A Short List of Great Books on Marriage

Any weddings coming up among your family or friends? Many of us are picky about recommending books on marriage. We don’t want books that make marriage seem too easy, or too pious, that have unattainable goals and standards, or that talk down to us. But over the years, I’ve collected (and find it hard to part with some of these when I try to thin my collection) five excellent books plus two new ones worth mentioning. Because who can’t use a little help improving marriage?

“If love isn’t blind, it does squint a bit. Love idealizes both of us.”
—Walter Wangerin Jr.

Jay Payleitner is a prolific writer of “52 things” types of books—52 Things Kids Need from a Dad, 52 Things Wives Need from a Husband. I don’t agree with everything he preaches (and I’m sure my readers don’t agree with everything I write), but I found a new book he wrote that contains lots of good stuff. It’s called 52 Ways to Connect as a Couple (Harvest House, 2016), and maybe that’s why I like it. It doesn’t profess to be the best marriage book ever or to have all the answers, but offers illustrations and how-tos for improving any marriage. I especially liked several chapters that emphasize ways to focus on positive comments and compliments—honest enthusiasm for something your love has done for you or given you or always does for you. When you honestly compliment your spouse, it has a three-way effect: you make your spouse feel better, you yourself feel more positive and enthusiastic, and the marriage relationship improves.

Another book that is as old as this is new—first published in 1987—is the most poetic and artfully written in my collection of favorite marriage books. And with good reason. It’s written, by the inimitable Walter Wangerin Jr. Some lines I like from As for Me and My House: Crafting Your Marriage to Last (Thomas Nelson) are:

Love lies a little. Love, the desire to like and to be liked, feels so good when it is satisfied, that it never wants to stop. Therefore love edits the facts in order to continue to feel good. Love allows me an innocent misperception of my fiancée, while it encourages in her a favorable misperception of myself. If it isn’t blind, it does squint a bit. Love idealizes both of us. (p. 31)

Another book in any couple’s “marriage” library should be Dr. Kevin Leman’s Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage (Tyndale House, 2003). Leman is another prolific Christian author with a library of books written on parenting and child-rearing, and is perhaps best known for his fascinating books on birth order. This “sheets” book gets pretty racy for this traditional author/counselor—but challenges couples to get out of ruts in the privacy of their bedroom (or hotel room).

I’ve mentioned before Harvey Yoder’s Lasting Marriage: The Owner’s Manual (Herald Press, 2007), with whimsical illustrations by the late Lee Eshleman. This book is like most owner’s manuals: basic and easy to follow. Yoder writes from many years of experience as a marriage and family counselor and pastor. He has also conducted countless seminars and classes on the topic of caring for your marriage, so the book is filled with examples from real life (names changed of course).

On the other end of the counseling couch, in a book called Recovery of Hope (Good Books, 1991), Naomi and John Lederach share true stories from couples who sought intensive counseling for their marriages when they seemed beyond help. These stories are especially encouraging because they show how partners learned from their mistakes. When willing to grow and change, they found hope for their marriages.

Along these lines, a book all pastors should have on their shelves is Marriage Savers by Michael J. McManus (Zondervan, 1993). It illustrates how programs in churches can reach out to newlyweds—and how friends and family can be of great help when couples are willing to grow and learn from mentors.

Finally, I’m very excited about a forthcoming book called Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity9781513800172
(Herald Press, October 2016). The book is witty, realistic, and religious without being sanctimonious. The author, pastor Katherine Pershey Willis, first attracted the attention of Herald Press with an extremely popular blog post, “A Long Obedience,” on the Christian Century blog, about a man she was attracted to after she was married. The book explores fidelity and what it means for the Christian in long-term marriage. “Simply not committing adultery does not give you the keys to ‘happily ever after,’” says Pershey.

All of these books can be found in church or public libraries or at various used booksellers online. The forthcoming one, Very Married, is available for preorder at www.MennoMedia.org.

For my free booklet, “Secrets of Long Marriage: The Six ‘C’s’ of Marriage,” write to Melodie Davis, Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802 or MelodieD@MennoMedia.org.