For years, LoveScience readers and my college students have asked for a list of my favorite things—meaning, of course, books. What follows is a best-of parade, by category. These are the books I come back to again and again, the ones I reference and dog-ear and worry about loaning out. They aren’t all about intimate relationships, but they do all map back to love and happiness with the various important others in your life—including yourself. I can’t guarantee these books match your tastes, but I can promise you that if I read a book and I didn’t love it, it’s not on this list.
If you want to know more about relationships and yourself, read on! May you find much to enjoy in these new and old friends of mine.
Science-based relationship books:
The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, by John M. Gottman, Ph.D.
—If you purchase only one relationship book for your marriage—ever—this is the one to get.
And Baby Makes Three, by John M. Gottman, Ph.D., & Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D.
—Two-thirds of couples become permanently less-happy following the birth of the first child. If you want to remain in the Happy 1/3rd, get this book. Worth its weight in nights of uninterrupted sleep.
The Case For Marriage—why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially, by Linda J. Waite, Ph.D., and Maggie Gallagher
—If you think marriage is just a piece of paper, prepare to be overwhelmed by contrary and fascinating evidence, as I was. Find out why marriage benefits both men and women more than any other type of relationship, and why cohabitation is not the same thing.
Marriage: Just a piece of paper? Edited by Katherine Anderson, Don Browning, and Brian Boyer.
—A field trip in thoughts about marriage from the standpoint of not only scientists, but also therapists, attorneys, judges, and the general public, this book ensures you’ll consider your life and your intimate choices in new ways.
The Evolution of Desire: Strategies in human mating (Revised), and The Dangerous Passion: Why jealousy is as necessary as love and sex—both by David M. Buss, Ph.D.
—Possibly the most myth-shattering and psychologically revealing of the popular, science-based relationship books, these are jaw-droppers. Dr. David Buss uses the results of his global research in 37 different cultures to reveal the unseen side of the human mind that is driving our unconscious mating preferences and decisions. I give both of these books my highest praise and recommendation.
Why him? Why her?, by Helen Fisher, Ph.D.
—This is a fascinating look into four basic personality types, and how these merge in dating and mating. What’s your personality? What’s your partner’s (or parent’s, or child’s)? And what do they tell you about your relationship?
Lost & Found Lovers: Fact and fantasy about rekindled romances,by Nancy Kalish, Ph.D.
Dr. Kalish is the foremost expert on lovers who were separated—often cruelly, by their parents— and then reunited years later. This book is must if you’ve ever wondered what happened to so-and-so, and what would happen if you reconnected.
Attached, by Amir Levine, M.D.
—Everyone has a measurable attachment style; it’s with us from our first year of life, and although it can change, if you aren’t aware of its impact on your life, the suffering can be substantial. What are the attachment styles? How can you figure out yours—or your partner’s? How can you deal with difficulties in your relationship that are being caused by an attachment-style mismatch? An important book.
Love Sense: The revolutionary new science of romantic relationships, by Sue Johnson, Ph.D.
—What’s your attachment style, and how is it affecting your intimate relationships? This new book is all about attachment and how it impacts our long-term relationships. If you want to know why we never stop needing each other, and how you and your partner can learn to be closer, this one’s for you.
For Better: The science of a good marriage, by Tara Parker-Pope
—Science-writer Parker-Pope takes us on a field trip through various studies on marriage, showcasing the best studies and showing us along the way how we can all land on the For Better side of the deal.
Why Women Have Sex, by Cindy M. Meston, Ph.D., and David M. Buss, Ph.D.
—Why does a simple question take 306 pages to answer? Maybe it’s not so simple after all.
Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?, by Jena Pincott
—Posed in a series of intriguing questions and equally captivating answers, this book amusingly summarizes recent relationship research on sex, love, and attraction, and reveals how you can apply the answer to each query.
The Secret Lives Of Pronouns: What our words say about us, by Dr. James Pennebaker
—Dr. Pennebaker analyzes language to get to meaning that is normally hidden from everyone…including the speaker. Can you tell when someone’s lying to you? Are certain words more associated with relating and others more about things? There’s another side of language, and it’s intriguing.
Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, by Dr. Duana Welch
—This is the first and only science-based book that takes men and women from before you meet to the moment you decide to commit to life together. It’s also my first book, and I hope you love it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Science-based books about relationships’ darker side:
NOT Just Friends: Rebuilding trust and recovering your sanity after infidelity, by Shirley Glass, Ph.D.
—Turns out, whether men have affairs is not related to how happy they are; happy men are just as likely to have affairs as unhappily-married guys. Yet the same can’t be said for women. What are the core elements that lead to affairs? How can you prevent an affair—or end or recover from one? Solidly based in research, Dr. Glass shatters cherished illusions about how affairs happen—and how you can recover and make your relationship better than before.
When Men Batter Women—New insights into ending abusive relationships, by Neil Jacobson, Ph.D., and John Gottman, Ph.D.
—Do women really stay with abusers? Will he stop? Can her behavior affect his? The first and only team to study abusers and their mates for 5 years, Jacobson and Gottman’s book is a must-read for anyone in an abusive relationship, anyone worried they might enter an abusive relationship, and anyone who is trying to understand or help people who are in or leaving abusive relationships.
Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men, by Mr. Lundy Bancroft
—More excellent help for those living with abusive partners: “Disrespect is the soil abuse grows in.” Mr. Bancroft’s observations are right on the money.
Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life—a reasoned, practical guide to the legal, emotional and financial ins and outs of negotiating a divorce settlement, by Sam Margulies, Ph.D., J.D.
—Divorce is a global phenomenon. But must it be as destructive, emotionally or economically, as it usually is? If you have kids, your divorce does not end your relationship, it merely changes it. Change it for the better; get this book.
Popular relationship books:
—These aren’t science-based, but science supports what they say. I highly recommend these advice books:
If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single?, by Susan Page
—Don’t let the title put you off. This book is among the very best for men and women who are seeking love.
The Eight Essential Traits Of Couples Who Thrive, by Susan Page
—Upset at the prevalent stereotypes that there are no good marriages, Page sought out happy couples to interview, formulating her own observations of the traits they shared. If you want to increase your faith in the existence of happy marriage, increase your odds of knowing how to recognize a partner you can be happy with, and increase your skills in behaving the way the happily-wed do, this book is for you.
How One Of You Can Bring The Two Of You Together, by Susan Page
—See “Eight Essential Traits,” above. This isn’t a research-based book, but Page is yet again right on point. Live it, learn it, love it.
The Rules—time-tested secrets for capturing the heart of Mr. Right, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schnieder
—Want to be Ms. Right instead of Ms. Right-Now? This book may be snide and simple, but evolutionary science indicates this advice is at core accurate for women who want to activate a man’s long-term sexual strategies and avoid falling prey to short-term mating strategies. Wonder what women are up to, guys? It’s in here.
Data: A love story, by Amy Webb
—In Ms. Webb’s sometimes hilarious and always insightful adventures in finding her Mr. Right, she obsesses her way to true love online, suggesting many valid tips for others along the way.
The Gift of Fear, by Gavin DeBecker
—If you want to protect yourself, either before an abuser can enter your life or after one is already in it, you need this book. If you want to know when, whether, and how to trust your intuition, you need this book. If you want to get rid of a stalker, you need this book. If you tend to think too much for your own good in a dangerous situation, or get confused because you’re trying to be fair or explain away someone else’s bad behavior—you need this book.
Evolutionary psychology and evolution-related books:
See David M. Buss’ books (above), plus these other science-based books:
Stepmonster: A new look at why real stepmothers think, feel, and act the way we do, by Wednesday Martin
—Why does every culture have stories of the wicked stepmother? Struggling to adapt to becoming a stepmom herself, Ms. Martin found the scientific basis of feelings and actions typical of even the best stepmothers. If you want to understand yourself or your stepmom better (and if you want to know how to do the step-parent gig as best you can)—this book is the one.
Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation—the definitive guide to the evolutionary biology of sex, by Olivia Judson
—Hilarious and informative, it’s sex from a birds’-and-bees’-eye view.
How To Want What You Have, by Timothy Miller, Ph.D.
—Why is it so hard for most of us to be happy? Because our genes haven’t got an “off” switch! We want endlessly and are never satisfied; Miller suggests ways we can get around this and be happy with what we already have.
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The Gifts Of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are, by Brene’ Brown, Ph.D.
—Dr. Brown’s research showed her that despite her many successes, she was not really a very fulfilled person. Why not? How could she change? Her findings and her journey will inspire you and re-introduce you to someone who needs a lot more of your love: yourself.
The Pursuit Of Happiness—discovering the pathway to fulfillment, well-being, and enduring personal joy, by David G. Myers, Ph.D.
—The world’s most famous psychology textbook author is an authority on happiness research, specifically. Here, he presents it in his trademark fascinating style, and teaches us all how to be happier. Bonus: You don’t have to wait for some event to occur; happiness is yours for the taking right now.
Authentic Happiness, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.
—Dr. Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, uses research to help people find what makes them happiest, showing us how he himself went from grouch to grateful along the way.
How To Want What You Have, by Timothy Miller, Ph.D. (See under “Evolution books,” above.)
Stepmonster, by Wednesday Martin (see above)
The Baby Book, by William Sears, M. D.
The Discipline Book, by William Sears, M.D.
—Ever been told that you have to let your baby cry it out? Or that you can spoil a baby by holding her too much? Is discipline spanking—or something else? Science on attachment backs up Dr. Sears, and as a developmental psychologist and a mother, I give his parenting library my highest endorsement.
—Someday, they’ll be adults. Do you want your kids to grow up to wait to have sex; have fewer partners; have happier sex lives when they do commit to someone; and avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections? Science shows there is a really effective way to get all of that: Be a parent who talks to your kids early and often about sex, sexuality, birth control, and your own values and beliefs. All of Robie Harris’ books can help; pick the one that fits your child’s age level, toddler to high school; preview it; and use it to launch discussions, or give it to your child and discuss as questions arise:
What’s In There? All about before you were born, by Robie Harris and Nadine Bernard Westcott
Who Has What? All about girls’ bodies and boys’ bodies, by Robie Harris and Nadine Bernard Westcott
It’s Not The Stork!: A book about girls, boys, babies, bodies, families and friends, by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing bodies, growing up, sex, and sexual health, by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
It’s So Amazing!: A book about eggs, sperm, birth, babies, and families, by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
How To Teach Life Skills To Kids With Autism Or Asperger’s, by Jennifer McIlwee Myers
—This book is *the* book if you’re raising kids who are anywhere on-spectrum. In fact, in my opinion, the tips in this book are key to raising kids, period; we can all use some help in teaching our kids how to develop life skills. Laugh-out-loud hilarious, this book gets all five stars.
How To Choose The Sex Of Your Baby, by Landrum B. Shettles, M.D., Ph.D., and David M. Rorvik
—For parents who are set on raising a child of a specific gender, there’s adoption…and then there’s the fact that X-bearing sperm are heavier and slower, allowing you to time intercourse to ovulation so that either the “boy sperm” or “girl sperm” are likeliest to fertilize the egg. Some people don’t think it’s okay to do this; but then again, some people are having 10 kids in the continued hope of conceiving the opposite gender. Don’t overpopulate; use science to increase your odds from 50/50 to above 80% of conceiving the gender you want.
—Love thoughtful musings about science in general, and social science in particular? Mr. Malcolm Gladwell’s always-refreshing, fascinating, and fresh take won’t let you down:
Blink—The power of thinking without thinking
The Tipping Point—How little things can make a big difference
David & Goliath—Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants
Outliers—The story of success
—Career is about what you want to do, not merely what you’re good at or how much you want to be paid. Here are a couple books many of my students have found helpful:
I could do anything (if only I knew what it was), by Barbara Sher
Wishcraft—how to get what you really want, by Barbara Sher
Drinking, A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp
—A moving, insightful look into Ms. Knapp’s alcoholism, and how she recovered; frequently refers to her own experiences and backs them up with facts from alcoholism and recovery studies. This book is poetic and deeply revealing; I recommend it for anyone who has struggled with alcohol, and everyone who has struggled with someone they love who drinks too much.
If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!, by Lisa Frederikson
—Science-based yet simple, this book helps everyone understand addiction and why love is not all you need.