Recently, I shared some ideas from some of my favorite relationship books with a friend. He seemed quite amazed by the many, rich insights! He asked me to share my list of all-time favorite books that deal with family relationships including the relationship we have with ourselves. “You’ve spent a career writing and teaching about family relationships. What are the greatest books you’ve read?”

These are the books about relationships that have changed my life:

#1: Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott. I have read a lot of parenting books! I have also read journal articles and research chapters. Each has value. But Haim Ginott’s has one of the most precious messages in parenting. He teaches how to show compassion while setting limits, how to show love while building accountability.

John Gottman, the famous psychologist, and author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, said of Ginott’s book: “This is the most important book ever written on parenting and the emotional world of children. It is a must that every parent and teacher master the skills taught in these pages. Written by Dr. Haim Ginott, renowned child psychologist—and in my opinion, a true genius—Between Parent and Child goes far beyond telling us how to discipline and control our kids, and explains how to raise children who are not only well behaved, but are also emotionally strong, independent thinkers, and compassionate toward others. This newly revised edition is better than ever. Take my advice—buy this book! Read this book! You and your children will be forever grateful.”

#2: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman. Gottman has done decades of careful research on marriage. He moved the field from a bunch of nice, feel-good recommendations to the science of relationships. Because of him, now we know the keys to strong relationships. He teaches about love maps, fondness and admiration, turning toward, accepting influence, managing conflict, and creating shared meaning. While several of his other books have precious insights—notably The Relationship Cure and Why Marriages Succeed or FailSeven Principles is his most popular work. So many myths of marriage have been undone by Gottman’s work. So many marriages have been strengthened by applying his principles.

#3: Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. In 1998, when Seligman was inaugurated as president of the American Psychological Association, he challenged his colleagues to get beyond healing mental illness. He encouraged them to study well-being and flourishing. What makes a human life purposeful and joyous? Seligman himself answered the call by gathering the research for his landmark book Authentic Happiness in which he challenges us to have happiness in the present, optimism about the future, satisfaction about the past, know and use our strengths, and serve. This is an insightful and helpful book.

#4: The Science of Fear by Daniel Gardner. Popular media get our attention by scaring us. And we are wired to worry about threats. So, the message of the media gets scarier and scarier. The reality is quite different from that portrayed by the media. Gardner’s message is sensible and reassuring: “Gratitude, not fear, should be the defining feeling of our age. And yet it is fear that defines us. We worry. We cringe. It seems that less we have to fear, the more we fear. . . . For most people in the world, there’s never been a better time to be alive” (pp. 293, 304). Gardner takes common fears and shows sensible ways of challenging and managing them.

#5: The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt is a brilliant psychologist who shows that we are like riders on an elephant. We think we have control of our journeys, when in reality the elephant makes many of our decisions. The elephant “includes the gut feelings, visceral reactions, emotions, and intuitions” (p. 17) that guide many of our decisions. Only when the rider and the elephant work together do we make great decisions. Haidt shows us how to get the two to work together.

#6: Anger Kills:  Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility that Can Harm Your Health by Redford and Virginia Williams. It is common to believe that we must express our anger or it will pollute us. The truth is quite different. Many feelings simply go away by distracting ourselves. And hostility is damaging to our hearts as well as our relationships. In fact, anger kills. The Williamses provide seventeen different strategies for dealing with anger; each of us can find one or more to help us overcome anger.

#7: Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman. Gottman is the giant in marriage research. In this book he shows that it is not the kind of marriage—validating, volatile, or avoidant—that makes the difference but the ratio of positive to negative moments. Each of Gottman’s books adds important insights to our understanding of marriage.

If you are a reader, I recommend that you dive into one or more of the seven books recommended above. If you have less time or interest in reading lengthy books, I recommend my book Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships that shares the greatest overall discoveries in the areas of personal well-being, marriage, and parenting.

Having strong relationships does not come without thought and effort. If you’re a person who is enlarged by reading, I hope you will find the right book for you and make it the focus of serious study. You and your relationships will be better for the effort!

Happy reading!

A direct link to Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships:

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful editorial suggestions.