This page lists resources you, or you and a partner, can use to understand and strengthen your relationship. I have read each of the books and spent time on each of the web sites, and I think highly of all of them. I receive no compensation for these recommendations.
Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up by Harriet Lerner (2012). A small, short, practical book that’s filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom. Each rule is one or two pages long and can be read in a few minutes. Her advice seems like common sense, but it has surprising depth, and just about any reader will benefit. Topics include: warming up your relationship, reducing criticism, listening better, improving connection, having good sex, setting limits, surviving your children (a must-read for parents-to-be), and coping with stepchildren.
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Second Edition by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver (2015). Dr. Gottman is America’s most respected researcher on couples, and he’s written a lot of books. This one, which is aimed at a general audience, gives a great deal of practical advice on what helps and what hurts a relationship. The whole book is worth reading, but you can start with this good, detailed summary.
The High-Conflict Couple by Alan E. Fruzzetti (2006). Not just for couples who fight a lot, but for anyone who gets hypersensitive and overreactive, which, when the relationship going gets bumpy, is almost everyone. Contains much good advice about emotional arousal, accepting your partner and yourself, reducing hurtful behaviors, warming up a relationship, and problem-solving strategies. The most valuable chapters cover accurate expression of feelings, validation of each other, and recovery from invalidation. This book is written in plain language, but is wise and deep. Learn practical ways to combine change and acceptance so you can reduce suffering and increase closeness in your relationship.
Divorce Busting by Michele Weiner-Davis (1992). If you want to improve your relationship without partner cooperation, this book, whose motto is “Change your relationship by changing yourself,” is a good place to start. Based on the simple, effective idea that you should do less of what doesn’t work and more of what does, it describes in no-nonsense detail a number of techniques that often bring quick improvement, along with excellent trouble-shooting advice for when you get stuck. (If you already know you want to stay together, and just want advice about how, you can skip the first three chapters.)
Uncoupling: Turning Points in Intimate Relationships by Diane Vaughan (1986). A classic study that claims relationships end when one partner, through a process of selective focus and reinterpretation, comes to see the other person in negative terms and reconstructs the relationship history to consist mostly of negative events. This is not, in some sense, a self-help book because it gives no advice, but it can help you understand how your long-term relationship came apart. The book is packed with vibrant quotes from over a hundred in-depth interviews; they balance the author’s academic style.
A Woman’s Touch. This web site contains a great deal of well-researched, well-written information about sexuality. Check out their excellent free educational brochures on topics such as choosing a vibrator, penile rehabilitation after prostate surgery, anal play, and sex after having a baby. They also sell a wide variety of well-chosen, sex-related merchandise including books, movies, games, dildos, restraints, condoms, and, of course, vulva puppets.
Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski (2015). A readable summary of current research on female sexuality along with tips for how to improve things plus a whole lot of “you’re OK” messages. The tone is cutesy and I could nitpick some of her conclusions, but overall this book does a great job of explaining the sexual experiences of (American) women. Worth reading for any woman who’s confused or uncomfortable with her sexuality, and equally helpful for men who want to better understand their female partners.
The New Male Sexuality, Revised Edition by Bernie Zilbergeld (1999). My favorite book for helping men understand and improve their sexual interactions (erection difficulties, premature ejaculation, etc.) and relationships (listening well, dealing with conflict). The author has a great voice: colloquial, humorous, candid, and man-to-man. Though the pop-culture examples are dated, the underlying message is completely up-to-date. The book assumes heterosexuality, but just about any man could benefit from reading it.
Becoming Orgasmic: Revised and Expanded Edition by Julia R. Heiman and Joseph LoPiccolo (1988). A clear, kind, and easy-to-follow program for women who wish to become orgasmic, or to improve the ease and consistency of their orgasms. The explanations and exercises focus first on self-exploration and pleasuring, then on orgasming with a partner. Ignore the book’s outdated information about birth control, lubricants, and sexually-transmitted diseases. People, bodies, and orgasms haven’t fundamentally changed, so the approach itself remains strong.
The Erotic Mind by Jack Morin (1995). A warm, wise, well-written exploration of sexual desire that’s conceptually sophisticated while also grounded in the real-life experiences and words of hundreds of people who filled out the author’s questionnaire. The rich contents include: the concept of core erotic themes, and how to discover yours; the overlap between objectification and idealization, and how each contributes to eroticism; how longing, naughtiness, power, and ambivalence inform arousal; the aphrodisiac qualities of the “negative” emotions anxiety, guilt, and anger; ways to understand, and deal with, troublesome turn-ons; and lessons to be learned from long-time lovers. Wonderful!
The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex, Revised and Updated Third Edition by Cathy Winks and Anne Semans (2002). A trove of practical information on sex, including anatomy, communication, masturbation, lubrication, touching, a wide variety of sexual techniques, sex toys, fantasies, BDSM, safer sex, and much more. The writing is clear and elegant, conveying an enormous amount of detailed information in a friendly, relaxed manner. Hundreds of first-person comments sprinkled throughout the book enliven and enlighten. (The previous edition (1997) contains substantial additional bibliographic material.)
Getting Past the Affair by Douglas K. Snyder, Donald H. Baucom, and Kristina Coop Gordon (2007). This is a research-based approach to one of the most difficult issues a couple will deal with. It gives practical advice for getting through the initial distress, understanding why the affair(s) happened, and evaluating whether the relationship can be healed. This is a self-help book, aimed at a general audience. It can also be used in conjunction with counseling; Helping Couples Get Past the Affair (2011) is the companion book for therapists.
The High-Conflict Couple by Alan E. Fruzzetti (2006). [Described in detail above.] The advice and exercises in this book can be particularly helpful after an affair becomes known.
Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships by Patricia L. Papernow (2013). If you’re in, or will be in, a stepfamily, this fabulous book by the expert is a must-read. First families differ in crucial ways from stepfamilies, and approaches that work for the former often lead to negative results in the latter. The author gives clear, research-supported suggestions (often counter-intuitive) to help overcome common challenges, using many examples based on a wide range of stepfamilies. Parts of the book are aimed at therapists, but much of it can be understood and used by anyone. Warm, wise, practical. A classic.
Sex, Drugs, Gambling, & Chocolate by A. Thomas Horvath (2004). A practical, readable, research-based workbook for people who want to change their habits and addictions, including problematic relationships with sex and pornography. This can be used as a self-help book, or with the guidance of a therapist. The author believes you are not powerless over your behaviors, and his approach provides an alternative to 12-step models such as SA, SAA, SLAA, SCA, and SRA. He examines a wide range of choices, including harm reduction, moderation, and abstinence, and gives tips on how to determine which will work best for you. The three chapters on craving, and dealing with it, are especially strong.
Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). This web site contains excellent resources related to asexuality. Includes a good set of FAQs, a variety of first-person perspectives, and many great high-traffic forums where questions are asked and answered. Recommended to anyone (the site welcomes people of all orientations) who wants to better understand sexuality, because asexuality discussions shed light on all aspects of sexual desire and practice.
Trans directed by Chris Arnold (2012). This moving film explores the experiences of six people of varied ages and cultures whose sense of self is not in sync with their assigned sex. Not a dry documentary, but an exhilarating emotional ride that packs an amazing amount of information into 93 minutes. A perfect introduction to transgender issues, and must viewing for anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the human condition.