I’m unqualified to give solid relationship advice grounded in any factuality other than my own lived experience. I’m not a relationships counsellor, nor have I completed any prior tertiary training in the areas of sexology, sociology, philosophy or psychology. But I do know how to articulate my thoughts through prose. The driving force behind my writing is simple: I enjoy distilling complex topics and providing a palatable summary for the time-pressed.
So for you, I present 5 books on love and relationships that I’ve read (or listened to via Audible.com) which have increased my understanding of myself, deepened my understanding of others, and encouraged me to reconsider how we ‘do’ relationships and love.
Firstly, why do we read? For some, reading is a pleasure. For myself, and for the purposes of self-development, I believe consuming literature should be a goal-oriented process.
When approaching a book, I have a list of goals in mind which are generally spurred on by an event, like heartbreak, an argument, or dissatisfaction with how I’m turning up in relationships. It’s only through the clarity of retrospect that I seek to find answers within bound pages, looking for a tool to protect me lest I encounter said heartbreak or argument again.
These goals include:
+ How to get over heartbreak in general;
+ How to self-soothe in times of acute emotional distress;
+ How to navigate modern relationships where commitment is off the cards;
+ How to understand another person, generally a person I’m dating;
+ How to understand myself and how I approach intimacy.
5 books on love and relationships that kept me up at night
The No Contact Rule by Natalie Lue
Natalie Lue began The No Contact Rule as a blog to help people to not just get over their exes, but to move on from relationships with their integrity, dignity and self-respect in tact. The No Contact Rule book is a more thorough and organised version of her blog. The target demographic appears to be primarily women, yet much of the language is gender neutral, is as is the book design. Those who’d find most value in it are the anxious amongst us who struggle with those late night moments where they snatch at their phones, frantically texting their ex a stream of manic consciousness.
If you’re in an off-again, on-again, toxic relationship, this book was designed to help you break the cycle and move on.
The No Contact Rule is simple: after a break up, you give yourself the much need psychological and physical space in order to gain clarity, perspective, and a future-focused outlook. This means absolutely no texting, talking, or showing up in places they might be. From breaking up with casual flings, to ending marriages with children, and even workplace romances, Lue provides realistic strategies for a variety of romantic and painful scenarios.
Of all the features of this book, I appreciated the structure the most. Each chapter can be read alone, so if something doesn’t resonate with you, move on to the next.
I have the audiobook version of this, and on a slightly superficial note, her British, dulcet tones are soothing in times of impulsivity. Indeed, it will save you from sending a prolific essay of a text message in the wee hours of the morning.
Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
In case you missed it, I recently wrote an article on anxious attachment styles and how to change your romantic script. This book is where I gleaned most of my information from.
Attached is the kind of book that lingers on the tip of your tongue for months, and indeed sometimes years. I know this, because I was recommended it by someone who spoke of its impact, which I’ve now experienced first-hand. It’s the first book I recommend to my friends no matter the romantic scenario, such is the weight of its wisdom on my psyche.
Read it for yourself and see: Attached is a practical how-to guide for building stronger, more fulfilling connections based on understanding, empathy and patience. It’s the perfect mixture of relationship theory and relationship practice.
Drawing upon John Bowlby’s theory of attachment, Levine and Heller demonstrate how this psychologic theory originally used in child psychology can actually be used as an advanced form of relationship science for adults.
The question, of course, is what is an attachment style? An attachment style can be summarised as the nature of the emotional bond we form with others. The diagram below provides a very brief summary of the individual behaviours and characteristic traits exhibited by each attachment style.
Moving on from an explanation of attachment styles, Levine and Heller explain why we’re attracted to the people that we are, even if we associate those people with deep, enduring pain. They also answer pertinent questions, such as: how do you manage a relationship with someone who’s emotionally distant, even during times of physical intimacy? How do you reassure an anxious lover who requires more emotional energy than you do? The value of this book is in how Levine and Heller provide an array of examples and scenarios gauged from real-life relationships, all designed to help readers feel more secure, comfortable and confident in their romantic relationships.
I personally find that this book is a favourite amongst those with an anxious attachment style, as they are generally the ones that are more preoccupied with relationship administration. Make of that what you will.
Breakup Triage: The Cure for Heartbreak by Susan Winter
Ever found yourself jolted into a state of panic in the early hours of the morning? You’re just post-breakup, and sleep is impossible. You’re dying to speak to someone, anyone, especially the one. But it’s 2 in the morning, and there’s no one about to soothe your anxiety.
This is where Breakup Triage comes in. As part of her aptly named 2am series, Winter’s audio book is a first aid kit to pause the emotional bleed out of a broken heart. It’s a very short listen, designed to provide immediate reprieve in times of acute stress, offering a step-by-step process to restore your confidence when your best friend is likely asleep. The best part? It’s only 30 minutes in length.
Sex from Scratch by Sarah Mirk
Most relationship advice books focus on how to ‘snag’ a catch, seduce the opposite sex, or find ‘true love’. Sarah Mirk eschews traditional relationship cannon in favour of demonstrating how an open relationship can not only work, but make all parties happier in the long run. It’s an honest exploration of 7 different relationships, providing advice that’s not prescriptive, but is grounded in real-life examples.
Sex from Scratch is not a guide to polyamory per se, as many believe it to be. It’s more like a Non-Monogamy 101 guide for those finding emotional satisfaction outside of traditional relationships. From reconsidering gender roles to encouraging open and direct communication, Mirk provides constructive activities to do on your own, or with your partner.
Anatomy of Love by Helen Fisher
If you’re turning in for a spot of light reading, Anatomy of Love is not your best choice. But if you’re goal is to develop a complex understanding of how our brains are wired for attachment, reproduction and relationships, Fisher has researched and written your bed time tome.
Beginning with our ancestral primates, Fisher explains the science of attraction and lust using biology, anthropology, sociology and psychology. From complex explanation of how the missionary position came to be, to why women experience jealousy more profoundly, to the evolutionary function of the female orgasm, Fisher’s book is a wonderful compilation of her vast knowledge. It’s no wonder she’s Match.com’s chief scientific advisor.
If you’re finding a non-monogamy discourse tiring, Fisher’s book is a refreshing return to the intrigue of pair-bonding. Yes, Fisher says we’re ultimately designed to mate with one person, regardless of whether we stray or not.
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
A book written with as much literary prowess as it is grounded in psychology, Fromm’s Art of Loving is a shocking jolt into deep self-analysis. The great German social psychologist, psychoanalyst and philosopher makes a case for love as a skill that requires technique, dedication, and most of all, intentional, focused action. H
Although written in 1956, the book’s premise still rings true in 2017: society has a warped perspective of love.
Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable.
The only way to reset our course of failure, Fromm argues, is to recognise love as a practice worthy of 100% dedication, and not a given. With this in mind, Fromm aims to alleviate our selfish fixation on becoming a ‘love object’ with an explanation of the preconditions for selfless love: patience, humility, dedication, and the elimination of narcissism.
Coming in at a very short 120-odd pages, it’s short yet potent meditation on mastering love with knowledge and effort.