Relationships come in many shapes and sizes, but ultimately a solid relationship boils down to good communication, a lot of patience, a little empathy, and perhaps some good luck. Whether you’re feeling stuck in your current relationship, want to be a better partner, or just looking for sage advice, these books offer deep insights into relationship essentials. These picks are just in time for Valentine’s Day, but will come in handy anytime.
Want to boost your communication between you and your partner — or possibly even your family as a whole? This book offers effective communication skills that set a strong foundation. It starts with covering empathic listening skills and tips for effective communication before delving into more layered topics like problem-solving during arguments. Leal also highlights that communication skills aren’t just important during disagreements; they can make or break a relationship even when things are going well.
One of the most popular relationship books, The 5 Love Languages offers a unique perspective on how we show love. Chapman explains that for some people, hearing ‘I love you’ is important, while for others, things like acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch are more important than hearing words of affirmation. It’s a great reminder that you may not be speaking the same ‘love language’ as your partner, but once you learn what makes them feel valued (and vice versa), your relationship can grow.
This book definitely has plenty of stuck-in-old-school (and in some cases, downright laughable) explanations of how men and women differ. While it might read as quite old-fashioned for some, there are still plenty of nuggets of wisdom in this classic — after all, it’s still one of the top books in the relationship category and a New York Times Bestseller. It helps men and women (or masculine and feminine energies) learn to better communicate and flow with each other. While you may not agree with everything that Gray says in the book, it may help kickstart your journey toward better understanding your partner’s needs.
Judgment Detox: Release the Beliefs That Hold You Back from Living A Better Life by Gabrielle Bernstein
At first glance, Judgment Detox may seem out of place on a book list about building better relationships. But learning to release judgments you’ve been holding on to could make a huge difference in your relationship. Bernstein argues that learning to let go of certain judgments against your partner — releasing resentment and jealousy in favor of more love — can lead to a happier, more cohesive relationship.
No one likes to hear the phrase, ‘We need to talk.’ It almost always means a breakup or bad news is coming. But author Celeste Headlee argues that we’ve grown less adept at communicating, even with those closest to us, and setting aside time to talk is crucial. While technology has us texting and sharing on social media, it shouldn’t replace face-to-face conversations. Headlee is here to help you bring regular conversations and solid communication back to all of your relationships, starting with your partner. (Pro tip: Hide. Your. Phone.)
The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships by Diane Poole Heller and Peter A. Levine
If you know you struggle to maintain strong relationships because you’re coping with past trauma, start with this book. Attachment may feel scary at first, but being attached to your partner can and should be perfectly healthy. Heller and Levine explain how our connections and attachments can become broken or wounded from different traumatic experiences that may not seem related, but can deeply affect us. This book is a great read for someone who’s personally struggling, or for someone who’s in a relationship with someone who’s learning to cope with past trauma.
If you want to improve your sex life (with a cisgender woman), then this is a great ultra-explanatory read that’s worth your time. This book takes a scientific approach to explaining how women’s hormones and bodies work differently from men’s, and how a woman’s sex drive is a bit more complicated. Women’s pleasure is vital to a healthy sex life and this book helps you better understand that.
Yes, even marriages need firm boundaries — if you find yourself frustrated that you’re always saying yes, doing extra work, or going the extra mile, this book is for you. A healthy marriage has healthy boundaries that allow you and your spouse to be individuals while still working together as a team. Nurturing individual identities and respecting each other’s boundaries can strengthen a relationship, while blurred boundaries can muddy the waters.
If you love learning about your love languages, New York Times Bestseller Jonathan Robinson takes you even deeper into how to use your love languages for better communication with your partner. This is one of the cornerstone books when it comes to relationships. Since going to print in 1997, it’s sold 100,000 copies and been translated into nearly 50 languages.
If you struggle to keep your cool during an argument, or feel out of control with your emotions, this quick read on emotional regulation may be a good place to start. It offers tips for helping you better (read: calmly) communicate your needs to your partner. Richards’ actionable advice for more effective communication, even in tense situations, is also available as in audiobook format.
Questions for Couples: 469 Thought-Provoking Conversation Starters for Connecting, Building Trust, and Rekindling Intimacy by Marcus Kusi and Ashley Kusi
So, you’ve bought into the idea of better communication with your partner, but you’re not sure where to begin. Questions for Couples gives you 469 conversation starters ranging from deeply emotional to sexy good fun. No need to read it cover-to-cover (unless you want to) — try picking questions at random during a date night, a long road trip, or over breakfast. Once you get used to answering these questions, you may find your other conversations are deeper, more meaningful, and hopefully more fun.
For more reading recommendations on happy relationships, check out this list on the Best Relationship Advice for Happy Couples from our editors.