For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed by Tara Parker-Pope.
Pope writes the "Well" feature in the New York Times. She interviewed biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and sociologists to explore the elements of a successful marriage. She does a masterful job of translating research findings into practical advice. Along the way she debunks some commonly held but mistaken ideas such as the notion that conflict in a marriage should be avoided. Occsionally drawing from the experience of her own marriage ending, she looks at those relationships at high risk for divorce, such as the pursuer-distancer marriage (with the pursuer usually the woman) and the operatic marriage (characterized by dramatic highs and lows). This book is an excellent choice if you're just delving into this topic with the intent of improving your relationship.
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver. Psychologist John Gottman and his research team have closely observed and studied the relationship patterns of more than 2000 couples for two or more decades. Based on what they've learned, Gottman can observe a couple (whether already married or engaged to be married) for only 5 minutes and predict with 91 percent accuracy whether they'll eventually divorce. Gottman's conclusions and recommendations are not standard marriage therapists' fare (e.g., processing every feeling and thought together can be detrimental to a marital satisfaction) but he has more than enough evidence to support his ideas. If you want to develop an emotionally intelligent marriage, I recommend you start with Gottman's books. (His other books are Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage (published in 2007 and his most recent) and The Relationship Cure.)
The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts by Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee. Dr. Judith Wallerstein, noted for her authoritative studies of the long-term effects of divorce on children, interviewed 50 couples who'd been married for at least nine years and had a least one child. These couples were nominated by themselves and their friends and families as happily married. Dr. Wallerstein's intent was to learn from inside out what makes for a happy marriage. One of the refreshing aspects of this book is its realism; happy couples didn't get there merely because of chemistry or compatibility. They had to work at it. What emerges are detailed descriptions and explanations of a wide variety of ways for couples to be happy. Illuminating and inspiring.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This book is about effective communication with kids; but many people find its approach to be useful in all their relationships. The presentation is clear and straightforward. Over the years I have recommended this book to many people and I've consistently been told it was extremely helpful.
Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott, Between Parent and Teenager by Haim Ginott. Dr. Ginott wrote these books more than 40 years ago. He believed that it is not a parent's job to make his or her child happy but instead to raise a human being: a person with compassion, commitment and courage and whose life is guided by a core of strength and a code of fairness. How refreshing! These books are deservedly classics.
Dreams and Nightmares - The Origin and Meaning of Dreams by Ernest Hartmann. Dr. Hartmann, a recognized authority on sleep and dreaming, provides a scholarly (but still very engaging) exploration of what we know and don't know about dreaming. His approach demonstrates how dreams are meaningful and how they help us make sense of our emotional lives. If you're interested in how to use your dreams, take a look at Chapter 8, The Uses of Dreams: Self-Knowledge, Dreamworking and Psychotherapy.
Intimacy and Attachment
Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love by Robert Karen. We human beings are wired to form enduring emotional bonds from the moment we're born (and this attachment process certainly begins before birth). What kinds of attachment experiences we have in our beginning years will dramatically influence what kinds of relationships we form in our teens and beyond. Attachment theory and research have altered our fundamental ideas about child development and shed light on the variety of difficulties people can experience in forming and sustaining intimate attachments. Dr. Karen has written a very accessible book about the complex topic of attachment. Kirkus reviews said: "Wittily titled chapters with effective cliffhanger endings will carry readers along on the tide of discovery..."
A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amani and Richard Lannon.
The authors explore what we know about love from the perspective of neurobiology and evolution. Though the field of neurobiology has advanced considerably since the book was published in 2000, it remains an excellent and literate introduction to some exciting new ways of understanding how and why we love.
The Anatomy of Hope by Jerome Groopman. The author writes about the vital role of hope in coping with and recovering from life-threatening medical problems. He shares some remarkable and inspiring stories. I include this book here because I have observed countless times the essential role played by hope in overcoming psychological problems. From Amazon.com: "Why do some people find and sustain hope during difficult circumstances, while others do not? What can we learn from those who do, and how is their example applicable to our own lives? The Anatomy of Hope is a journey of inspiring discovery, spanning some thirty years of Dr. Jerome Groopman's practice, during which he encountered many extraordinary people and sought to answer these questions. This profound exploration begins when Groopman was a medical student, ignorant of the vital role of hope in patients' lives-and it culminates in his remarkable quest to delineate a biology of hope. With appreciation for the human elements and the science, Groopman explains how to distinguish true hope from false hope-and how to gain an honest understanding of the reach and limits of this essential emotion."