Books offer a path to who we can become and to the type of relationship we can create.
For this reason, I am addicted to books on how to have better relationships and become a better person overall. As the new year starts, I want to share my top ten favorite books I read in 2018 and some books I am looking forward to reading in 2019.
10. EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence by Justin Bariso
Favorite quote: “Put simply: emotional intelligence is the ability to make your emotions work for you, instead of against you.”
Approximately 90% of the work I do with my clients is getting both partners to understand their inner emotional world and then kindly articulate that inner world to their significant other in a way that their partner can understand.
The ability to discern the longing you have within your difficult emotions is the key to unlocking healthier and more meaningful relationships. Furthermore, the capacity to understand your partner’s perspective and empathize with at least part of their experience can become a bridge to a deeper connection with your partner. This book offers simple exercises to enhance your emotional intelligence in all domains of life, especially in your romantic relationships.
9. (Audiobook) Healing Your Attachment Wounds: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships by Diane Poole Heller, PhD.
Favorite Quote: “There is this dormant aliveness and vitality and richness of connection in a relationship that is there waiting to happen as soon as we open ourselves to the health and positive ingredients we need to really come in contact with our natural tendency to connect and find love and intimacy and an authentic way to be with other people.”
Becoming secure is about taking healthy risks that may make us initially feel vulnerable with people who can help offer us a more nourishing experience of connection and love. This audiobook offers helpful exercises and tips to better understand yourself, your romantic partner, and the ways to begin to heal so you can love more fully.
8. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown, PhD.
Favorite Quote: “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.”
Dr. Brown invites us to BRAVE connection to cultivate meaningful intimacy with those we love. My favorite part about this book is Brene’s phrase “Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.” Let us take a moment to explore each of these:
A strong back is the willingness to set boundaries, take responsibility, say what we mean, share only what is ours to share, live within our values even when it is uncomfortable to do so, give and receive support, and give people the benefit of the doubt.
A soft front means letting people we can trust see our softer emotions without attacking them or defending ourselves. This requires letting go of control and allowing ourselves to be truly seen. Doing so allows the space necessary for real intimacy.
A wild heart is best described by another quote from Dr. Brown:
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.”
7. The Couple Checkup by David Olson, Amy Olson-Sigg, and Peter Larson
Favorite Quote: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off once in a while or the light won’t come in.” – Alan Alda
The Couple Checkup is a book summarizing findings from a questionnaire given to more than 50,000 couples that asked about their romantic relationships. I would highly recommend taking the Couple Checkup with your partner and reading through the book, which is formatted like a workbook. The book covers important topics such as communication, finances, emotional closeness, and more. You’ll get a better idea of what happy couples do and unhappy couples don’t do. My partner and I took the Couple Checkup and used it to help facilitate some deeper conversations about our relationship.
6. The High-Conflict Couple: A Dialectical Behavior Therapy Guide to Finding Peace, Intimacy & Validation by Alan Fruzzetti, PhD.
Favorite quote: “Mindfulness of your partner is the gateway to listening and understanding, and eventually to collaboration, support, conflict resolution, and closeness.”
Conflict often escalates when we get hijacked by our thoughts and feelings. Our judgments about our partner make us more emotionally charged which often leads to conflicts that blow up. This book artfully teaches you how to soothe yourself, understand your thinking patterns, and ultimately break the destructive conflict cycles that continue to exacerbate problems in moments of conflict with your partner. Like I always say, it’s rarely the topic of a relationship argument that is the actual problem. It’s how the couple communicates (or doesn’t) with each other about the problem. I would highly recommend this book if you find yourself saying things you regret in conflict, losing your temper, and verbally criticizing or being contemptuous of your partner.
5. The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work by Terrence Real
Favorite quote: “Rule: A good relationship is not one in which the raw parts of ourselves are avoided. A good relationship is one in which they are handled. And a great relationship is one in which they are healed.”
One of the things I admire about Terry Real’s work is how he invites both romantic partners to bring out the best version of themselves, rather than reacting in their relationship from their learned childish patterns such as demanding or withdrawing. This book will teach you how to implement healthy boundaries, how to transform unhelpful reactions into mature ways of dealing with problems, and how to respectfully communicate what you need in a mutual way.
4. Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski PhD
Favorite quote: “Reduce your stress, be affectionate toward your body, and let go of the false ideas about how sex is ‘supposed’ to work, to create space in your life for how sex actually works.”
Let’s talk about sex. Your sex drive is kind of like a car. There are things that turn you on (the gas) and things that turn you off (the brake). Dr. Nagoski brilliantly invites women (and men) to deeply accept our sexual drives and learn what we need to change internally and externally to cultivate healthy and satisfying sex. Even if your sex life is great, I highly recommend reading this book and doing the exercises. It is the #1 book I recommend when people ask for guidance on how to improve their sex life.
3. (Audiobook) Relationship RX: Insights and Practices to Overcome Chronic Fighting and Return to Love by Stan Tatkin, PsyD.
Favorite quote: “Those are the last things your partner needs to hear from you.”
Stan has actors play out unhealthy ways couples fight and then demonstrate a “redo” which highlights what the couple could do differently in this audiobook. You’ll gain insight into ways you and your partner, even if you are insecure, can create a secure bond with each other. The advice Stan offers is simple and helpful. I highly recommend listening to it and trying to implement one thing you learned about yourself, your partner, or conflict tools ASAP.
2. Reconcilable Differences: Rebuild Your Relationship by Rediscovering the Partner You Love –Without Losing Yourself (2nd Edition) by Andrew Christensen, PhD, Brian Doss, PhD, and Neil Jacobson, PhD.
Favorite quote: “Although they are painful, conflicts offer a window into the emotions of both of you: your disappointments, hopes, strengths, and weaknesses. If you can look at these conflicts not with the goal of blaming and fault finding but with the goal of understanding the strong emotions that drive each of you, you can learn more about yourself and your partner individually as well as how you interact.”
One of the big problems for couples is they often stay on the surface of conflicts, arguing over who is right. This book offers you a framework to dive DEEP into what is actually going on. If you read this book and complete the exercises, you’ll have an understanding of the:
- Differences including personality, attachment styles, communication styles, and emotional expression can lead to conflict
- Emotional sensitivities that can escalate conflict and how to avoid them and heal them
- External stresses and how those make us less tolerant of our differences, which can lead to difficult conflict
- Patterns of interaction that make couples feel stuck and prevent them from resolving problems
If you want to understand the root reasons why your conflict gets out of control or if you want to know what you can and cannot change in your relationship, then I’d highly recommend this book.
1. We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love by Stan Tatkin, PsyD.
Favorite quote: “There’s nothing more pernicious to the safety and security of a primary romantic relationship than a closeted ambivalent partner. If you don’t or can’t accept your partner as they are right now, without cherry-picking the parts you like, you’re in trouble already. Nobody signs up for marriage because they want to be changed by their partner. It doesn’t work. Ever. Go all in or go home. Marriage and commitment can only work if we accept each other wholeheartedly.”
Stan flips the script of the “I Do” vow into one of “We Do.” This shift, while seemingly minor, can have a significant impact on your relationship. The reality is you and your partner must work together as a team to survive and thrive in life. This requires taking on a relational mindset that you are now a two-person system and exploring how you and your partner’s unique styles of relating can work together to create a secure “couple bubble.”
All-Time Favorite: The Science of Couples and Family Therapy: Behind the Scenes at the Love Lab by Drs. John and Julie Gottman
Favorite quote: “Both partners must work for the other’s benefit in order to build the trust metric. The answer is not give to get, it’s just give to give.”My all-time favorite book of the year was written for clinicians, hence it is a bonus on top of the books on my list. As a Gottman groupee, I devoured this book overnight. As someone who has intensely studied this method up close, I felt this book consolidated most of John and Julie’s concepts into a very clear and distinct guide. If you are a professional who works with couples in any capacity, I would highly recommend reading this book.
Books I am Looking Forward to Reading in 2019
Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Drs. John and Julie Gottman
I’m super excited for the Gottman’s new dating book because they offer guidance on how to break down the eight most vital aspects of a relationship into an easy and rewarding date conversation that can deepen your relationship.
P.S. If you pre-order it now, The Gottman Institute will send you “100 Bonus Conversation Starters.”
This book is designed for clinicians and cites a lot of research from my attachment bible (Attachment in Adulthood). I just got this book in the mail a few days ago and will likely read it over the weekend. From what I’ve read so far, the book gets into the meat of attachment theory, specifically how it can be used to create change for individuals, couples, and families using Emotionally Focused Therapy.
Want More Relationship Book Ideas? Check out my Library here.
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