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- We rounded up books from a variety of experts that explain why marriage is so hard and how you can strengthen your relationship.
- The authors touch on topics including infidelity, personality clashes, and even time-management.
- Each one provides tips that you can implement starting today.
Marriage is complicated. That’s a given.
So it helps to take a comprehensive look at the whole institution: When did we start having such high expectations for our partners? How do we fall for people who drive us crazy in the long run? Why in the world do we think about cheating if our relationship looks perfect?
The authors of the five books below – whose ranks include a psychotherapist, a productivity researcher, and a social psychologist – draw on their unique expertise to come up with some answers to these and other important questions. Their insights will help you look with fresh eyes at your own partnership and get inspired to change it for the better.
Read on for the books that will help strengthen your marriage.
‘The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work’ by Eli J. Finkel
This book breaks down into two parts: an exploration of the historical factors that make marriage so hard and a series of creative strategies for strengthening your relationship.
“All-or-nothing marriage” is the term Finkel – a social psychologist – and his colleagues developed to describe modern relationships. We’re placing more expectations on our relationships than ever before – we want our partner to be our best friend, our lover, our intellectual sparring partner, maybe our co-parent – while simultaneously investing less time and energy in the relationship. The inevitable result is that we’re disappointed.
What to do? Well, for one, consider asking less of your relationship. (Really!) Maybe your partner isn’t the type to have philosophical debates late into the night; maybe you’ve got a friend who loves to do that.
Or, consider not asking so much of your relationship right now, if things are especially stressful. Maybe you just had a baby or maybe you’re under a lot of pressure at work. Adjusting your expectations and being realistic about what the relationship can do for you at this point in time is key.
‘The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity’ by Esther Perel
Esther Perel is something of a celebrity couples therapist – she’s the author of the bestselling book “Mating in Captivity,” she’s given hit TED Talks, and she’s the host of an audio series titled, “Where Should We Begin?“
Now, Perel has sunk her teeth into the subject of cheating, drawing on 30 years of experience to explain everything from how a couple recovers from infidelity to why infidelity can occur even in seemingly happy relationships.
Perel is strikingly insightful. On the topic of why people in happy relationships cheat, she explains that it can be a form of “self-seeking,” as opposed to an attempt to escape the other person. And on the topic of recovery from cheating, Perel says something good can come out of the process: the restoration of honesty and passion.
Regardless of whether you’ve been personally affected by infidelity – and Perel says most people have been – the book will make you rethink your understanding of human intimacy and relationships.
‘The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin
Rubin is another well-known voice in the self-improvement domain. She’s the author of multiple bestselling books, including “The Happiness Project,” and she hosts the podcast “Happier With Gretchen Rubin.”
“The Four Tendencies” isn’t about romantic relationships per se – instead it’s a look at how your personality type affects your life in general. But Rubin does put these personality types in the relationship context, in order to help readers understand why they’re attracted to certain people and why the same conflicts keep popping up with their partners.
For example, “obligers” – people who meet outer expectations but don’t always meet inner ones – often pair up with “rebels” – who resist both inner and outer expectations. And while “upholders” – who meet both inner and outer expectations- may be initially attracted to rebels, eventually they’ll start to clash. (All these labels get less confusing once you sit down to read the book.)
Rubin does a good job of helping readers become more tolerant of people who are different from them – especially if that person is their spouse – and of helping them figure out how to manage those differences effectively.
‘The New I Do : Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels’ by Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson
It’s 2017, and the institution of marriage is ripe for some shaking up.
Enter Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson, a therapist and a journalist who say couples should shape their partnership to suit their unique needs and wants – and leave room for those needs and wants to change over time.
The authors lay out a long – but by no means exhaustive – list of alternatives to the traditional marriage, including the parenting marriage and the safety marriage. In one, you get married because you want to raise kids together; in the other you get married for financial security, companionship, or similar reasons.
Pease Gadoua and Larson also suggest drafting up a “relationship contract” with your partner and renewing it annually – an idea that was featured in a New York Times “Modern Love” column. That way, you’re always on the same page regarding your expectations for each other.
‘I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time’ by Laura Vanderkam
Time-management is one of the most underrated skills for married couples and families. Just think what a more peaceful household you’d have if everyone could get things done efficiently, at work and at home.
There’s hardly anyone better to give advice on this topic than Laura Vanderkam, who is the author of multiple books on time-management, a wife, and the mother of four young kids.
In researching “I Know How She Does It,” Vanderkam had high-earning women keep time logs for a few weeks (a total of 1,001 days for all the women). Then she analyzed trends in those logs to see what the rest of us could learn.
Some insights: It’s OK to work on the weekends. It may actually give you more time to spend with your family. If you log on for a few hours on Sunday, for example, you may be able to leave an hour early every workday to pick up your kids from school.
And start thinking of your life in 168-hour chunks, as opposed to 24-hour chunks. Even if you spend Monday through Wednesday traveling and don’t get to see your spouse or kids, you might spend Thursday through Sunday hanging out with them all day. And that’s fine.
Take the time to figure out what works for you and your partner – then put it into action.