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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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Picture this: It's the end of a long day. You come home, but instead of relaxing, you start to bicker with your family. It's a familiar scene for many people. But author and psychologist Harriet Lerner says it doesn't have to be. She has this essay on books that will improve any relationship. It's for our series Three Books where authors recommend three books on one theme.

HARRIET LERNER: Spring is here, the season of flowers and birds, with love and marriage in the very air we breathe. People pair up, brimming with optimism. But when couples stay together over time, we're reminded that real life is messy and complicated. To this end, I recommend the following three books.

"We Love Each Other, But ..." is a slender, upbeat volume that should be a gift at every wedding alongside the dreaded toaster oven. No matter how steeped in negativity a relationship has become, psychologist Ellen Wachtel offers hope. Criticism erodes love, she reminds us. Her chapter on fighting is alone worth the price of admission. In a little over 200 pages, she covers almost every hot spot you'll ever encounter with your partner and shows you exactly how to cool it.

If you've ever paid good money for a book that promised to put the hot sex back into your marriage, you know how disappointing and dispiriting this genre can be. An exception is "Mating in Captivity" by Esther Perel. She's a New York City psychotherapist who speaks nine languages and conducts therapy in six. She challenges the notion that great intimacy leads to great sex. In fact, she believes the opposite. You can't exit from this book without your erotic life or lack of it undergoing a seismic shift. And what marriage can't use that?

Fenton Johnson's exquisitely written memoir, "Geography of the Heart," will teach you more than any 50 self-help books. He gives no advice, but his book will give you wisdom and courage, no matter how different you think your story is from his. Johnson, the youngest of nine children from a Catholic family in rural Kentucky, did not intend to fall in love with Larry Rose, the only child of German Holocaust survivors, who was, at the time they met, HIV-positive and symptom-free.

I let him court me, Johnson writes. He brought flowers - not your garden-variety carnations and mums, but fabulous arrangements of tropical flora with unpronounceable names and big hair. You'll leave this book wanting to bring your best and bravest self into your own relationship - not later, but now.

With so many marriage mavens competing for your attention, it's not easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. But if you want a better relationship, these three books will open up your heart and limber up your brain. It takes two to couple up, but it takes only one to make things a whole lot better.

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BLOCK: And that was Harriet Lerner. Her most recent book is called "Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up."

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