Books about Relationships

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  • Hello, 

    I'm wondering if anyone has ever read and gone through the diagnostics in a book called 'Too Good To Leave Too Bad To Stay'. I've been reading it over the course of months. I finished it and answered most of the questions-some need some pondering. The book states 'If there was even one guideline that points to leaving then you would be happier leaving' and 'If no guidelines point to leaving you would be happier if you stayed'. Well, even despite the few questions I've yet to answer, I have 4 in the leave 'column'. I have a hard time with the all or nothing of it. Mainly because there would be even more in the 'leave' column if we hadn't gone to therapy and he didn't work on himself. However, there are some lingering problems which make these last few questions hard to answer. So, what was your ' take' on what the guidelines told you? Did you have some in the 'leave' column but things turned out good anyway? If so, what were the guidelines that told you to leave and how did these things change? Also, has anyone ever discovered that there were NO guidelines telling you to leave? This book promises clarity but I'm not there. Am I right to take this with a grain of salt, just a tool to asking tough and meaningful questions that could provide insight as to what is really important? Or am I just afraid to rip off the band aid?

    I bought that book after months--years, really--of questioning whether to stay or leave. It asks questions worth pondering--but as many friends and my therapist kept telling me, you can't FIGURE this one out. You'll either gradually shift toward a place of feeling much more that it's right to leave than stay, or you and your spouse will continue to shift toward each other and staying will feel like the better option. After my spouse and I acknowledged that neither of us was happy, we sat with and tried to resolve our respective feelings of ambivalence for more than two years. We did couples therapy for more than a year. Throughout this time, I also did a lot of work on my own: individual therapy (including EMDR to treat old patterns resulting from past trauma), Al-Anon meetings (spouse is not a drinker, but these meetings have helped me through many tough issues in my life), and meditating. I talked with close friends and let them challenge my reasons for leaving as well as my reasons for staying. I took breaks where I just tried to forget about the question of staying or leaving and had fun. I read Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson, and my spouse and I attended a Hold Me Tight Workshop, which was enormously helpful to both of us. (GREAT workshop--and you don't have to be in crisis to use it and the book to strengthen your relationship or help you resolve differences, arguments, wounds, etc.) Our therapist recently gave us a helpful analogy: I couldn't understand why my spouse couldn't make certain shifts that I needed, and the therapist said, "Sometimes a person has been bending and bending toward you for a long time, and your request to bend just a little further feels to the the other that it will break them. What looks to you like just a little shift is actually too much, because would add to all the stress they're already feeling." Do you two agree on what needs fixing in the relationship? Are you both willing to make changes for that to happen? Will these shifts help you to be more vulnerable with each other? To grow as individuals but also grow with each other? I'm glad we didn't just "rip off the bandaid" a year or two ago. I've grown so much in these past two years, and so has my spouse--but we've continued to clarify what's not working, and to grow apart. We've now arrived at a fairly mutual decision to end the relationship. 

    I studied that book like it was an LSAT prep workbook. I went over all the questions and answers multiple times and I kept coming up with 3/4 leave and 1/4 stay. I stayed anyway. A year later I found out he had been cheating for a couple years. So then I did leave—with great regret about the time I wasted with him. I think the book asks very good, thoughtful questions, but it can never really decide for you because to stay or go is to a large degree an emotional decision. My suggestion is that you talk with a therapist. The book is a really good starting place for things to think about but, if it leaves you still totally conflicted, maybe talking to someone about it would help.

    I would be leery of relying on one book to tell me if I should stay or go. What do your heart and mind say?

    I thought that book was very helpful, though in the end my own experience was that I still had to go through quite a long process before I felt sure about my decision to seek divorce. I read that book at least a year before I made my decision and there were several checks in the 'leave' column. We also went through lots of therapy; personally, I found the book more helpful because it was more concrete and specific about what I should be thinking about in figuring out what makes a relationship worth saving. The book didn't make the decision for me, but it did give me more confidence as I moved forward through the process. And retrospectively, now about two years past the decision, I think the book was totally on target regarding the problem issues in my marriage but when I first read it, I just wasn't quite ready move forward. And, for what it's worth, I am now so much happier. Good luck. Every marriage is different, but honor your process, whatever it is, and an answer will eventually become clear. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Related Pages

Books about long-term relationships that survived

Oct 2009

Hello wise list, My marriage is going through its trials and I've been returning to my first love, fiction. I'd love some recommendations for books about long term relationships that go through the flames and work themselves out in the end. Any kindling to toss onto the pile? Books were my first love

Books were my first love as well... The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my all-time favorites & has gotten me through some rough relationship spots as well... Wishing you well, KC

Wow, that's a really interesting question. I am an obsessive fiction reader, but it's a challenge to think of books that meet your needs--narrative tend to thrive on conflict, disruption, and loss, alas. However, I do have a few ideas: first of all, anything by Laurie Colwin (the two I have read are ''A Big Wind Knocked It Over'' and ''Goodbye Without Leaving''). She's one of the few authors I know who writes about people actually finding happiness, in a smart, funny, un-sentimental way. ''How to be Good'' by Nick Hornby definitely chronicles a marriage that goes through the wringer and out the other side, again in a smart and funny way. (His ''A Long Way Down'' is also touching and hilarious.) Scanning my bookcase, a few more suggestions: ''The Echo Makers'' by Richard Powers, ''Empire Falls'' by Richard Russo. Might want to look at Anne Tyler's work too...I'll re-post if I think of more, and I look forward to reading others' suggestions!

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. One of the best books I read last year. Tina

i am currently reading a book called Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. It just won the Pullitzer. The book is about a long term relationship.

I highly recommend ''Necklace of Kisses'' by Francesca Lia Block - she is a beautiful writer and weaves a wonderful story that I think will fit your request quite well. ''Magical-realist-style-meets-Los Angeles'' (i.e. if Isabelle Allende grew up in 80's punk & new wave scene in LA and was now looking back over her marriage and children...) -An Oaklandish Reader

this isn't fiction (i didn't see the original post) but someone recommended ''the marriage map'' on this network recently for someone whose marriage was going through problems. and after reading the book i wish i'd seen it years ago--it says that most relationships have to go through rocky periods where people get over the idea of being one mind-one heart whatever, to compromising, to being realistic and accepting your own and their shortcomings to asserting your own independence in the marriage...ending in something incredibly strong and rich in if you can make it through. so maybe it is useful? good luck! anon

Fighting all the time since 2nd child was born

Sept 2009

My husband and I recently had our second child and have been fighting all the time. We'd like to see a therapist who can help us develop tools to solve problems (not just listen to us talk). We feel like we need an objective third party to help with some of our arguments. Thank you!

I don't have a therapist to recommend, but I highly recommend the book ''The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work'' by John Gottman, and Nan Silver. You can also check out John Gottman's work on his website anon

Romance novels to get me in the mood

Oct 2007

Looking for some lite, well written/enjoyable to read romance novel recs - to help me, a middle-age woman get more in the mood for sex - and to feel sexy...Nothing too out there. Now I understand why my Grandma loved her Harlequin, I guess. need some sexy inspiration

Try Anais Nin (author). anon

Try Herotica. They've published a series of books of short story erotica specifically for women. Pleasurable reading to you!

Anything by Stephanie Lauren is going to be super-sensual, if you can ignore the choppy writing. But... my favorites are by Christina Dodd, Julia Quinn, and Eloisa James. Zebra & Kensington are decent publishers owned by the same company -- Zebra I think is mostly Regency/Historical. The Nerd books are fun, and also look for anything by Jennifer Crusie. Betsy

My mom and I have both REALLY enjoyed the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I finally gave in and stopped rolling my eyes at the romance novel aspect of it, about a quarter of the way through the first novel (of six). It's got really good plot - historical, engaging, mysterious - and it is certainly steamy. Enjoy! jen

Pretty much anything by Nora Roberts does it for me. (And I'm a guy! -- you know this is going to be anonymous!) a

Try Amorous Woman, a new novel by local author Donna George Storey. It's smart, sexy, and even educational, as Storey weaves in lots of fascinating details about Japanese culture. You can order it at the author's website,

Techniques to improve communication

May 2006

I'm in a ten-year relationship and we've both got some bad habits around communication. I really want couples counseling, but my partner is phobic. He's worried it will consist of a therapist and me ganging up on him. I insist that it's mostly to find some tools and get practice using them- relationship tools we really need. Resistance persists. So now I'm wondering if there are any good books that lay out techniques and tools for couples to improve communication and intimacy. I'm thinking this could be a valid first step. Thanks for your recommendations. anonymous

One book that may help is called Passionate Marriage : Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David Schnarch, PhD. It has some techniques and anectodatal stories about couples and their relationship patterns. It may be different than what you are thinking, but it might help. kb

Book on Couples Communication

Oct 2005

I'm looking for some good books on working out communication problems in a marriage...especially something my husband will relate to and maybe actually read. Seems we're not listening well to one another and we keep repeating the same arguments/patterns. I think he's experiencing some of the same problems at work, and he might be more likely to read a business book on communication skills. But I welcome any recommendations on the subject. Thanks.

Try ''You just don't understand: women and men in Conversation'' by Deborah Tannen. (Amazon link: ). In this book, Tannen talks about how men and women have different conversation styles resulting from how we learned to converse within our same-gender peer groups as children. It's a very interesting book based on linguistic and behavioral research and will help each of you understand where the other person is coming from. (It also discusses conversation in the workplace which should help your husband too.) This book has really helped me converse with my husband and other men. Hope this helps! female anon

I have the most amazing book to recommend to you -- something that helped my husband and I in SO many ways (and it sounds like we were in a similar situation as you). It's called ''Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples,'' by Harville Hendrix. This is a lovingly and intelligently written book, with profound insights into relationships, communication, and the patterns we fall into (and have fallen into since childhood). Dr. Hendrix writes clearly and incisively about relationships, and provides detailed, unbelievably helpful excercises in the back of the book. You'll want to really commit to this -- my husband and I would spend a few hours on the weekend working through the exercises and energy putting them into practice during the week -- but it is WORTH IT, every moment. Our relationship is deeper, healthier, more organic, more fresh and homey than it's ever been, and we've learned to communicate SO WELL! It wasn't hard for either of us to read the book because it is so RIGHT ON that you can't stop reading. Good luck! There's nothing sweeter than true companionship with your partner. happily in love again

I'm almost positive there was another question JUST like this in the past, so first thing check the archives. The book we have found profoundly helpful is by John Gottman - The Seven Principles to Save Your Marriage. It's very straight-forward, not too touchy-feely, and very easy to put into practice. Good Luck

We used ''Getting the Love you Want'' or something like that - the author is Harville Hendrix. It sounds very cheesy and self-helpy, but it has some great exercises in there for learning better communication habits. xx

Hello, -- I have read a lot of books aimed at helping people enhance their communication skills and improve relationships at work and at home. There are so many great ideas out there, and when you find the right approach, it can really open up a new doorway. Without knowing you and your husband personally, I can't say for sure which might be a good match for you, but the one that came to mind reading your posting is called ''Difficult Conversations''. It gives a very concise and elegant breakdown of the patterns and layers of communicating. And it provides concrete and clear ideas about how to avoid the same old problems. It covers work-related and relationship-oriented domains, and so it may be a good resource for both you and your husband.

-- Another book, ''Non-violent Communication,'' is also a great look at how we do and don't talk to one another. My sense from your description is that your husband may not take to the very (VERY) earnest and ''touchy-feely'' approach of ''Non Violent Communication.'' But again, I would not presume to know what will work for each of you. It is a wealth of wisdom.

-- Best of luck to you both. It's hard work that really pays off. As a therapist and life coach, I have seen a lot of couples and individuals transform their lives by developing the very skills and capacities that you and your husband are working on. If you ever decide to try some couples coaching or therapy, or if you just want more book recommendations, feel free to contact me. David

I highly recommend The Relationship Handbook, by Dr. George Pransky. This small volume is filled with stories of actual clients being worked with using Principle-Based Learning, a hopeful and powerful approach to life issues. I coach couples using the Principles myself and have never failed to have this little book be stunningly appropriate and effective. If follow up in person would be useful, you can call me, Julie Gleeson, The Art of Living, Inc., at (925) 256-7636. (And, my husband and I are living testaments to it's effectiveness. We are still married at 22 years and going strong, even though at year 5 we were ready for divorce!) Julie

Dr. Phil's Relationship Rescue....excellent if you both read it and do the exercises...can save a marriage. K

Jonathan Gottman's books for couples are very accessible to both men and women. He has written several, but here are a couple:

They are easy to read and very down to earth. Pam Zelnik, MFT

Two books I found helpful, written by men, are How Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman, and Dr. Phil's Relationship Rescue. Dr. Phil has a single page (near the end of the book, I think) for reluctant men to read. Stu

I would recommend a few sessions with a couples therapist. It is a little pricier than buying a book but very effective. My husband and I went to see Eike Diebold in Berkeley some time ago and went for about four sessions and learned SO MUCH about how to better communicate with one another. It did wonders for us - something to consider... anon

Books about communication and marriage

Dec 2003

My husband and I have been married for 16 years and are, by and large, very happy together. We've been through a lot and really grown as partners. But we seem to have persistent little communications glitches that are really getting in our way and that lead to distance and irritations that we'd really rather not have. It's frustrating to both of us because we share a strong bond, but it's the little things that are wearing us down. We don't have the time or inclination for therapy right now, but would like to read a book together that could be helpful in this arena. I tried to search for ''marriage/ communication'' books on, but many of them seemed to come from a Christian perspective, which made me wary. (we are not Christian) Any great relationship books out there which BPN members have found useful?

There are several books by a guy named John Gottman that my husband read and shared parts of with me. Gottman has a pretty scientific approach --he gives results of a lot of studies which purport to be very objective -- which seems to appeal to many men (hopefully I'm not over-generalizing). I thought the books were helpful to us (though we did then also go to therapy and that was much more helpful). I'm not sure which one(s) to recommend; you might just glance through a couple at the bookstore and see if they appeal to you. Good luck. anon

I guess you will get lots of recommendations. Here is my list:
- Non violent communication workshops( ) (books and local workshops available at )
- PAIRS couples communcation workshops(
- Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus by John Gray All the best. anon

I have the perfect book for you: ''The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A practical guide from the counntry's foremost relationship expert'' - by John Gottman, Ph.D. I teach interpersonal communication to college students and have had trouble, before this book came out, teaching about marriage and family communication with any conviction. Most marriage therapy teaches basic communication (which Gottman points out is actually not very helpful or successful). Gottman's book was written using 25 years of research in his ''love lab.'' This book provides the only statistically proven methods for improving communication in marriage, that I have found. My students love this section of the class and it has also been invaluable for my husband and myself. Gottman also provides tools (actual activities) that help you both relate to each other in a different and more fulfilling way. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in making an active effort to boost the nature of their committed relationships. Let me know if you have any questions. DrHaltman

I would recommend the John Gottman book, ''Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work'', and the book ''Passionate Marriage''. The Mars/Venus book is also helpful -- John Gray. anonymous

While it is written from a Christian perspective, I would recommend The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate -- by Gary Chapman. Not identifying as a Christian myself, I was able to overlook that perspective and get a lot of really helpful information about communicating with a partner. It is very insightful in helping you understand that each of us communicates in various ways, assuming that everyone else puts the same importance on the same things as us. I've recommended this book to several people, and all have enjoyed it. In fact, I'm thinking about buying it for my parents as a Christmas gift because I think it's a book all people should read. Katie

I once heard a tape of Harville Hendricks about marriage and communication. His ideas made sense to me. He has retreats that people go to, but I know that's not what you want. There must be books out there. Good Luck! anon

Hi, If you are looking for an alternative book on communication, one that has been helpful to me in many ways is, ''Teachings on Love'' by Thich Naht Hanh.

It is a book based on Buddhist ideas, but is written in a very practical and simple way. It helps both me and my partner to have more compassion toward each other and to listen without judgement. My partner is not keen on traditional therapy or books that are titled, ''communication for couples'' or the like, so this was a perfect way to get him/us working on our communication without being so overt. Good luck. trying to be mindful

I recently read ''Grown-Up Marriage.'' I don't remember the author's name, but I found it at the local library. It doesn't address communication issues specifically, but I thought it gave some good perspectives and advice about the value of continuing to work on your marriage even when you're not sure you want to anymore.

Here are some very helpful books on marriage, communication etc., which I often use with clients as well:

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work : A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert by John M. Gottman (Author), Nan Silver

The Relationship Cure : A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships by Ph.D. John Gottman (Author)

After the Honeymoon by Daniel Wile is good for those interested in diving in a bit more deeply.

Best to you. Pamela Zelnik, M.F.T.

I think its neat that you and your husband want to keep searching out new ways to grow together and improve your relationship. I recommend Schnarch, ''A Passionate Marriage''. Very good book re the underlying issues that cause communication problems. Best book I have ever read on relationships -- has really helped my husband and I (and has been recommended by many people over time on this newsletter). I think that reading something that helps you to understand why you have ''communication'' issues might be much more helpful than a book on differences in communication style between men and women, or whatever. Just my opinion. Married, happy, and always growing

There's a book called ''Fighting for your Jewish Marriage'' (in case you're Jewish). It is by therapists and includes a chapter on ''Creating a positive Jewish identity that supports your marriage.'' The rest of the book is on communication. If you aren't Jewish, it's still good, but you could also try ''Fighting for Your Marriage.'' Joel Crohn, one of the authors of the Jewish book and a local therapist, told me that his book uses research to help focus on dealing with gender roles, work, raising children, how to ''fight right'' and overcoming disagreements. He sometimes speaks locally. One thing he told me is that research shows that being a part of any spiritual community supports marriage and increases the likelihood that you'll stay married. Basically we don't ''do'' community much anymore, and that structure of extended human support takes pressure off your partner to be all things to you, which is humanly impossible, thus supporting you and your marriage. dawn

I know that you really want a book and don't have the time for therapy sessions. However, one time-saving aspect of the sessions I offer is that I will come to you so you can both be in a familiar, comfortable environment. I offer mediation and good communication techniques which I can teach you without it taking a lot of time. Testimonials from satisfied couples available. I charge $75 for a full hour. Please call or email if you would like to further this conversation. Lindy

here are some books i've liked:
fighting for your marriage passionate marriage the new couple getting the love you want he's scared she's scared the seven principles for making marriage work
(the last i haven't read fully but you find they all tend to say the same thing). also negotiation books are good (getting to yes, for instance). they help, good luck! anon