How to Read a Marriage Book

We live at a great time when so many resources exist to help marriages with a variety of challenges, including the sexual arena, and it’s worthwhile to put “Read a Marriage Book” on your to-do list.

That said, there’s a good way and a bad way to read marriage books. If you go in with the wrong expectations or without an attitude of discernment, you could come away disappointed or learn something counterproductive. So let’s talk about about how to read a marriage book.

Recognize there is no magic bullet.

A magic bullet is “something providing an effective solution to a difficult or previously unsolvable problem” (Merriam-Webster). And oh, how we wish there was a magic bullet to resolve all of our marital conflicts, misunderstandings, and challenges. But there isn’t.

Hey, I could increase my blog traffic and book sales substantially if I chose topic titles like “10 Surefire Ways to Take Your Sex Life from Boring to Breathtaking!” or “Resolve Your Sexless Marriage in Three Easy Steps!” Except I don’t want to lie to you.

Even when the solution is simple and straightforward, putting it into practice can be difficult. You have to overcome bad habits, establish new routines, stick it out during that time between planting and harvesting (which can feel like forever), and pray your spouse responds they way they should.

You should know you’re running a marathon and not just around the block, so you can prepare yourself accordingly. Mind you, it’s well worth the run! But it’s not easy.

Thus, any resource that guarantees following a system will produce the exact result you want is like that diet that says you can lose 10 pounds in one week and never feel hungry. Yeah, right. That doesn’t mean the diet, or marriage program, is a bad idea. It might yield good results, but recognize it’s unlikely to cure all of your marital woes by next Tuesday.

Don’t discard the mostly good for the little bad.

Too often, readers take an all-or-nothing approach to marriage resources. Once they discover something they disagree with, they write off the whole thing or read the remainder through a negative or suspicious lens.

Is there any marriage resource with which I’ve agreed 100% of the time? That would be a big no. Even my own stuff written years ago, I’d probably write differently today. Meaning the only resource I don’t disagree with is the Bible!

Or wait—I do disagree with the Bible. I simply decide in that case I must be wrong and need to adjust my thinking, not the other way around.

But if you get a marriage book in which 80-90% of the advice is good, it’s a wonderful resource. Ignore the 10-20% and focus on how much good stuff you’re getting, some of which you can put into practice and reap the benefits.

Read for what you can do to improve your marriage.

You know what marriage book would be a fun read? One that talked about what a terrific wife you are and then recounted all the problems your husband is bringing to the marriage—basically concluding, “It’s not me. It’s you.”

“It’s not you, it’s me” — Seinfeld

But hey, even if your husband is 90% the problem, you have 10% to fix. And the reality is that you cannot change your spouse. You can only influence them through what actions you take.

So when you read a marriage book, look for what messages you need to hear that help you improve your relationship. Take ownership for your part. And where you recognize your spouse is indeed the problem, figure out how to influence the issue rather than solely laying blame on them.

Remember that marriage books largely assume good will.

Most marriage resources presume two good-willed spouses who love each other—even if they don’t currently like each other all that much—and want a better relationship. This is not to say that they haven’t said and done things that are hurtful and undermine their ultimate goal.

My husband and I said terrible things to one another when our marriage was bad, many years ago. We wish I could take those things back, but we were both coming from places of deep emotional pain and lashing out carelessly. That said, we were both good-willed people who loved each other and wanted a better marriage. We just didn’t know how to get there.

If you have a good-willed spouse, a marriage book could help you achieve an important breakthrough, improve a struggling relationship, or simply add greater intimacy to an already good marriage.

But if you are in an abusive marriage, you need much more than a marriage book! Get professional help. Leave immediately if your safety is at risk. Find resources not about marriage but abuse in marriage. And if you’re not sure about your situation, check out Family Life’s Are You in an Abusive Relationship? list of questions.

If you are in an abusive marriage, you need much more than a marriage book! via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Understand that gender doesn’t explain everything.

A number of resources say “men are like this, and women are like this,” and yeah, there’s some truth to that, generally speaking. But it’s an oversimplification that ignores other factors like personality, talents, background, values, and more.

If just the words “man” or “woman” explained everything, then all women would be alike and all men would be alike, and how boring would that be! I suspect your chose your husband because he was a particular kind of man, and you like his unique aspects. (Okay, mostly. You could do without the way he picks his teeth after supper.)

We can misjudge our own husband if we presume a statement about male stereotypes applies to him when it doesn’t. And he can misread you by presuming every female stereotype applies to you.

How do you avoid getting the wrong impression? Ask your spouse.

When you read a statement you’re not sure about, open up a conversation with your beloved like, “Hey, I was reading about how men are ____________, and I’m wondering if you feel like that’s accurate for you.”

I’ve been surprised by the answers I’ve gotten from my husband with this approach. Sometimes, he confirms the statement, and I learn something new I hadn’t recognized before. Other times, he says it doesn’t describe him at all. And then there are times when it’s kinda-yes but with clarification. Regardless, by the end of the conversation, I understand my husband better. And isn’t that a good goal?

Ad for Pillow Talk: 40 Conversations About Sex for Married Couples

You may be thinking by now: With all these potential land mines, what’s the point of reading marriage books or even blog posts?!

Because they often have great advice that can sincerely help your marriage.

I have personally benefited from numerous books and blog posts, as well as podcast episodes, video courses, and devotional products. Various marriage authors have illuminated areas I need to attend to, information about my spouse he had difficulty explaining, and actions that can improve our relationship.

And hey, Hot, Holy & Humorous and my books have a long history of helping married couples in their bedrooms, with many emails to prove it! I know firsthand that marriage resources can make a difference.

But approaching marriage resources wisely will make a real difference in what you get out of them.

What other advice would you add for how to read a marriage book or other resource?

17 thoughts on “How to Read a Marriage Book

  1. drew-averagehusband

    My wife and I have recently re-discovered the joy of going through a book together that deals with general relationship topics. However, we have not tackled an intimacy book since the days of pre-marital counseling , where our counselor suggested one book we ready before the I-do’s and one shortly after – but that is getting close to 2 decades ago. I wouldn’t say that our intimacy is sizzling or exactly what either of us really wants, but I also believe we are simply plagued by many of the common problems of too busy, too stressed, and have just grown too awkward to address it because of previous disagreements that boiled over into arguments and we struggle to get past light baggage and to the point.

    I’ve enjoyed your blog and think my wife might connect with your style of writing. When I’ve recommended your blog to her, I believe it has not been well received simply because she is kind of on blog-overload – overwhelmed and out of time to get to all the great blogs about all the great topics out there. But I do believe if I asked her to read a book with me about intimacy, she would be willing. If you were to suggest which of your books would be a good place to start for a couple to read together to get some advice on how to take intimacy to the next level, which would it be?

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Great question! I would suggest Pillow Talk: 40 Conversations about Sex for Married Couples, because that book isn’t telling her what or how to think but giving an opportunity (as well as you) to express oneself. Yes, there are scriptures, notes, and prayers to guide you in embracing God’s design for sex, but the focus is on the couple conversing.

      If you can get her to simply download the sample, she can see for herself what prescriptions I give for those conversations, as well as FOUR actual conversations (chapters). That could help alleviate any concern that I, or you, are trying to pressure her into something specific. This is about her value, her pleasure, and her intimacy as much as yours, and vice versa. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  2. Lori

    What other advice would I add?

    Be aware of your season of life and apply information creatively. If you just had a baby you may not be able to have a date night as often as you’d like or you might have to have couch date nights for a while. If you or your husband is struggling with personal wounding, some suggestions might not work now but hang on to them for later.

    Reply
  3. SM

    Great post!!! It’s always good to use discernment when reading anything of this nature. As a wife who is high drive I have to ignore a lot of blogs and books that automatically assume the husband is HD, or I just make sure to not read those posts or I read them and apply some of the advice meant for men to myself.

    Reply
  4. Holyterror

    Re-read Song of Solomon together now and then. It describes marital love in several life stages between Solomon and the Shulamite.

    Reply
  5. sheep

    Thank you for pointing out that the vast majority of marriage/relationship books assume good will. I was stuck for a long time in the trap of reading and applying marriage books while in an abusive marriage. I tried so hard for so long and everything just got worse, which just made me feel even worse about myself because nothing ever changed in her or in the marriage. In fact, the more I did, the worse things got. It wasn’t until I read “the emotionally destructive marriage” by Leslie Vernick that I realized that in my situation, all those books were wrong and that their advice just gave the abuser license to do more.

    Reply
  6. Lynn

    I agree with Andrew. I often read Paul Byerly’s posts to my husband, who almost always disagrees with Paul’s explanation of males to females. (With all respect – just pointing out that not every XY is the same!) It opens up some conversations that have been very helpful to me in understanding my husband.

    Reply
  7. Denise

    I’ve read several marriage books that focus on gender dynamics but don’t focus on the causes of common marriage problems or how to fix them. For instance if your spouse abuses alcohol, that problem needs to be fixed before anything constructive can happen. If you and your spouse have money issues that stress the marriage, perhaps you need to find a mentor that can guide you through those problems. If one spouse has significant jealousy issues, perhaps some counseling needs to happen. I remember being at work in the days before cell phones and being astonished at how many times some spouses would call during the day to check in because they didn’t trust their spouse was actually where they said they were. My point is that not every problem is about gender dynamics.

    I think when males try to describe the needs and desires of women sometimes there is a huge potential for failure. I know there is one book that is really divisive for people. When it(or any other book) receives criticism I wish that others would think twice about recommending that particular resource. I know I don’t really see myself in how a “typical” female is described in some of these books.

    I think all of us can be kind and not be jerks. We can certainly raise our children to be good future spouses by teaching them to be kind and courteous. I read posts about husbands throwing their dirty laundry on the floor instead of in the hamper and I don’t understand them because my husband was raised not to be that way. I read posts about women nagging their husbands to take the trash out and I wonder why if it needs taken out, why these wives can’t do it themselves.

    I will say I think I am lucky in that my husband and I came in to marriage with similar values as far as financial goals, hard work and raising children.

    Reply
  8. Ashley

    I know it’s already been mentioned, but thank you for mentioning the abuse dynamic. The frustrating and sad thing is that many times abuse victims don’t fully realize they are being abused. I would have called my marriage frustrating and one-sided, but not necessarily abusive.

    Reply
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