I do a lot of marriage counseling. I often ask couples if they do regular maintenance on their cars and why. The usual response is, “Yes, of course. If I don’t keep my car serviced, it won’t run well and will eventually break down.”
Marriages are the same way. Left unattended, they can lose their fizzle and eventually, the bond will erode. The following are my favorite books for strengthening your marriage. Reading these books is not a substitute for regular check-ups with a counselor, but they can be used to learn more about relationships.
The author, Dr. Sue Johnson, is the developer of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. Her work has revolutionized my approach to couple therapy. Establishing emotional connection is core to her method. Being able to remain open, attuned, and responsive to your spouse is the key to bonding as a couple. Recognizing your “demon dialogues” and relearning how to do a new “dance” can lead to forgiveness for relationship injuries. Couples come into therapy and want to point the finger at one another. This book will help couples see that the real problem is not the other person, but an unhealthy dance you are engaged in. Then, both husband and wife can lay down their hatchets and work cooperatively. See Sue Johnson discuss this book here.
The biggest marital complaint I hear in therapy is that the husband does not feel respected by the wife, and the wife feels that the husband loves other things more than her. Dr. Emerson Eggerichs has written a Biblically based book that helps to decipher the why of this behavior and how to enter into an energizing love cycle for husbands to express closeness, openness, understanding, peacemaking, loyalty, and esteem. Wives learn how to show respect through understanding his needs for conquest, hierarchy, authority, insight, relationship and sexuality. Watch this YouTube video, which gives an introduction to the book.
This book, by Scott Stanley, Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain and Milt Bryan, is a practical book that focuses on commitment, forgiveness, spiritual intimacy, friendship, sensuality, fun and how to handle technology in your marriage. Specific exercises help couples to identify negative interaction patterns, how to use the key principles of “decide don’t slide, do your part, and make it safe to connect.” This book is a theologically sound integration of Scripture and research on healthy marriages.
4) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert
John M. Gottman’s work contains relationship strengthening activities based on his work of interviewing and videotaping hundreds of couples. His seven principles include the following: enhance your love maps, nurture your fondness and admiration, turn toward each other instead of away, Let your partner influence you, solve your solvable problems, overcome gridlock, and create shared meaning. His five step method for resolving conflicts is extremely useful: soften your start-up, make and receive repair attempts, soothe yourself and then your partner, compromise, and remain tolerant to each other’s faults. Watch this YouTube video about his book.
I am a huge fan of Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s original book, Boundaries. You might also enjoy checking out their online marriage resources. There are times in marriage to say “yes” and times to say “no.” Setting healthy boundaries is essential to relationships. Cloud and Townsend define these boundaries as the “property lines” that protect wives and husbands as unique individuals. This book will help couples to set and maintain personal boundaries and respect their spouse’s boundaries, as well as establish Godly values that underlie and support their marriage, protect their marriage from “intruders,” and work with a spouse who doesn’t necessarily understand boundaries.
Kathy Milans is the lead member of the Soul Care Collective’s Steering Committee.
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