The best books on building awesome relationships from the inside out

The Books I Picked & Why

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—And Keep—Love

By Amir Levine, Rachel Heller

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—And Keep—Love

Why this book?

Your attachment stylehow you “do” relationshipsis most often a lifetime deal, because it gets in so early and deep, most powerfully in the first 18 months of life. It drives and influences how we interact with others and how we see ourselves in relationships, and it deeply influences the kinds of partners we attract and are attracted to (even when they end up being precisely what we don’t need).

Understanding your attachment style (and perhaps that of your significant other), including the strengths and the pitfalls, can make a world of difference.

Levine and Heller do a great job with examples and questionnaires, to help you learn about your attachment style, and how it affects your relationships. I often recommend it to patients, who come in after reading it with all kinds of “lightbulb” insights about themselvesand often their partners. It’s an accessible gateway to understanding and change.


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Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships

By Marshall B. Rosenberg

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships

Why this book?

We all pick up and develop a way of communicating that becomes second nature. We can’t really hear ourselves accurately, until (hopefully) someone complains. But when they complain, we can get a bit defensive, and/or clueless for what to do about it.

Even good, well-intentioned people can end up communicating with violence. That’s a strong word, yes, but it really just means that what we say (and how we say it) ends up hurting or harming another person, or a relationship. It’s not that you “can’t ever get it right” for them, or need to walk on eggshells. We’re just often unaware that we’re communicating in a way that’s dismissive, or blaming, or even just speaking without really listening.

Non-Violent Communication has been incredibly helpful to many of the very intelligent and thoughtful people I see who just. can’t. figure. out. why other people misunderstand them and get pissed off, or distant. “…[K]nowing how to ask for what we want, how to hear others even in disagreement, and how to move toward solutions that work for all” are bottom-line essential skills. This book nails it.


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Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

By Brené Brown

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Why this book?

As a newbie psychologist, I was once in a workshop with much more advanced therapists. One of them (Jack, whom I revered) volunteered to do some personal work, and he laid down on the floor, literally supported by others—hands under his head, under his feet… I got assigned to support his elbow, because I was too chicken to volunteer early, ashamed of my inexperience, afraid of the potential vulnerability—his and mine.

Jack did some profound emotional work, and I was so moved that I (silently, embarrassedly) bawled. Like, a river of snot running down my face, red swollen eyes.... as soon as the exercise ended, I started to bolt from the room. Jack caught up, looked me in the eye, and said, “I hope you know how powerful you are at this moment.” His recognition of the power of my vulnerability, snot and all, together with his own vulnerability—opened my heart to myself, and helped transform me. It continues to, 30 years later.

This book? Does that, and then some.


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Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy

By Francine Shapiro

Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy

Why this book?

EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,” which as a trained neuropsychologist was a phrase that made me want to roll my eyes (pun intended)—until I tried it. Being a woman of science, I don’t like that we don’t have a definitive explanation about why EMDR works for resolving things like trauma and anxiety (synchronization of the brain's two hemispheres? similarity to the eye movements during REM sleep?). But it does work (confirmed by solid research), and Francine Shapiro is the pioneer. In Getting Past Your Past, she takes EMDR treatment strategies and translates them into self-help techniques, giving even more people access to the potential transformation of emotional pain.


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Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness

By Jon Kabat-Zinn

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness

Why this book?

Yes, I know, we’re all saturated with how we’re all supposed to be meditating. And meditation can still conjure up images of blissed-out navel-gazers. But as a neuropsychologist, I see it as a highly refined form of attentional training—it trains your brain to run less on “autopilot” (where you keep perpetuating habits and thoughts that get in your way). It helps develop better neural pathways that integrate the different regions and functions of your brain so it works better. It slows down age-related loss of brain volume, and… well, there’s a lot more to be said about the brain benefits of it. No need to be a Buddhist to benefit.

This book, in my thinking, is where the use of mindfulness as a vital part of modern medicine all began, and Jon. He was a microbiologist at UMass Medical School, who just happened to wonder if the highly refined form of attentional training known as mindfulness meditation might help reduce the physical pain and suffering of medical patients. It did, and it does.


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