Offbeat Bride’s collaborative recommended reading list for books about marriage and relationships

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I've looked for books on the topic of marriage, but I'm a bit stymied by how many there are. Some of them must be well-written and wise, but looking through the pages of library search results they tend to blur together into a pile of self-help nonsense.

I suppose what it comes down to is that I am seeking whatever wisdom might be out there in book form, looking for all the reasons why people who are in love choose the formality of marriage.

I thought some of you must have some good recommendations for books about marriage and relationships that spoke to you as offbeat couples.

Obviously, we're big book lovers over here on Offbeat Bride. Hell, this entire website exists because Ariel wrote a helpful book on weddings. But beyond helpful books on weddings, what about helpful books on MARRIAGE. For that, we turned to the best sources we could think of — you guys! Because who better to recommend books that speak to offbeat couples than offbeat couples themselves.

Here is our collaborative recommended reading list!:
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what is marriage for alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)Offbeat Bride reader Sarah explained that she found What Is Marriage For? by E.J. Graff to be helpful when she was working for marriage equality in her state to have a knowledge of the complex history of marriage.

Screen shot 2012 03 04 at 6.26.24 PM alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Dr John Gottman offers specific instructions for how to stay married once you've made the commitment.

1001 questions alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)Though not a book about the psychology of relationships or marriage, 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married IS a super helpful book that was recommended to me and others by many of my friends.

if the buddha married creating enduring relationships on a spiritual path compass alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)Offbeat Bride reader Lucia said that If the Buddha Married “isn't actually much about Buddhism, but it's a refreshing and reassuring (and easy) read.”

5 love languages alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman came highly recommended from three different readers:

It has religious basis, but the theory is applicable to any marriage. It explains that people have different ways of communicating love, and the reason so many people are unhappy in their marriages is because they speak a different love language than their spouse. I have had four other people read it since I did and they have all felt the same way about it. -Allison
I second the Five Love Languages. I'm not a Christian by any means and while the book has basis on the principles taught in the Bible and Its Scripture, it is indeed applicable to any relationship. -Latia
I Third the Five Love Languages! Again, not a fan of the religious side of it, but is fantastic by itself and has helped us immensely. My (now) mother in law lent it to me and my hubby before we got married, and it's amazing how spot on it is, and how much it can teach! -Stacey

passionate marriage alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)Susan described Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David Schnarch as the “most life changing book ever, even for those not currently in relationships or those in relationships but not married!”

I second Susan's comment; that book is amazing; it speaks eloquently to the need for emotional separateness, and also mutual compassion and respect for couples. -Sarah

Cover.Committed alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)Several people recommended Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame).

I'm seconding Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert… because it covers a lot of the things we worry about before making that commitment. -Kristen

the ethical slut a practical guide to polyamory open relationships other adventures alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)The Ethical Slut was referenced heavily in this post about dealing with wedding jealousies and/or jealousies in general.

i do but i dont alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)I Do but I Don't: Walking Down the Aisle without Losing Your Mind may be about planning a wedding, but as Offbeat Bride reader Hibryd said:

…it's “Not exactly a how-to-guide but it covered the Wedding Industrial Complex and even some of the thornier issues of marriage and proposal in a world where feminism and tradition collide.

emotionally engaged alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)Our beloved Tribe moderator Sarah recommended Emotionally Engaged: A Bride's Guide to Surviving the “Happiest” Time of Her Life by Allison Moir-Smith.

“Emotionally Engaged” talks a lot about the coming-of-age/life transitions side of getting married and how it can influence your feelings about your wedding planning process. It's very heterocentric and WIC-y in its imagery, but the psychoanalytical stuff is pretty spot on. -Sarah

how to be a couple and still be free alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)From the description of How to be a Couple and still be Free by Tina Tessina and Riley Smith:

The book is designed especially for people who seek a model for equal partnership, and couples who want to transform struggle into teamwork. It works for couples who are married, cohabiting, or dating — in a traditional or alternative relationship.

the feast of love alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)Offbeat reader Gil explains, “Though not specifically about marriage, The Feast of Love is an awesome exploration of love in many forms in the form of a novel. I would recommend it to anyone.

We know there are even MORE good marriage and relationship books out there, so what books have most helped YOUR relationship?

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Comments on Offbeat Bride’s collaborative recommended reading list for books about marriage and relationships

  1. The best relationship book I have EVAR read is called, “Love is Never Enough” by Aaron Beck. It’s about communication and how to not only avoid arguments, but learn when and why we are hurting each other by miscommunicating. The author’s a cognitive behavioral psychiatrist and so this book provides concrete advice and exercises to improve you communication skills. It’s amazing and I highly recommend it!

    • OMG, Aaron Beck is my hero and I shall go find this book RIGHTNOW. I’ve done a lot of reading of his because I work as a counselor and love his counseling theory, but I didn’t know he did a relationship book!

  2. I’d love to hear recommendations from folks about books geared towards marrying into a “blended family” and/or becoming a step-parent, with a focus on how it impacts the spousal relationship. Most of the “becoming a stepmom” books out there that I’ve seen are all about how to become a better mom, not necessarily a better wife.

    Also, umm…. the Buddha was married. In fact, he left his wife and children behind when he decided to pursue a spiritual life. So, maybe not the best choice for a title. 🙂 The book sounds like it might be interesting – but I admit, the silly title makes it hard for me to take it seriously.

    • Hi Ali,

      I haven’t found a good book on blended families but I’m looking too! I have two step-kids and I have enjoyed some titles on the stepmom aspect (Jacquelyn Fletcher is one whose positive tone is appreciated amongst many who are hardened). I have been finding that I need to get the ‘couple’ side in books like these ones above, and then take a spoonful of “it’s different for me”. I just downloaded the one called Passionate Marriage listed above, because I find that having time for just us is hard…days go by and it’s all kid stuff and then you just want to collapse. Anyhoo, if I come across something I will post back!

    • hah yeah the buddha was married and the author addresses that right in the first part of the book. it’s a great book- and i pick it up from time to time still when i’m feeling lazy or frustrated in my relationship. she has a beautiful perspective on love, committment and seeing your partner as who they truly are. i’m so guilty of getting too wrappped up in stressful life stuff and forgetting how much i love that human on the other side of the dinner table. you know, that guy that’s made me dinner almost every night for four years.

    • Sounds like Dr. Bronner – he did the same thing, as I found out recently via a documentary on netflix. Crazy things happen with these people we look to as amazing and moral that don’t fit our own morals. Goes to show that no one is perfect. We should just love and work on problems rather than bury, ignore or amplify them.

  3. I’ve had my eye on The Magic Room for awhile- it centers on a bridal shop in Michigan and tells the back stories of several brides who got their dresses there, as well as the family that’s owned the shop for decades.

  4. Wow! You used my comment from facebook! That’s so exciting!!

    Seriously, Passionate Marriage is so amazing. I really think I was finally able to get over my co-dependent relationship behaviors due to that book. OK. Maybe not “get over,” but “start the recovery process.” But it feels really good!

  5. My PA and I are currently working our way through a daily devotional that is based on the Five Love Languages. The PA is very religious, and the book appeals greatly to him. The religion grates on me, but the important thing is that the book is making us talk…about who we are, what’s important to us, what upsets us, what hurts us, why we do the things we do. I can get past the religion for that benefit. In fact, we’ve purchased it for friends who have gotten married in the last year.

      • LOL it’s my name for my husband-to-be. I got angry at all of the men in my life once and went through my phone and renamed them some version of “ass” because that’s what they were all being (it’s like their cycles aligned or something). Because his family spoils him rotten and his momma calls him a prince, his name became Prince Ass.

    • I just finished reading the 5 languages of love and I didn’t find it all that religious . Maybe some the religious context went over my head or something! I found it pretty helpful in regards to communicating better with my future in-laws. They communicate so differently, it was helpful to have a book to really describe how not everyone shows affection or receives affection in the same way. Excited to try some of these other books!

  6. I’m a huge fan of Dan Savage’s The Commitment. It is, on the surface, about gay marriage, but under neath about what makes a relationship a marriage.

  7. I love ‘1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married‘. While I haven’t ever sat my partner down and made him go through it, because that would bore him to tears, I have made sure to bring questions like that into our conversations. We discovered some interesting differences about our views on various things that we were able to talk about before it became critical, like how we imagined educating our [currently imaginary] children.

  8. Even though it’s not specifically about marriage, I highly recommend Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand” as a wonderful explanation of how people communicate and miscommunicate – especially across the male/female divide. Excellent stuff.

  9. Another book I think is good for evaluating a couples relationship is called Two. I bought it at Starbucks about a year ago.

  10. This is such a great post!! I can’t wait to start reading! It is hard to know where to start…

  11. Okay, so I don’t see anyone else commenting about this aspect of relationships, but it has been REALLY helpful for me. It’s a book titled, “She Comes First; A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasing a Woman.” The author is Ian Kerner. My beloved has never been in an intimate relationship before. He needed a little ‘help’ in this area. After a few fights that lead to nothing but hurt feelings, I researched and found this book. It really goes into the mental/emotional of a woman’s pleasure and gives practical things to DO with a lover. My beloved reads a chapter every night. It has helped spice up our relationship, but the best part for me was his willingness to actively participate in growing our intimacy.

    To anyone seeking help in a relationship, I would offer my learnings from this: consider the bigger picture. Our intimacy has increased because my beloved READ A BOOK. It’s not the tricks and techniques he’s learned; it’s the effort he has put forth to improve our relationship.

    By the way, at the beginning of our relationship I was really insecure and thought I was going to mess up our relationship. My beloved saw a segment on The View on The Five Love Languages. He sent me the book and it helped us through that time.

  12. Can I just reiterate how much I love this site? I have read Emotionally Engaged since this list was posted, and agree that while it is very hetero and mainstream wedding in tone, emotional passages are universal. It is a quick read and if anything is helpful for giving one permission to go through a process and acknowledge that this is a big deal in a good way. Love this latest post too and it is highly relevant to stepmoms Ali!

  13. Young Wives’ Tales, edited by Jill Corral and Lisa Miya-Jervis, is a super-smart book that addresses different issues along the spectrum of marriage. There are different perspectives (couples choosing not to get married, polyamorous couples, gay couples, long-distance, young, etc.) that really make you get introspective about the meaning and function of marriage. I read this book before I got married, and regularly go back and reread it.

    • If you like that train of thought, Marilyn Yalom’s “A History of the Wife” changed my young life ten years ago. It helped me define myself outside of my culture. I promised myself I’d reread when I got engaged, and I’m excited to jump back into it now that my life has taken a turn for the committed.

  14. I found Couples by Kate Figes incredibly interesting –
    It’s interviews with couples (including same sex) who have been married or together a long-ish time, mixed in with academic research. I just found it really helped me think about my own relationship and what I want from it. Highly recommended.

  15. I’m reading “Spousonomics” by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson and it is fabulous! It’s all about how economics can be applied to marriage, as well as sex, children, chores and the daily work that is a relationship. Economics sounds boring, I know, but the book makes total sense and is a really fun read to boot! I highly recommend it!

  16. I highly recommend all of Dr. Willard Harley’s books, especially His Needs, Her Needs and its companion LoveBusters. His website, MarriageBuilders is chock full of short articles that summarize his concepts.

    He is Christian, but unlike most Christian books on marriage, he doesn’t mention biblical verses and instead focuses on universally appropriate material. Nearly all of his relationship advice is spot on – and something even this Paganbride can find very helpful and non-offensive.

  17. Thrilled to have my book Emotionally Engaged: A Bride’s Guide to Surviving the “Happiest” Time of Her Life included in this really useful list — thank you!

    I’ll just put in a special “or” for Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. I have all the brides I work with read it.

    Quick question (I’m exposing my fuddy-duddy side here): Can someone please tell me what a WIC is? I’m dying to know!

  18. Another book written by Gary Chapman is Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. The future hubby and I are currently working through this book now. I was familiar with the 5 Love Languages and knew that Gary Chapman is a Christian, however I find his books can easily be applied to someone not of a defined faith. My future hubby is a Humanist, but believes in God, so was completely on board with reading the book. So far, it has opened up conversations that we have had before but made us dive deeper into those subjects. We like the book and would recommend it!

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