There is almost nothing you can’t learn from a well-written book, in my book-loving opinion — including ways to improve and strengthen your relationships. And I’m not just talking about romance here; in addition to all those helpful little books about improving your marriage (you know, the ones you never thought you’d actually buy) there are also tons of great books about strengthening your friendships, deepening your connections with your parents and your communities, and even improving your relationship with yourself (you do spend more time with yourself than anybody else you know, after all. It helps if you and yourself actually get along. At least most days.)
I’ll confess: I love me a good book about self-improvement, and yes, while there are a ton of cheesy self-help reads out there, there are also a select number of titles that actually can change your life for the better. I promise! And you won’t even be embarrassed to get caught reading them on your subway commute.
Here are 8 books that will improve your relationships, strengthen your friendships, and help you connect with the world and everyone in it on a much deeper level. And not a single one of them is cheesy, I swear.
1. The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
Forgiveness is pretty essential to any relationship — not just your relationships with others, but your relationship with yourself as well. As a Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Desmond Tutu knows a whole lot about forgiveness. Written with his daughter, Mpho, The Book of Forgiving looks at relationships both at the individual level and on a global scale, laying out four keys to employing forgiveness as a path towards healing, transformation, and overall better living. This book should be mandatory reading for literally every human person.
2. Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist
Coming from a very Italian family, I know a thing or two about the ways that lives and relationships can revolve around food — and the specific importance of sitting around the table together. This collection of essays about family, friendships, and love explores the ways relationships can form and evolve around the sharing of meals, and illuminates the nourishing qualities of connection. Plus, this book includes a ton of irresistible recipes that you can use to bring your loved ones together around your own kitchen table. (Can you say Butternut Squash Risotto?)
3. Awakening Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön
Pema Chödrön looks at relationships on both a macro and a micro level in Awakening Loving-Kindness — exploring how even our relationships with the smallest of organisms can inform how we exist and relate to the world as a whole. The idea of loving-kindness is that of mindfully expressing compassion and thoughtfulness towards others in all that we do — and “others” includes things like that spider in the corner of your bedroom ceiling, and whether or not you treat the plants in your backyard with the same respect and dignity as your do all the stuff inside your house as well. This book will make you think differently about how the smallest and most intimate of relationships really can influence the world on a global scale.
4. I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" by Brené Brown
Shame, and particularly the subliminal (or not so subtle) shaming of women, plays a huge role in the way we exist in the world, construct our relationship with ourselves, and form relationships with others — and in ways I hadn’t even thought of before reading this book. Female empowerment guru Brené Brown has compiled extensive research in this book, which works to empower against feelings of shame that can hinder our growth as individuals, and harm the ways we evolve through our relationships with partners, family members, friends, and communities. By breaking down shame as a barrier to deep connection, this book could literally change your life.
5. Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic by Esther Perel
I don’t read a lot of self-help books about marriage and romantic relationships because, quite frankly, they can be a little over the top — mildly cringe-worthy, if you know what I mean. Esther Perel is no such relationship counselor, and her investigations, analysis, and advice in Mating in Captivity are all spot-on, totally relatable, unflinching, and sometimes even a little funny. Perel thinks outside the “traditional” box when it comes to relationships, and her book can help you think differently about what works specifically for you and your partner, instead of trying to fit you and your love into a socially-sanctioned mold.
6. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg
If you’ve spent even three seconds on a certain presidential candidate’s Twitter feed then you probably don’t need me to tell you we could all use a refresher course (or perhaps an introduction?) on the practices, skills, and benefits of nonviolent communication. This book is filled with anecdotes, analysis, and exercises in communicating clearly, effectively, and respectfully — a must in any successful relationship. Fighting against socially ingrained norms that reinforce practices of violent, combative communication, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life demonstrates that it takes more strength to act peacefully than it does to communicate with violence and force. Preach.
7. The Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life by Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver
Literally thousands of books have been written about women in relationships — and we still haven’t even scratched the surface of the complex, formative, essential ways that women connect with each other, our partners and families, and our communities. The ancient history of female relationships tells us that anthropologically our BFFs served a much higher purpose than that of a Saturday afternoon shoe shopping buddy (although that’s a super important role too,) and this book begins to explain why. Relationships among women form the backbone of a community — they are functional, therapeutic, healing, and (when they go awry) can be disastrous. This book explores the role female relationships play in healing the self and the community.
8. Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
By now you’ve probably heard all about attachment theory as it relates to parent/child relationships, via your new-parent friends as they try out things like co-sleeping, mindful breast feeding, and communicating with their little newborn nugget the same way one would with an adult. But attachment theory can be applied to romantic relationships as well—and that’s what this book seeks to explore. Attached will guide you and your partner through determining your own particular attachment styles, before sharing theories on how to improve your relationship based on how you attach to others.
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