It’s a way for two spiritual friends to deepen in their connection to each other and their connection to faith. Along the way, the Keller's identify several essential marriage skills. These are things like seeing the “gold“ in your partner instead of fixating on their flaws and the importance of telling each other those difficult truths that we often withhold. In the end, marriage can be a journey where we grow together, heal together, and deepen our spiritual lives with each other.
One Key Takeaway: This book encourages us to let go of one of the most problematic myths of marriage: the idea that you need a “compatible" spouse. It's an idea that creates a self-centered view of marriage as an instrument of personal fulfillment. The Keller's remind us that compatibility is an illusion and that we're better off embracing our differences.
5. Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment
By Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks
The Big Idea: Why do we so easily get caught in conflict, passive aggressiveness, and other self-destructive behaviors in relationships? This book offers a revolutionary set of answers. It shows that we easily slip into “unconscious" and destructive patterns: we fail to hold our partners accountable, we get caught in emotional patterns inherited from our parents, or we replay old trauma patterns from childhood. The Hendricks' is alternative is to become “conscious.” In practice, this calls on us to shift from the accidental habits we inherit to a new phase of “co-commitment.” Instead of letting the patterns of childhood and our parents run the show, in other words, we become conscious creators of our relationship together with these tools.
One Key Takeaway: You are 100% responsible for your experience of marriage. This might just be the most radical and transformative idea in the book. It’s an idea that shifts us from a mindset of being a victim or “at the effect of" our partner to seeing how we are also responsible for creating the problematic patterns in our relationship. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is the path to liberation in relationships.
Best Books on Managing
Emotions in Relationships
1. Getting the Love You Want
By Harville Hendrix
The Big Idea: Ever feel like all sorts of “unconscious“ patterns run the show of your life and marriage? That’s the focus of this book. Hendrix tells us that our default wiring in relationships is the byproduct of childhood patterns and wounds. These patterns are often unconscious, sitting beneath the radar of our awareness. And yet, for most of us, they run the show. This is the core idea behind his "Imago” theory. And what’s amazing about this book is that it offers a way to shift from doing relationships in a “unconscious” way to becoming “conscious.” This shift takes us out of the “old brain“ and into a “new brain" where our goal is to use our experience of relationships to grow and heal ourselves together.
One Key Takeaway: Our goal in marriage is to become our partner's healer. “We go against our instinct," says Hendrix, "to focus on our own needs and make a conscious choice to focus on theirs.” This is a transformational idea. It means that your path to healing isn’t something your partner gives you. It's something you give them.
2. Wired for Love
By Stan Tatkin
The Big Idea: We are caught in a cultural moment where most couples view themselves through what Tatkin calls the “autonomy model." This is the model where we see our own individual needs as being more important than the needs of our shared life together. Tatkin offers a better alternative. This book explores a “mutuality model," where partners prioritize their “couple bubble“ over their individual needs or the needs of other people and projects outside of their system. This way of thinking about relationships and marriage helps create connection and security, a safe place where both partners can find refuge from the craziness of modern life.
One Key Takeaway: Consider Tatkin's idea of “thirds." Thirds are external family members, children, friends, or even projects outside the system of marriage that exert influence. Think your mother-in-law guilt-tripping you into spending an extra week on vacation with them. One key to a happy marriage, says Tatkin, is to prioritize your needs of your "couple bubble" over these external “thirds."
3. Hold Me Tight
By Sue Johnson
The Big Idea: This book is based on the widely-held psychological premise that we are wired for attachment with one another in relationships. We want to feel close, secure, and safe. When we lose this feeling of security, all sorts of bad things happen. We go into a kind of panic response that leaves us wallowing in resentment, conflicts, and other destructive behaviors. How can we build attachment? That’s the brilliance of this book. Johnson outlines seven core “conversations“ couples can engage in to build back this sense of safety and connection.
One Key Takeaway: Forgiveness is the key. When it comes to dealing with the aftershocks of past harms in relationships, Johnson emphasizes that forgiveness may be the only path back to love and connection. It’s a fascinating idea to consider. Where are you still holding a grudge? How could forgiving your partner open up new worlds of love and connection?
4. I Need Your Love -- Is That True?
By Byron Katie
The Big Idea: Ready for a radical take on relationships? Katie's book illustrates one of the most problematic human tendencies when it comes to relationships: our insatiable desire for love and approval. This desire for approval leads to all sorts of dysfunctional behaviors. It fuels the part of us that feels jealous, resentful, or passive aggressive. It turns love into a kind of market exchange, where I love you only if you love me back in the right ways. What’s the alternative? For Katie, it's to begin questioning your thoughts so that you can let go of this compulsion toward approval. Once you become the source of your own love and approval, you can love your partner in a new, healthier, way.
One Key Takeaway: Give your partner the gift you wish to receive. This is one of the most powerful tools to come out of this approach. If you want a more loving partner, show your partner more love. If you want a partner who really listens to you, really listen to your partner. Flipping your judgments about your partner around to yourself turns out to be the key to changing your experience of relationships.
5. Fair Play
By Eve Rodsky
The Big Idea: Here’s a book that doesn’t fit neatly into one of our four categories. Rodsky's book is built around the idea that most couples struggle because of a failure to balance their roles and responsibilities. In the book, she offers an alternative to this modern predicament of “role confusion." It’s a system where you divide the top 100 roles, responsibilities, and to-dos in a more intentional way. The goal is to create balance, accountability, and to streamline the sheer chaos of sharing a life together. It's also a countervailing force against the norms of our culture that leave women doing more (a lot more) in most households.
One Key Takeaway: Thriving couples embrace “unicorn space." This is Rodsky's term for time set aside for fun, play, and exploration. In modern life, most of us have squandered away any type of “unicorn space.” By using her approach, however, the goal is to open up more of this time for creative exploration in life.
Best Sex and Intimacy Books
1. Mating in Captivity
By Esther Perel
The Big Idea: This book might just be the ultimate philosophical treatise on sex, intimacy, and eroticism in the modern age. It points to a fundamental tension in relationships. On the one side, we want safety, stability, and security from our relationships. But, as Perel points out, stability isn’t all that sexy. In fact, eroticism and amazing sex often requires the opposite: adventure, risk, and uncertainty. How do we reconcile these competing values? Perel encourages us to carve out time for the risk and adventure of eroticism. She also helpfully explores the value of sexual fantasy.
One Key Takeaway: Here’s how you can create space for wild moments of amazing sex and eroticism. Instead of setting up a date night from 6 PM to 9 PM on Friday, where you rush out the door and then rush back to make it in time to pay your babysitter, consider an open-ended evening. See if you can set it up so you don’t have to pick up your kids until the next morning. By creating more space, you open up new possibilities for the wildness and uncertainty of sexual desire to flourish.
2. Come As You Are
By Emily Nagoski
The Big Idea: Here’s a book that explores the science of sex, its interaction with the broader culture, and specific tools and tips for enhancing eroticism. It starts with a fascinating exploration of the sexual hardware we all use for arousal and pleasure. It then explores the interaction between emotions and sex as well as broader cultural influences. In the end, Nagoski makes a compelling argument that the key to amazing sex, has less to do with the way you use your body and more to do with how you feel about your body. Self love, in other words, might just be the key to outrageously good sex.
One Key Takeaway: Consider the idea of "nonconcordance." It’s a fancy way of saying that, especially for women, feeling turned on is only partly physical. It’s not just about what’s happening in your genitals. True arousal is more holistic and often requires opening up your breath, letting go of muscle tension, and releasing the hold of negative emotional patterns and self criticism.
3. Passionate Marriage
By David Schnarch
The Big Idea: There's a tension we all experience around sex and relationships. We're trying to be individuals and to find our own sense of meaning and purpose. At the same time, we enter into a relationship out of the desire for "togetherness." We want to be part of something bigger. Schnarch tells us that the key to a passionate marriage lies in striking a balance between these two urges. How does this relate to sex? The claim here is that we have to be stable as individuals before we can have amazing sex. Instead of looking to our partner as the source of our self worth, we need to find this source in ourselves. And the result will be heightened desire and eroticism.
One Key Takeaway: Keep your eyes open during sex. This is a radical suggestion because many of us tend to close our eyes as a way of "checking out" to the full intensity of the experience. Try keeping your eyes open in the midst of ecstatic pleasure. Then, see what happens.
4. The Guide to Getting it On!
By Paul Joannides
The Big Idea: Let’s face it, we’ve all been through boring lectures on anatomy and sex education. This guide takes a more lighthearted and fun approach. It walks you through all the basics of male and female anatomy. It also explores all the areas of sex and eroticism that you can imagine. What we love about this guide is that it's grounded in the real experiences of couples with helpful anecdotes and interviews. It also goes beyond the purely tactical exploration of sex, shining a light on important questions like “How do you explain sex to your kids?" or “What do you do when your erotic system crashes?"
One Key Takeaway: What’s the greatest barrier to amazing sex? For many couples, it's the sense of guilt and shame that keeps them from having an open conversation about desire, fantasy, and all things erotic. Perhaps the greatest takeaway of this book is that it opens up this conversation in a new and playful way.
5. The Enlightened Sex Manual
By David Deida
The Big Idea: David Deida offers a unique perspective on the reason so many couples find it difficult to experience amazing intimacy. In his view, it all starts from failure to create energetic polarity: the explosive charge the results from one partner embracing the feminine qualities of surrender and the other partner in bracing the masculine qualities of open awareness and presence (see his The Way of the Superior Man for more). In this book, however, Deida goes deeper into the nuts and bolts – pun intended – of using sex as a vehicle to ecstatic states of pleasure and spiritual opening.
One Key Takeaway: The breath opens the gateway to sexual desire. When our breath is tight and closed, our bodies mirror this state of closure and the whole thing just isn't very sexy. To open up greater levels of sexual desire, we must also open the breath. This book offers all sorts of powerful practices for doing just that.
6. The Multi-Orgasmic Couple
By Mantak Chia, Maneewan Chia, Douglas Abrams, and Rachel Carlton Abrams
The Big Idea: Montak Chia is one of the world's leading teachers of Taoist sexuality. Over the last 20 years, he has brought to the West all sorts of new techniques for harnessing the power of sexual energy. Perhaps his greatest contribution is the idea of becoming “multi orgasmic." For women, this involves a shift in mindset as well as all sorts of technical tactics for extending pleasure. For men, this requires changing the conventional way you think about orgasm.
One Key Takeaway: Sex doesn’t have to be a race to orgasm. It can be more like a long and luxurious saunter through the park, where the goal isn’t to reach the finish line but to enjoy yourselves and connect along the way.
Best Self Improvement for Marriage
1. The Wisdom of the Enneagram
By Don Riso and Russ Hudson
The Big Idea: True, this isn’t a marriage book. But this book, perhaps more than any other, changed our experience of marriage. The Enneagram is a personality system based on nine primary types. Each type has a distinct motivation and unique way of falling into stressful patterns and destructive behaviors. That's why understanding your type and your partner's type can radically transform your experience of marriage. Knowing how you and your partner get into trouble, gives you greater awareness. And, with awareness, you now have the power to choose a more skillful course of action. The moment we understood each other's personality types, we felt as though we opened a whole new world of connection.
One Key Takeaway: Use this book to identify your type and your partner's type. Then learn about your Enneagram types together so you can become more aware of how both of you get in your own way and how you can grow together as a couple.
2. Loving What Is
By Byron Katie
The Big Idea: This book helps you explore two monumental inner transformations that may not only change your marriage but also your life. The first is a shift in thinking. Katie shows us how we live under the unconscious grip of stressful beliefs and stories about the world that we rarely question. Her inner technology -- "The Work" -- offers a way to begin releasing the hold of these stories by questioning them. The second big innovation here is Katie's idea that your partner (and the world), is really just a mirror image of your own mind. We see our partner as controlling when we are controlling. We see them as defensive when we're defensive. The big upshot of this insight is that change starts at home. You can shift the annoying qualities in your partner by first shifting them in yourself. It's a true revelation.
One Key Takeaway: All of your complaints about your partner turn out to be invitations to do your own work. “My partner should respect me" turns around to “I should respect my partner." “My partner doesn’t love me enough,” turns around to “I don’t love my partner enough.” At first, this may sound totally crazy. But by flipping your thoughts about your partner upside down, you unlock the key to change in relationships and marriage.
3. How to Meditate
By Pema Chodron
The Big Idea: When it comes to self improvement practices that enhance the culture of marriage, mindfulness and meditation sits at the very top of the list. This once esoteric practice is now backed by over 20 years of rock-solid neuroscience. It’s a practice that boosts focus, resilience, and overall well-being. In the context of marriage, mindfulness creates an essential space between stimulus and response, between the moment your partner says something that lands wrong and the moment you lash out at them (or not). How can you begin building a mindfulness practice? This book is the perfect starting point. It walks you through the basics of starting a daily mindfulness and meditation practice.
One Key Takeaway: STAY. This might just be the most powerful lesson we learn from Chödrön's approach to mindfulness. Instead of trying to transform anxiety, sadness, or irritation into an ecstatic state, she encourages us to cultivate our ability to stay and become present with the sensations that arise in these uncomfortable states. The result is a powerful new ability to be with whatever arises in the mind. It’s a mindfulness superpower that changes the game of marriage and relationships.
4. Radical Acceptance
By Tara Brach
The Big Idea: You’ve probably heard the expression, “You must love yourself before you can love another." This book offers what might just be the essential tool for self-compassion and self-love: radical acceptance. This concept is radical because we're wired to resist and reject the thoughts, emotions, states, and even parts of our body that we see as “problems.” Real healing and transformation arises when we are able to drop this resistance. But how do we do that? That’s the practice of radical acceptance. It's how we can begin to let go into a place of acceptance and learning to be OK with things as they are.
One Key Takeaway: Practice saying “yes" to life. The opposite of radical acceptance is our habitual mindset of saying “no" to everything in life that we judge as bad. The “yes" practice is all about reversing this hardwired tendency by bringing a gentle “yes" to things as they arise in marriage, in relationships, and in life.