I’ve been doing couple therapy (not “couples therapy”) for almost 20 years now, going back to my time as a graduate student. I truly enjoy the work. It’s enriching in countless ways, one of which is the amount of time I get to spend learning about and thinking about how romantic relationships are built and sustained. While my couples have taught me a great deal, I’ve also learned from some great books that take the mechanics of couple relationships and either break them down or bring them to life.
Here are, in just one therapist’s opinion, three books every couple therapist should read. Some ground rules first: No textbooks or books about therapy models. Texts like Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage, Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and Johnson’s Hold Me Tight are of course necessities in learning how to think about couples and couple therapy. If you are working with couples and haven’t yet read all of those, I would highly recommend them. But they’re typically assigned at the graduate level, so they aren’t included on this list.
Without further ado, three books that I think every couple therapist should read, beyond their required readings for graduate education. Of course, this is just my opinion. If you have others you love, join the conversation on our Facebook page.
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The Husbands and Wives Club
Laurie Abraham followed participants in a couples group for a year, detailing what happened inside and outside the group. It’s a thoughtful and compelling exploration of what can — and can’t — be resolved through therapy. Participants invited Abraham not only into the group but into their homes, and into the fine-grained details of their daily lives. The group is a vehicle for storytelling; the couples themselves are the center of the story. This is a tough one to put down.
Tara Parker-Pope writes The Well blog for The New York Times, and has a knack for taking current science in mental health and making it understandable without dumbing it down. (She also, unlike many science reporters, understands when not to take a study seriously.) Here, Parker-Pope goes through the science of what actually is known to make marriages work. She debunks, in great detail, the was-never-actually-true notion that half of all marriages end in divorce, and she maintains an entertaining and upbeat voice throughout.
Marriage: A History
At some point, most couples wrestle with questions about what is normal in relationships. What happens if we feel we’re falling out of love? How is a relationship with one’s spouse supposed to be different from relationships with one’s friends? Stephanie Coontz (who also wrote the fabulous The Way We Never Were) takes an historical lens to these questions, tracing marriage back to its origins. She finds that the notion of marrying for love is a remarkably recent invention. Previously, marriage had been more of a vehicle for the transfer of wealth and political power; love, to whatever degree it existed in most marriages, was something of a happy accident. Yes, it’s a history book, and for that reason it doesn’t quite come alive in the way that The Husbands and Wives Club does. But it may radically broaden your perspective on what “marriage” can mean.