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12 Books That Couples Who Are Fighting Should Read Together

Couples who find themselves constantly fighting but not able (or willing) to go to therapy may benefit from reading and working through these books together.

A book club with over a million members recently got asked what book they would recommend to couples who are fighting and struggling with their relationship. The lady who asked the question said that she and her husband had been fighting a lot lately and that she had proposed couples’ therapy but her husband did not want to go. Instead, her husband offered a compromise: he would read a book with her. She wanted to get suggestions from fellow book lovers on what would be the best books for fighting or struggling couples to read together.

Some of the more pessimistic book club members felt that the situation with her husband was something a book wouldn’t fix and some thought her husband was only stalling or deflecting. However, many other members believed that it was worth a shot. Some had personal experience with books that helped them when they themselves were struggling in their own relationships, while others had themselves gone to couples’ therapy and had been recommended books to read by their marriage counselor.

1. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate (by Gary Chapman)

This book is one of the two most recommended books for couples, struggling or not.

“It helped my relationship when it wasn’t good,” said one book club member, while another said, “The book has helped many couples recover from all different stages of relationships. It brings perspective. Personally, the book helped my relationship tremendously and was recommended by our counselor.”

A third book member relates how her husband’s love language was touch while, on her part, she was “touched out” having two kids. She would get frustrated and pissed off whenever her husband tried to touch her. “He thought that he was showing me love but he was just pissing me off.” She said that reading The Five Love Languages helped them learn “how to love your spouse in the way they will feel loved.” Now that her husband knows that her love language is acts of service, her husband will do the sweeping while she does the dishes. (Presumably – hopefully – she is also better at showing her husband love in his language.)

The book, says another member, “teaches how each of us perceives love is different. We generally try to show our spouse love in our love language without realizing that they receive love differently.” Reading it was a huge eye-opener.

“Find out each other’s love language,” urges another. “Get the book, take the quiz, then read the chapter about your spouse’s love language. Follow it and it can be a life changer.”

2. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (by John Gottman and Nan Silver)

Dr. John Gottman is considered one of the foremost authorities – if not the expert – on marriage and relationships. He has been studying the behaviors of couples for decades and the advice he offers is based on evidence from these and many other studies. He founded the Gottman Institute, which has programs that carry out Dr. Gottman’s methods. He has several wonderful, helpful books on the topic but the most fundamental is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the other most recommended book for couples.

“Gottman saved our marriage,” says one book club member. “I can 100% vouch for his approach working. We attended a weekend workshop, never followed up with therapy — just went by what we learned over that weekend and it changed everything.”

A member who is a professional couples therapist adds that if one spouse is very averse to therapy, the best Gottman book to start with would be The Love Prescription because it’s short and easy to retain. The book can be read and worked through in one week and is broken into seven chapters, one for each day of the week.

Another member says that her friend who is a marriage counselor recommends The Seven Principles to the couples he works with, while yet another member says that she was recommended this book – along with another of Gottman’s books, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love – by their premarital counselor.

3. The Love Dare (by Alex Kendrick)

The Love Dare is a book that is meant to be watched along with the movie Fireproof. The two works – The Love Dare and Fireproof – have a Christian foundation. However, many book club members agree that it works for everyone, of whatever religious persuasion. “I’m not a heavily religious person and I enjoyed it,” says one member.

4. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (by John Gray)

Published in 1992, this book is now described as a “modern classic.”

The book is “really old,” says one book club member, “but it really helped with our communication.”

5. Divorce Busting: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again (by Michele Weiner-Davis)

The underlying belief in this book is that marriages are worth saving. When a marriage is in crisis, says the book, the couple needs to work together with the help of an action plan in order to save the relationship.

A book club member says that their counselor recommended Divorce Busting when they were going through challenges years ago. “It helped me change my viewpoints on communication, expectations, be more positive and helped me focus on what I could control.”

6. Attached: Are you Anxious, Avoidant or Secure? How the science of adult attachment can help you find – and keep – love (by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller)

It’s a mouthful of a title but it lays the premise of the entire book.

One book club member says that Attached has great insights.

Another member relates, “My husband is avoidant and I am anxious – known combatants in negative cycles. We have recently broken through just by knowing why we are trapped in the loop and joining together to tackle the negative cycle.”

7. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships (by Marshall B. Rosenberg)

One book club member recommends this book, which they have read, saying it might help.

“Some people say it saved their marriage,” says another.

8. Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs (by Emerson Eggerichs)

“Love and respect was so, so good,” says one book club member. “It talks about a woman’s need for unconditional love and a man’s need for unconditional respect.”

Although one book club member took issue with the gender stereotypes presented in the book, another says that the book has great insights on the things we unintentionally do that keep us on “the crazy cycle” and gives practical advice on how to get off the cycle.

9. Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (by Lundy Bancroft)

This is a more specific book that is geared towards spouses of the eponymous angry and controlling men.

“A great book,” says one book club member. “Everyone should read it.”

Another says the book “really helped me understand things a little better from my part.”

10. I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband: Honest, Hilarious Stories From a Father of Three Who Made All the Mistakes (and Made up for Them) (by Clint Edwards)

This is a book by the man behind the website No Idea What I’m Doing – A Daddy Blog.

According to one book club member, the book has “incredible perspectives” and “brings some humor into it,” making it a great book for both husband and wife to read.

Men also seem more willing to read this book – and Clint Edwards’ other book, Father-ish: Laugh-Out-Loud Tales From a Dad Trying Not to Ruin His Kids’ Lives – over more traditional marriage counseling books.

“I have not read either of these myself,” says another book club member, “but [I] follow his page…and he gets a lot of fan mail from couples who say having the husband read his books has saved their marriage, especially when dad’s involvement is a sticking issue.”

11. Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training (by Karen Pryor)

The book club member who suggested this book – written by an author with a background in animal training – acknowledges that it may come across as manipulative. However, “I found the book helpful when I had to handle demanding, stubborn family.”

She says the book made her realize that we can’t change the other person – but that “if we change our responses to their behaviour, that in turn affects their own choices.”

The ideas presented in the book are subtle and gentle and designed to immediately reduce conflict. “You find your own way to apply the ideas.”

12. Hold Me Tight (by Sue Johnson)

“Hubs and I were in couple’s therapy for a year,” relates one book club member, who says that she and her husband read this book together at the recommendation of their therapist. “It was very helpful for aiding us in our communication and understanding why we were lashing out at each other.”

She says that she has recommended the book to several friends, who also found it helpful.

Other recommended books for couples

  • Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  • Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix
  • His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley Jr
  • How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo
  • The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection and Courage by Brené Brown
  • Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
  • ScreamFree Marriage: Calming Down, Growing Up, and Getting Closer by Hal Edward Runkel and Jenny Runkel
  • This Is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach to Saving Relationships by Matthew Fray
  • Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion by George J. Thompson and Jerry B. Jenkins
  • What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey

Other tips for struggling couples

These are the other bits of advice that the book club members had for the lady who was having a lot of fights with her husband, who didn’t want to go to couples therapy but was willing to read a relationship book with her.

  • Consider going to therapy yourself. You are deserving of healing and understanding.
  • There are many reasons why people don’t want to go to therapy. The fact that her husband did not want to go therapy does not necessarily mean that he does not want their marriage to work. It may just mean that it’s hard for him and that he’s not yet ready.
  • Ask a counselor for advice on what books to read. There are also workbooks that you can do together or on your own.
  • “My husband and I have a notebook we write in for things we have trouble communicating verbally. Our only rule for it is that we can’t respond right away and have to give time to read it a few times and think over a response.”
  • “Learn how to live with him the way he is but be prepared for it to be hard work. You can’t change others, but you can change yourself and hope they come for the ride.”

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