Despite what Disney might have led us to believe, it takes work to better our relationships. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying (at least to themselves) or divorced from reality (pun intended). Whether we’re talking partners, friends, family, colleagues, flatmates, or another context altogether, relationships are a skill.
The good news is this means we can get better at them. The bad news is it can be haaaard, you guys. But it’s totally 100% worth it. After all, relationships are the lifeblood of our existence and they teach us more about ourselves than we could ever hope to learn on our own.
Being married all of 18 months, I don’t consider myself anything close to an expert in this field but luckily for me (and my relationship), plenty of wise and knowledgeable people have written useful books that attempt to answer the perennial question of “how to relationship.”
Here are a few of my favourites:
7 must-read books that will better your relationships
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
The 5 Love Languages has a simple but powerful concept: each one of us has one of five possible dominant “love languages” and most issues in our long-term romantic relationships are caused by mismatched languages. The good news is we can easily figure out what our love language is, along with that of our partner’s, and learn to speak each others lingo.
In my (totally amateur) opinion, I don’t share the author’s conviction that just speaking the same language is enough for a relationship to thrive, but this book is an interesting read and offers a useful and practical insight into simple improvements we can all make.
Best for: Ironing out those “What is this really about?!” conversations where you just seem to keep missing each other, learning simple but effective ways to do nice things for each other.
Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine
This book (along with Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day by the same author), is a great primer in what healthy boundaries are all about. Anne Katherine explains the different kinds of boundaries we encounter in all kinds of relationships. As well as giving a clear breakdown of what boundaries look like in practical terms, she also gives examples of how to communicate boundaries in different circumstances (including with people who are totally oblivious to social cues).
Best for: A crash course in boundaries 101, how to say “no” in a firm but respectful way, permission to have standards when it comes to relationships.
Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships by Eric Berne
Before I read this book, I found the “Yes, but…” game incredibly annoying when it came from other people (you’ll know what I mean when you read about it), but upon reading I realised it’s something I totally do myself at times too! Shadow side much?
As well as describing the most common “games” and giving practical examples of what these look like, Eric Berne (the grandfather of transactional analysis) also shares how to disengage from each game and get the interaction back onto a more equal footing.
Best for: Minimising drama, learning more about your own communication, getting clarity on odd relationship dynamics.
Getting Real: 10 Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life by Susan Campbell
This is another practical no-fluff book about how to be more authentic in relationships. Susan Campbell explores why we struggle with this and sets out 10 skills we can all cultivate to enjoy more real and fulfilling interactions with others.
You can check out our Psychology Book Club conversation about this book here and my interview with Susan about her latest book, Five-Minute Relationship Repair, for the Becoming Who You Are podcast here.
Best for: Showing up more fully as yourself, learning to resolve conflict in a constructive and growth-inspiring way.
Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix
This book goes deep into the origins of common relationship issues and sheds light on how you can heal and resolve them. It’s not an easy read per se, as a lot of the concepts challenge traditional ideas about relationships and can deal with painful topics. It is, however, a valuable tool for any couple who wants to communicate better and show up with more empathy and understanding.
The book is marriage-focused but the concepts apply to any partnership. As well as plenty of theory, there are also 16 useful exercises you can do with your partner
Best for: Learning how to revitalise relationships once the initial “buzz” has worn off, improving communication and emotional intimacy.
Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg
This book seems to be a bit like Marmite: people either love it or hate it. In my experience, a lot of the hate comes from listening to people proselytising “NVC-speak” (and doing a hack job at it), at which point it just sounds contrived and a tad pretentious.
Regardless, I love this book (even though it’s endorsed by Deepak Chopra). Not only has it helped me in my relationships with others but it’s been invaluable in the context of my relationship with myself too. As someone who never even consciously considered having needs until well into adulthood, the concepts inside have been a gateway to a deeper understanding about myself and helped me become a more empathic and understanding towards other people too.
Just remember to use the language sparingly, and don’t hide behind it to avoid saying what you really mean :)
Best for: Getting in touch with your feelings and needs (dude), learning how to tentatively “read between the lines” when it comes to what other people are saying, becoming a black belt empathy ninja.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown
Daring Greatly isn’t a relationship book per se, but it is a wonderfully inspiring read about vulnerability—a key ingredient when it comes to any relationship. If you’ve been around the personal development world all of five minutes, you’ve probably heard of Brené’s work, if not her infamous TED talk, so this book probably doesn’t need much introduction.
Suffice to say: read it. It’s a moving, heart-warming battle cry to show up with more courage in our relationships.
Best for: Those times when you need to get back in the relationship arena, a gentle nudge towards showing up with more vulnerability and authenticity in your relationships.
What are your favourite books on relationships? Leave a comment and share your recommendations!