Marriage counseling and sex therapy can be expensive and, despite the proven benefit of both, not a proposition the majority of couples want to consider. It’s a good thing, then, that each year there are a number of excellent reads from therapists, researchers, and other experts that offer insightful, research-driven, and actionable steps regular couples can take to either shore up their relationship or just learn more about what makes a good one work. This year saw a number of excellent options, from one that delves deep into — and takes the stigma away from — the sexual fantasies of average Americans for the purpose of enhancing your sex life to a blunt book of marriage advice written by a divorce lawyer who really, really would like to see fewer broken couples in his office. So, without further ado, here are our favorite books on sex and marriage.
Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life by Justin Lehmiller
In attempts to open up a more frank dialogue about sex, Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a leading expert on human sexuality at the Kinsey Institute and author of the blog Sex and Psychology, organized one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys surrounding Americans’ attitudes towards sex and fantasy ever conducted, a two-year study involving more than 4,000 Americans of various backgrounds. This book explores the results, and, in the process, shines new light on ways in which these things operate within the context of American relationships. It’s full of sharp, interesting information. Did you, for instance, know that women are more likely to fantasize about same-sex experiences than men and men are more likely to have gender-bending fantasies (like crossdressing or having sex with a transsexual partner) than women? Or that, in fantasy scenarios, women are more likely to think about BDSM and to place more emphasis on where they were having sex and that, as Lehmiller told us, men report more taboo sexual fantasies and place more emphasis on who they were having sex with? As a whole, the book serves as an examination of sexual fantasies, why they’re good (and perfectly natural), and how to keep shame out of the equation.
If You’re in my Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce-Lawyers Guide to Staying Together by James Sexton
“Marriage is like the lottery,” James Sexton told us, “you’re probably not going to win, but if you win, what you win is so good that it’s worth buying a ticket.” Coming from most anyone else, this would be cynical. But Sexton, who, during his 20-year stint as a divorce lawyer in NYC, has helped more than 1,000 couples untie the knot, is simply calling it like he sees it. Such is the nature of his book, which is full of advice to help couples avoid stepping foot into his office. Through observations accrued during his two decades on the job, Sexton lays out a variety of helpful tips for married couples to go the distance. It’s all about maintaining your identity within the marriage, staying interesting, fighting in the appropriate manner, and much more. It’s all blunt and it all may sound obvious, sure, but it’s backed up by many examples of unions gone awry. Besides, if everyone followed the obvious, Sexton wouldn’t have a job.
Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long Term Marriage by Stephen Snyder
Props to Dr. Stephen Snyder’s editor, who gave this book a very enticing title. That’s not to say the substance isn’t there, as it is. Snyder, a leading sex and relationship therapist and an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, has first-hand knowledge of how married couples can fall into sexual ruts, where sex drives — and general interest — fall out of whack. His book details all the reasons this might happen (stresses of modern society, unspoken resentments, feeling more like roommates or, in the case of many busy parents, shift workers rather than lovers) and supplies actionable, research-backed ways in which couples can get their marriage and sex lives back on the right track.
The Rough Patch: Marriage and the Art of Living Together by Daphne de Marneffe
Every marriage hits the occasional rough patch, something that sets things slightly off-balance. It can be money issues, in-law problems, or stress over raising the kids. The rough patch itself isn’t necessarily the issue. It’s how a couple navigates their way through it that can either make or break a marriage. That’s what psychologist Dr. Daphne de Marneffe, Ph.D.’s, new book explores, and offers a framework for avoiding the speed bumps that stall many relationships. It covers how modern life can reroute a marriage — stress, technology, etc. — and provides a roadmap for returning to not only where you once were but maybe even a better place. It’s smart, genuinely helpful, and enthusiastically optimistic.
Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts by Susan Pileggi and James Pawelski
Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James O. Pawelski are married. In fact, they’re also social psychologists who teach romance and love workshops around the world and study both marriage and positive psychology every day (James is Director of education at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center). So, yeah, they’re pretty all in on marriage. They also genuinely want to arm couples with the skills to be in happy, fulfilling relationships. Through exercises and explanations, their book walks couples through ways in which they can extract more joy from their marriage. As they discussed with us, this includes such things as prioritizing positive emotions, really, truly complimenting one another, and working through bumpy patches without losing sight of the positive aspects of their relationship. Positivity, it turns out, can go a long way.
The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work by Eli Finkel
A professor of psychology at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the director of the Relationships and Motivation Lab, Eli Finkel understands marriage. He has spent years sorting through the literature on in the institution — the psychological, yes, but also the sociological and historical. The result of that research is a paradoxical understanding of the institution and his new book The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work. It’s a thoughtful, impressive work that charts the history of marriage and the in which ways marriage has evolved over the years while boiling the wealth of data into simple, attainable advice.