*Consciously Coupled* explores everything relationships from local moms AND a licensed couples counselor. We’re discussing couples therapy, the pros and cons of relationship books, tips on navigating cross-cultural relationships, how to find time alone as a couple, and MUCH MORE! See the entire series here.
When my husband and I went to premarital counseling for the first time, the book they said we would walk through was His Needs, Her Needs. I read the introduction at a used bookstore and said, “Thanks, but no thanks!” I wasn’t interested in anything that further reinforced damaging gender roles or unrealistic expectations. We already knew that he was going to be doing most of the cooking and I would be the one mowing the lawn. So if cooking was the only way to his heart, I was in trouble.
I have a friend who works with domestic violence victims. When I asked her opinion about which marriage books were actually helpful, she asked me what personal development books I’ve read. Because to be in a healthy partnership with open communication, both individuals need to do a lot of work on themselves to be participating partners! And when I thought about it, besides family therapy, the things that have helped our marriage the most are when one of us has grown and dragged the other one along (*cough* like the exercise program I instigated and my husband dragged me through) or when we’ve worked on growing together (*cough* learning that boundaries are an actual, positive thing!).
And P.S. I highly recommend family therapy. As foster parents, we live in a high- stress and it’s a necessity for us. But I cannot think of a single person who wouldn’t benefit from occasional help and an outside perspective every once in a while.
Sometimes ‘Self Help’ Creates Unrealistic Expectations & Failure
My friend who helped me with this article works with the local charity Latter House Décor to restore dignity for survivors of domestic violence. It’s a great place to donate to!
And friend, I just want to point out, if you are reading this…
*And your partner is not being a partner, you are not the problem. If they are abusing you, a marriage book will not fix your relationship. Please seek out professional help.
*And self-help books are making you feel ashamed or inferior, they are not going to help you positively change your habits.
*And you want to find a quick solution or easy read to make you feel better or help you find the one hack you’ve been missing…I don’t think any of this can be boiled down to one hack or one easy book.
My 3 Best Relationship Books Recommendations:
My husband and I have found a lot of personal development books that have impacted us. But a few have had a deeply profound impact on our partnership. Here are three books that have improved our ability to communicate, set boundaries, and empathize not only with each other but in other relationships as well.
1) Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Why Read It: Really anythingggg by Brené Brown, including her awesome Netflix special and TED talk. Vulnerability is hard but necessary in any relationship, especially partnerships.
Why It Helped Us: Most of the conflict my husband and I had early on in our marriage was because of unmet expectations. But we weren’t sharing our expectations because that felt too vulnerable. I was expecting him to know what I needed. This book helped me realize that neither of us is a mind reader or as confident as we project to be.
2) Finish by Jon Acuff
Why Read It: If you struggle to get projects completed, think positively, stick with goals, or even make goals, Jon Acuff’s material can help.
Why It Helped Us: This one definitely helped me more than my husband. He’s a list maker and finisher. I like lists, but struggle to finish projects and goals. I would convince him to start a new calendar, meal plan, or workout program, and then fizzle out by day two which was a big frustration for him. This book helped us make more attainable goals together and communicate about them more effectively.
3) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Why Read It: The book seems cliché now. But it’s on so many self-help lists for a reason. Not only does it cover being proactive and building synergy, but it spends a lot of time discussing how to have positive conversations.
How it Helped Us: My husband is an introvert and conversations were hard for him. This book really helped him transform how he thought about communication in general and gave him a roadmap for talking about difficult things, something foundational in all relationships, marriage and otherwise.
And the show that’s helped my marriage most?
Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up on Netflix
It sounds funny, but y’all, I’m a teacher and an emotional hoarder, and my husband is OCD, minimalist, and tidy. Watching this show actually motivated me to not only go through and get rid of stuff but to have deep conversations about what our goals are. Totally not what I was expecting when I turned it on in the background one day!
My goal isn’t to trash marriage books. There are a couple of marriage books that we have gleaned useful advice from, but many also included some harmful ideas; however, I recognize that you could say the same of self-improvement books. There are actually two marriage books I’m excited about reading this year:
1) Everyone Fights: So Why Not Get Better at It? by Kim & Penn Holderness
Yes, the hysterical comedian duo that brings us videos like this Disney Songs Quarantine Medley from last year! My favorite thing about this couple is how open they are about their own personal struggles with ADHD and mental health as well as about the fact that they regularly go to counseling. And they successfully work together, so there’s got to be something to their method.
2) The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Told and How to Recover What God Intended by Joanna Sawatsky, Rebecca Lindenbach, and Shiela Gregoire.
The authors surveyed over 20,000 Christian women about how marriage books and advice have hurt or helped and wrote this book on their findings. They also encourage the reader to walk through some healthy sexual evaluations with their partner. If you grew up in any sort of evangelical subculture, I’m hearing this is a must read.
There’s a catch of course. There usually is, right?
We can consume all the self-help, marriage, parenting, and inspiring reads out there. But if we don’t take notes, make actionable small goals, and *gulp* honestly discuss them with our partners, none of it will change us or our relationships.
Partnerships and deep relationships are hard work, and there’s no magic formula for that.
Compassion and partnership are key for us personally right now. Especially on the days when there isn’t enough caffeine in the world to help us parent those precious little humans with a side of exhaustion. At this moment, we’ve got a small infant with reflux and are getting very little sleep. It’s not an ideal situation for a thriving marriage. And reading books about anything other than colic is totally unreasonable to expect right now. But we’re committed to continually improving our communication, learning to put each other first, and forgiving each other on the days when the caffeine is running low. And that’s exactly what we have learned from those books.