Friends, colleagues and sometimes people I don’t even know very well ask me this same question several times each year, AND I provide them with a baffled face and stammering answer every single time: “Hey, what book do you recommend for __(enter any couples issue)__ ? I’m thinking about buying a few books today.” OR …“I have a friend who is looking for a book.” OR,… “I want to recommend a book, can you help me?”
I struggle with two main issues when asked this question. First, I have no idea what the person or couple has already read. And secondly, people apply books and personal growth in such unique ways that sometimes what I think is a great read or extremely applicable might fall flat with another person. Or sometimes that flips and what I think isn’t necessarily sound or grounded information is the “key” to helping someone get out of a rut.
Therefore, understanding that you may have already read some (or all) of these books, and, that you may not get out of them what I or some of my clients have gotten, I’ve put together a list of the top five challenges I see couples face on a regular basis and books that might help in direct or indirect ways. However, I’ve also provided a bit of discussion to go along with the books so I’ll be breaking this post into two or three parts. Here we go…
To begin, I want to address the core “top three” basic challenges most couples will experience at some time in their life: opposing views on parenting, financial struggles, and sex/intimacy. In that order:
1) If a couple is going to raise children, having a unified approach in parenting behavior and philosophy is essential. I cannot stress how important this is for children. Confusing parenting messages (dad says one thing, mom says another) make confused kids…and sometimes make children who act out because they feel so frustrated about their incongruent world.
Couples should talk to each other about how they were parented as children. They should discuss their parenting philosophies with each other before they ever have their first child. And, they should both be well versed in their agreed upon basic parenting strategies for everyday life. Parental monitoring, limit setting, rewards, consequences and modeling emotional regulation are all elements of raising children well.
Depending upon the age of your child, you might need infant, toddler or early childhood books…or, books for elementary age children or adolescents. I’ve heard good feedback and read most of the following;
a. For infants and prenatal information: Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for your Baby’s First Year by Denise Fields and Ari Brown and The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two by William and Martha Sears. Knowing what your child is capable of at various stages, and feeling comfortable when you see a behavior that is new or unique, is one way of helping young parents feel less anxious. Knowledge is power, and this includes the power of parenthood.
b. For toddlers and elementary aged children: 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan and Parenting with Love and Logic by Jim Faye and Jim Cline. I am a big “love and logic” fan because the model gives parents the skills to adapt to whatever situation might come their way. And there is a version for teens as well.
I think it is also helpful, however, for couples to attend parenting classes or seminars that teach these methods. Having groups available to normalize typical parenting challenges, especially for first time parents, is extremely helpful. Parenting can be hard, and being part of a group for support can sometimes be the difference between keeping your “team” together, and it falling apart under stress.
Oh – and one late note: I forgot to mention a book that’s been heralded by my colleagues who often do parenting seminars. It’s called Scream Free Parenting: The Revolutionary Way to Raise Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, by Hal Edward Runkel. I trust my colleagues, so I trust that recommending this book is a good thing as well. I’ve discussed the basic premise and outline with my therapist friends, and it sounds like sound advice, packaged in a new and validating way.
2) The second challenge area causing marital conflict is “financial.” For many of the same reasons as parenting, this area can either be destructive to a relationship, or be highly constructive. Money management is very frequently emotional-based, and for that reason you and your partner could be on different balance sheets completely. Here are my recommendations for this particular issue.
a. Money Therapy: Using Eight Money Types to Create Wealth and Prosperity, by Deborah L. Price. This book gets to the root of problems not found in other books and might be an important read FIRST, before you begin another program such as offered by the other two.
b. The Financial Peace Planner Book by Dave Ramsey is a nice step-by-step instruction book to help you and your partner get your money life back in order. If you have the time and the availability, attending one of these workshops is probably the best route. There is something valuable about being accountable to a group outside your marriage. However, if you can’t, something clean and easy and straightforward would be a great way to start.
c. If you get through the “core emotions” regarding your money management behaviors, then you begin a practical plan to take control of your financial life, the next step might be this book: The Secrets of Money: A Guide for Everyone on Practical Financial Literacy by Braun Mincher. This book is really helpful for couples who are finally on the same page, have a monthly management plan, and ready for the next step in terms of wealth building. While Dave Ramsey is good with basics, I like Mincher in terms of educating you at the next level. I’m sure Jennifer Wallis, our “Cents and Sensibility” writer might also have some great tips for couples working together financially.
One of the best feelings a couple can have is when they back each other up while raising children, and work as a team to help their money work for them. Succeeding in these areas truly pull couples together in ways they sometimes could not have expected.
The next recommendations will be about “sex and intimacy.” I’ll share those in a later post, along with “developing yourselves as individuals within a marriage or relationship,” and “harder, more ingrained issues” such as trauma, affairs, grief or depression, anger, conflict resolution, etc.
Happy reading – – or recommending!
Editor’s Note: Tuesday is usually “Relationships” day, but I was trying to make a program with Amazon (where you load the books into your post, then hover over them to get more information) work. I’m still learning, so I appreciate Kendy’s flexibility in writing early this week. Thanks, KC!