A couple holds hands.
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, and vowing to be fair and generous mates.
But when couples stay together over time — throughout all of the seasons — we're reminded that real life is messy and complicated. Even the best relationships will get stuck in anger and distance. In short, couples need all the help they can get. To this end, I recommend the following three books.
We Love Each Other, But ...
Simple Secrets to Strengthen Your Relationship and Make Love Last
This slender, upbeat volume should be a gift at every wedding alongside the dreaded toaster oven. No matter how steeped in negativity a relationship has become, author and psychologist Ellen Wachtel offers hope, showing how small adjustments now, lead to big changes over time. Wachtel puts us back in touch with our own common sense, so often lost in the heat or freeze of marriage. "Criticism erodes love," she reminds us. "Talk about difficult subjects when you feel close to your partner, not when you are angry." Her chapter on fighting is alone worth the price of admission. To call this book a quick, easy read is a serious compliment. 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.
Mating in Captivity
Unlocking Erotic Intelligence
If you've ever paid good money for a book that promised to put 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. Perel's spirited and bold take on the paradoxes of domesticity and eroticism will pull you in and keep you there. She challenges the notion that great intimacy leads to great sex — in fact, she believes the opposite — and she questions, well, everything. You can't exit from this book without your basic beliefs about sex — or the lack of it — undergoing a seismic shift. And what marriage can't use that?
Geography of the Heart: A Memoir
Fenton Johnson's exquisitely written memoir will teach you more than any 50 self-help books. He dispenses 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." In their three years together, they lived a lifetime of profound emotional connection. 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.
Psychologist Harriet Lerner is the author of The Dance of Anger and, most recently, Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up.
Three Books... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman and Andrew Otis.