The world of relationship books is huge, and varied, ranging from the hokey to the controversial to the genuinely helpful. There’s so much diversity, in fact, that it can be hard to choose a book that fits into the latter camp, let alone the relationship book that’s helpful for you, in your stage of singledom, dating, or commitment.
That’s why we’ve done the work for you, picking out 15 of the all time best relationship books. There’s three picks to read for each of the following situations:
- When you’re single
- When you’re newly dating someone
- When you’re a committed relationship
- When you’re healing after a divorce
- When you want to know what love really is
Thus, no matter your partner status, you can find a relationship book that suits you.
Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance (2015)
The era of dating apps and instant communication has fundamentally changed the rules of romance. What should your opening message be? How long should you wait for a text back? And how do you decide that someone is the ‘the one’ when the internet presents us with endless possibilities? In Modern Romance Aziz Ansari tackles all this and more, combining his trademark quips with genuine study into the intricacies of love in the digital era. It’s the perfect read for any single looking for a relatable relationship book to help them navigate the brave new world of contemporary courtship.
Elina Furman, Kiss and Run: The Single, Picky, and Indecisive Girl’s Guide to Overcoming Fear of Commitment (2007)
Kiss and Run is the book for any single woman who keeps falling for unavailable men, who can be described as a serial dater, or who knows that commitment anxiety is not just a man’s game. In it, Elina Furman looks at why so many women dating after 30 aren’t committing, explains that it’s not weird to enjoy being single, and identifies which behaviors hold you back from true intimacy. With quizzes, and insights from Furman’s own history, this is ideal for women (and men!) who want to say yes to emotional connection but don’t know where to start.
Amy Webb, Data: A Love Story (2013)
Amy Webb had a specific idea of what she wanted in a partner, and online dating seemed to be the best way of meeting a guy who fitted the bill. Only, there was one problem: her specifics were very specific, and the sites she was trying were giving her too many vague matches to be truly useful. So, she gamed the system, crunching the data to figure out how to filter for her perfect man – and how to write about herself in a way that would attract him. This unusual relationship book tells the tale of how she used math and dating sites to meet her husband, and it’s a true inspiration for anyone wanting practical insight into finding love online.
Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (1995, revised edition 2015)
New relationships can be a tricky dance, as a couple learns to navigate each other’s communication styles. Thank goodness, then, for relationship books like The Five Love Languages, which illustrate how to express affection in ways that suit you and your partner’s particular styles. The book posits that everyone prefers one of the five ‘love languages’ (ways of feeling loved), and teaches couples how to identify and cater to their partner’s particular language. Even 20 years after its initial publication, it’s an incredibly important tool for new couples learning to cherish each other.
Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, Attached (2010)
When some people start relationships, they are able to get close to their partner without fear or worry. For others, any hint of closeness feels like a trap, while for still others, a relationship becomes something to cling on tightly to in fear that it will slip away. In Attached, Levine and Heller use the science of attachment theory to explain these behaviors, helping new couples (and those on the dating scene) understand what they need from a romantic partnership. Even better, the authors also provide useful action plans to help people build emotional strength no matter what their attachment style.
Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2013)
Vulnerability is hard. The potential for failure (and therefore, shame) can seem so threatening that we hold back, or go overboard with control in an attempt to protect ourselves. In love, for instance, it’s much easier to be guarded than to risk having to deal with rejection. Of course, as Brené Brown points out, this limits not only the chances for failure but also the chances for success. If we want to thrive in life we have to embrace vulnerability. Brown’s strategies on how to do just that can help a broad range of people – especially those working towards intimacy with someone new.
John Gottman PhD, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (1999, updated edition 2015)
In the world of relationship books, Dr John Gottman is one of the titans. His most popular book, The Seven Principles, has sold more than a million copies, and is based on his pioneering work studying real marriages and what makes them succeed – or fail. With practical insights on how to resolve conflicts and pull together as a couple, this book is ideal for anyone in a relationship: newlyweds and those thinking about commitment can see what’s needed for future harmony, while those couples with a bit more mileage can use it to make their strong bond even stronger.
Judy Ford, Getting Over Mad (2001)
Humans get angry. It’s inevitable, natural, and universal. Yet, we’re told to suppress these feelings, to be nice, even if this means stunting communication and ignoring real issues. In Getting Over Mad, Judy Ford suggests that there is a healthier way to deal with anger, identifying the pain at the heart of the emotion and providing tools to deal with it in a way that aids intimacy rather than hurting it. Fact: in a long-term relationship, you will (occasionally) get angry with each other. This book will help stop that becoming a crisis.
Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence (2007)
If you’re looking for relationship books than can improve your sex life, then start with Mating in Captivity. Esther Perel has spent twenty years as a couples’ therapist in New York; giving her real insight into long-term love, and why it’s so common for passion and desire to fade in a committed relationship. She writes about how our need for domestic stability is at odds with our need for erotic mystery and how reconciling the two starts with rejecting romanticized notions of sexual spontaneity. A healthy sex life isn’t going just happen. Instead, she says, sex should be planned as an intentional ritual – and the bonding benefits will astound you.
Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce (2008)
Many relationship books are simply self-help books under a different name. And, while some of them can certainly help you out of difficult situations, sometimes you don’t want a teacher, you just want to hear from a sympathetic friend who has also been in the trenches. This is where Split shines. An unflinchingly honest memoir of Finnemore’s real life divorce, and the hurt and healing that went with it, Split is at once bitingly funny, artfully poetic, and relatably heart-wrenching. Above all though, it’s inspiring: showing you that, even though there are dark patches during the process, there can be so much light on the other side of a divorce.
Susan J. Elliott, Getting Past Your Breakup (2009)
If you’re after more practical divorce advice, then Susan J. Elliott is one of the masters. Based on her popular blog, Getting Past Your Breakup is exactly what it sounds like: a step-by-step guide for getting past your breakup related grief and healing the cracks it caused. As helpful guides go, this is not the most comfortable read (Elliott encourages you to really dig deep into past hurts), but with the self-examination comes incredible insight, allowing you to break the pattern of bad relationships once and for all.
Susan Pease Gadoua, Vicki Larson, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (2014)
The ideal read for those who have been hurt by traditional marriage expectations, The New I Do says that the high divorce rate is due to us being told that long-term love is a one-size-fits-all kind of deal, when in fact it needs to be far more customized. Shining a spotlight on traditional marriage as well as some of the ways to redefine it, The New I Do outlines precisely what is needed for each type of marriage to be a success, making it perfect for those seeking commitment or second marriage, and wanting, this time, to go in with both eyes wide open.
Helen Fisher, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (2004)
Prefer relationship books that have more of a scientific focus? Then this is the book for you. Based on Helen Fisher’s studies in neuromance and the science of love, Why We Love examines the intersections between brain mechanisms and romantic feelings, discovering that this abstract thing we call ‘love’ is an evolutionary, chemical drive more akin to hunger than to poetry. Via case studies involving everything from baboon behavior to MRI imaging, Fisher delves deep into the hows and whys of love, providing us the insights we need to love better.
Daniel Jones, Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers) (2014)
For many, The New York Times’ Modern Love section is the place to learn how real love works in current times. Just in the past few years, it’s bought the 36 questions to worldwide attention, published beautiful viral pieces like You May Want To Marry My Husband, and so much more. As an editor, Daniel Jones’ job is to pick content for the column, meaning he has spent 10 years reading 50,000 real love stories. Thus, he has a unique insight into the intricacies of human connection, and he uses his knowledge of individual experiences to tackle universal subjects.
Alain De Botton, On Love (1993, revised 2006)/ The Course of Love (2016)
In Alain De Botton’s On Love, we follow a young couple as they meet and fall in and out of love. It’s not a new story, but that’s the point: the sheer ordinariness of their experience lets De Botton use their relationship to explore the philosophical ramifications of everything from first date preparations to when to say I love you. Written 23 years later, The Course of Love is similar in that it takes an equally ordinary couple and uses the rhythm of their marriage as the basis for philosophical relationship truths: only this time, there’s the maturity to realize that love really is a verb, so maintaining it requires us to act love rather than just be in it. Either way, these are the perfect relationship books for anyone interested in the philosophy of love.
1. Aziz Ansari, Eric Klinenburg, Modern Romance. Penguin, 2015
2. Elina Furman, Kiss and Run: The Single, Picky, and Indecisive Girl’s Guide to Overcoming Fear of Commitment. Touchstone, 2007
3. Amy Webb, Data, a Love Story: How I Cracked the Online Dating Code to Meet My Match. Plume, 2013
4. Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages (revised edition). Northfield Publishing, 2015
5. Amir Levine, Rachel Heller, Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind – and Keep – Love. Penguin, 2010
6. Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin, 2013
7. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert (revised edition). Harmony, 2015
8. Judy Ford, Getting Over Mad. RedWheel / Weiser, 2001
9. Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Harper Paperbacks, 2007
10. Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce. Dutton Adult, 2008
11. Susan J. Elliott, Getting Past Your Breakup: How to Turn a Devastating Loss into the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You. Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2009
12. Susan Pease Gadoua, Vicki Larson, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. Seal Press, 2014
13. Helen Fisher, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Henry Holt and Co., 2014
14. Daniel Jones, Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers). William Morrow, 2004
15. Alain De Botton, On Love (aka Essays On Love). Picador, 1993, and The Course of Love, Simon and Schuster, 2016.