11 Books That Might Help You Through A Rough Patch In Your Relationship

Movies and songs often paint love as this beautifully romantic thing in which where boy meets girl, girl is perfect with just the slightest tinge of cutesy crazy, they have a little adventure and fall hopelessly in love and make out in perfect bliss forever while Ed Sheeran plays on in the background. But there’s a reason the credits tend to roll right after the epic reconciliation or the grand wedding. Relationships, real relationships, tend to be a whole lot messier than what we see on the big screen.

Now, literature, however, has a lot more… tumultuous relationships in its ranks. It’s full of affairs that end in tragedy, romances that crumble under social pressures, unhappy marriages, and individuals generally just ruined by romance. So, naturally, if you find yourself in a difficult relationship, literature is pretty much the perfect place to look for a little empathy, advice, or just a friendly, risk-free kick in the head.

Events might be a little exaggerated in fiction (you’ve gotta keep folk reading for 200-plus pages after all), but despite a little drama they’ve got a lot to teach, preach, or admonish about the (usually more mundane) problems that make for a real-life difficult relationship. So, if you’re in the throes of less-than-perfect romance, turn to one of these books and you might just find that the troubles you’re facing aren’t so strange after all.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

Suffering an early tragedy or nursing a sense of being “broken” doesn’t mean you can’t fall in love and have a beautiful relationship. The Solitude of Prime Numbers takes you along as you watch a beautiful if rocky friendship and love develop between two such imperfect individuals.

Eva’s Man by Gayl Jones

Some relationships are difficult and worth the fight, but others are a whole different kind of difficult… the kind you just need to get out of. In Eva’s Man, Eva’s series of highly dysfunctional relationships and situations just might be the rude awakening you need to see that it’s high time to move on from a toxic or even dangerous relationship.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This choice might seem a little silly or obvious, but Pride and Prejudice isn’t just some sappy romance novel. There are some real gems for a strong relationship in Austen’s most famous novel. Watching Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy struggle and eventually triumph through miscommunications, personal prejudices, and social expectations might help you recognize some of the totally overcomable issues in your own relationship. For example, you might take a lead from Darcy and write letters instead of starting yelling matches whenever things come to a head with the boo.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

The Fault In Our Stars is crazy popular for a reason: Love in the face of terminal illness is both beautiful and tragic. Whether you’re facing serious illness in a romantic relationship or not, the love story of these two terminally ill teenagers, and, perhaps even more so the story of Van Houten and his late daughter, will remind you of the preciousness of the time you have together. And you just might find that whatever difficulties you’re having just aren’t so serious after all.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We probably all have those relationships that sort of linger on in some sort of awkward limbo from the past. Romantic or no, these types of relationships come in a unique form of complicated. When they’re of the romantic nature, things get even weirder. Throw in an ocean between you and you officially qualify for the “It’s Complicated” status on Facebook. If any part of this is anything like you and your one-time boo, Americanah is the book for you. It perfectly captures how distance and time and all of the changes that occur through them makes for a seriously difficult relationship. But don’t worry, there’s hope! Well… at least for the book’s heroes.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road’s April and Frank try to cure gaping wounds with pretty Band-Aids, as their self-delusions about the bored comforts of their suburban life together slowly destroys their relationship. It’s hard to say exactly if there’s a lesson to be learned from Yates’ condemnation of suburban life in the '50s, but if you recognize symptoms of your own relationship difficulties in this book, it’s time to take them seriously.

We The Animals by Justin Torres

Told from the perspective of the children, We the Animals is a unique look at a difficult relationship, but an important one. When you have kids, your relationship isn’t just between you and your partner. What happens between you is felt by the the kids (kids see everything), too and having kids can change everything between you. We The Animals is a strong and brutal reminder of that.

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

What could a 22-year-old girl possibly have to tell anyone about relationships? Well, it turns out, quite a bit. Or, at least, a lot about ourselves. Whether about her first car, graduating from college, or the death of an intimate friend, Keegan’s essays, poems, and stories are about people and relationships. Whether you’re still navigating the twentysomethings or are well past them, the intense honesty and self-awareness Keegan brings to her writing make her youth a boon, because she forces us to remember that, though we are officially “grown ups,” we are still, in a lot of ways, full of the same insecurities and uncertainties of our younger days. Keegan points to these imperfections but does not ridicule them. And that is the sort of kindness to each other and ourselves that any relationship can benefit from.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Yes, the main theme of the book is adultery, but it’s also Tolstoy, which means it’s complex, detailed, and about a whole lot more than a love affair. Anna Karenina gets a lot of fan love for Vronsky and Anna passionate affair, but the book’s take on romance is actually a lot more complex than just a passionate affair. It gives you a look at just how different relationships can be through a host of different couples and situations — the passion between Vronsky and Anna, the stale comfort between Karenin and Anna, the complex compromise in the Oblonsky household, and the innocence and uncertainty in the love between Lev and Kitty. Your relationship might be difficult compared to the rosy pictures of romance you see on the big screen, but Anna Karenina shows how every relationship is different and what works for one couple might not work for another.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

It’s hard to admit it to yourself, but sometimes the “difficult” part of a difficult relationship might actually just be you. Díaz’s collection of stories depicts different interconnected relationships, but mostly focuses on infidelity and a strong failure to see women as human beings. That’s a problem. If that’s a you problem (and yes, women do this to other women too), then, as This is How You Lose Her aptly captures in its body and title. That’s just not going to work for any kind of functional relationship with a woman. Also, the stories are really good.

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

Of all the books on this list, Nightwood might be the most imperative. Revealing us all for the cruel, crazy, anxious, self-conscious, emotionally turbulent creatures we are, Nightwood makes you wonder how it’s possible that every relationship between human beings isn’t a “difficult” relationship. So, basically, if you’re in any relationship whatsoever, read Nightwood, marvel that two people are able to function as a couple at all and then hug yourself and then hug your significant other. These crazed, incomprehensible brain things full of emotions are all we’ve got to work with… so, might as well make the most of it, or else take your heartbreaks and move on.

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