Couples fill my counseling room seeking answers to why their spouse just won’t behave and do what they desperately need them to do. They come seeking answers, help, and breath for their lifeless marriages. They are heartbroken, disconnected, misunderstood and feel completely and utterly broken.

Working with these couples is my favorite work, because I know a little education about human development can make a world of different. I, too, have felt these exact emotions in the eighteen years my partner and I have been together. There are days I’ve rolled over in the morning and thought, “You’re still here?” In fact, he is still here, and I have to figure out how to move past an angry spat we’ve just had that makes me feel like he wasn’t!

We’ve been through the very thick and the very thin of times, skating on thin ice as it cracked beneath us. Those are very difficult times.

Alongside my therapy with couples, I often suggest some incredibly good books that can accompany what I’m already teaching. The books I suggest are rooted in research, and not some unknown therapist’s opinion. This matters to me personally as I continue to work toward my own marriage strength, and I know it matters to my couples, who feel as if their work with me is a matter of life and death.

Below, I’ve listed five favorite books for couples, including a quick summary. If you’re in a relationship, I highly suggest any one of these, or all of them!

Hold Me Tight – This is my number one book love for couples who come to me enraged, bitter, disgusted and even abusive. For couples who can’t move past the immense amount of anger that plagues them on a daily basis, this is the book for them. There are stories in this book of which most couples can relate. Dr. Sue Johnson talks intimately about the push and pull we have with our partners – the yelling in anger, the withdrawing, and the seemingly manipulative behavior that keeps us locked in power struggles and spirals of misunderstanding.

Feeling Good Together – Dr. David Burns pioneered the easy language of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) when we wrote “Feeling Good” in the 1980s. Many therapists reference the book as part of their library. So when we wrote “Feeling Good Together” in 2008, I was beaming with excitement! The CBT principles which are so useful in all of our lives are brought to life in the communication struggles we have in our intimate relationships. When couples come to me unable to talk to each other in cohesive, rational ways, this is the book I suggest. Most couples have some communication tweaking to do, without a doubt. This book outlines specifics of intimate language in a way that anyone can understand and begin using immediately.

Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work – Dr. John Gottman, along with his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman, have spent years researching couples in their Seattle “love lab.” The lab is an apartment of which couples “vacation” for a weekend, but in which there are cameras watching their every move and the couples are hooked up to microphones and electrodes to monitor even small changes in heart rate during an argument. Hours and hours have been studied in this lab; consequently, Dr. Gottman now professes to be able to tell if a couple is headed for divorce within minutes of meeting them, and he bases the prediction on key behaviors of which he observes in his couples. He calls the actions the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.” In this book are seven principles which come from years and years of research, and they are definitely worth examining and practicing!

Getting the Love You Want – Dr. Harville Hendrix wrote his book in 1988, and it took the world by storm – literally! He has been featured on Oprah and his work has been taught by many therapists across the nation in his Imago Relationship Workshops. This is a great book if couples want to understand how we are playing off of each other to get our own needs met. The book is chock-full of exercises and techniques couples use to eliminate negativity from their marriages.

Five Love Languages – It may seem a little cheesy to think that we have a “love language,” yet that is exactly what this book professes. I must admit, I think the author, Gary Chapman, is right! What we know about human beings is that we’re born with a certain DNA which creates in us a certain personality structure of which we operate. This personality structure seems to have a certain language of love. I often tell my couples, “You may be showing your love by making dinner in the evenings, but if this isn’t how she receives love, there is a real disconnect.” Couples think they professing love to their partners, but if they aren’t speaking their couples’ love language, your hard work and show of affection are for naught. This book teaches us about the love languages and how we can apply them in our marriages.

If you’re in an intimate relationship, I suggest the above reads. We all need a little help time and again, and we know that sustaining an emotionally connected relationship has its challenges.