The best books on how to improve couple and family relationships

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Ph.D. clinical psychologist and tenured associate professor at The City College of New York, where I teach couple and family therapy, multicultural issues in psychotherapy, and research methods. I've conducted research on a couple's distress prevention program. I’ve been a licensed therapist for 30+ years working primarily with “last chance couples” – those on the brink of dissolving their relationship. I attended the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston University, where I received my B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy, and obtained my doctorate at Duke University. I have also been on the faculty of Bellevue Hospital/NYU Medical Center, and the Ackerman Institute for the Family. I lecture internationally.


I wrote...

Last Chance Couple Therapy: Bringing Relationships Back from the Brink

By Peter Fraenkel,

Book cover of Last Chance Couple Therapy: Bringing Relationships Back from the Brink

What is my book about?

Almost half of couples who seek therapy do so because of thoughts about separation or divorce, and report being distressed for an average of six years before seeking help. The divorce rate in the U.S. has hovered between 42% and 50% for decades, and the divorce rate for second marriages is even higher. Marital distress has a documented negative impact on the mental and physical health of partners and negative effects on children. Yet there’s been surprisingly little written about how to work with couples in this “last chance moment”.

Over 30 years, I’ve refined an approach that establishes a strong “therapeutic alliance” or working relationship and therapeutic map with such couples that allows for a variety of outcomes, and that encourages couples to engage in “nonbinding experiments in possibility.”

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy

Peter Fraenkel Why did I love this book?

John Gottman is one of the pioneers of the careful empirical study of what factors lead to couple distress and divorce versus longevity and happiness; he and his wife Julie Gottman, a talented couple therapist, have written many excellent books on how to improve couple relationships based on this research. 

This new book condenses their research-based wisdom into seven brief practical chapters with titles such as “Make Contact” (meaning responding to your partner’s “bids for attention”), “Ask a Big Question” (to learn more about your partner’s passions and ways of thinking about themselves and the world), “Say Thank You” (based on the finding that couples in which partners show appreciation for another do better over time), “Give a Real Compliment” (couples in which partners regularly express fondness and admiration for their partner do better), and more. 

I love this powerful little book because it distills years of research findings into a small space, and because it aligns with a point that I often make to couples: That contrary to popular opinion, a successful marriage does not take “hard work” or huge sacrifices, but rather, is built and sustained by small regular acts of kindness, acknowledgment, attraction, understanding, and compassion.

By John Gottman, Julie Schwartz Gottman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Love Prescription as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“This book feels so hopeful because it’s direct, it’s really honest, and it’s so actionable.” —Brene Brown

From New York Times–bestselling authors Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, a simple yet powerful plan to transform your relationship in seven days

What makes love last? Why does one couple stay together forever, while another falls apart? And most importantly, is there a scientific formula for love?
 
Drs. John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman are the world’s leading relationship scientists. For the past forty years, they have been studying love. They’ve gathered data on over…


Book cover of Fighting For Your Marriage: A Deluxe Revised Edition of the Classic Best Seller for Enhancing Marriage and Preventing Divorce

Peter Fraenkel Why did I love this book?

This bestselling classic book is designed especially for happy, newlywed or otherwise newly committed couples to teach them research-based communication and problem-solving skills, how to address “hidden” or broader issues like power and control, closeness and caring, respect and recognition, integrity, commitment, trust, and acceptance, which fuel specific conflicts around money, sex, childrearing, housework, in-laws, and others. 

It also provides tips on increasing fun, friendship, and intimacy.  Based on the authors’ decades of testing the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP©), it provides a simple guide to essential ideas and skills that maintain a healthy marriage – skills that many people do not learn in their families growing up. 

I trained with Drs. Markman and Stanley way back in the 90s and brought PREP to NYU Medical Center and ran many couple workshops, and I’ve seen how effective these relationship tools can be for happy couples eager to prevent the distress and divorce they witnessed in their families, as well as for couples just starting to have difficulties or those in the “deep end of the pool” who hope to chart a new, better course.

By Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, Susan L. Blumberg

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fighting For Your Marriage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A thorough revision with a new DVD of couples in action, using the PREP method for strengthening marriage and avoiding divorce court The third edition of the best-selling classic on marriage enhancement and divorce prevention, features the latest research and changes of heart in our culture and society. New and revised, Fighting for Your Marriage is based on the widely acclaimed PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program) approach. Groundbreaking studies have found that couples can use the strategies of this approach to handle conflict more constructively, protect their happiness, and reduce the odds of breaking up. The book is based…


Book cover of Loving with the Brain in Mind: Neurobiology and Couple Therapy

Peter Fraenkel Why did I love this book?

Dr. Fishbane is a clinical psychologist and couple therapist, and one of the most important clinical theorists in our field. 

She spent years amassing the emerging research on the social determinants of brain development and developed a practical approach to what she calls “neuroeducation” for couples – helping partners understand the neurophysiological underpinnings and effects of marital conflict, how partners regulate each other’s emotions, and how to manage one’s negative arousal to engage in loving, compassionate relationships. 

Although written for therapists, it is highly engaging and accessible for the general reader who seeks to understand why they become so distressed during conflict with their partners and how to manage their arousal for better communication.

By Mona DeKoven Fishbane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Loving with the Brain in Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Human brains and behavior are shaped by genetic predispositions and early experience. But we are not doomed by our genes or our past. Neuroscientific discoveries of the last decade have provided an optimistic and revolutionary view of adult brain function: People can change. This revelation about neuroplasticity offers hope to therapists and to couples seeking to improve their relationship. Loving With the Brain in Mind explores ways to help couples become proactive in revitalizing their relationship. It offers an in-depth understanding of the heartbreaking dynamics in unhappy couples and the healthy dynamics of couples who are flourishing.

Sharing her extensive…


Book cover of Integrative Systemic Therapy: Metaframeworks for Problem Solving With Individuals, Couples, and Families

Peter Fraenkel Why did I love this book?

The field of couple and family therapy started in the 1950s and led to several important, competing clinical theories for helping families and couples. 

However, those of us in the field regarded the introduction of systemic thinking as more than just a new therapeutic modality – we heralded it as a potential revolution in understanding and treating psychological and psychiatric issues. 

In systems theory, an individual’s emotional struggles and problematic behavior are viewed as due not only to “intrapsychic” conflicts, deficits in learning emotional- and behavioral-coping skills, and brain biology, but may affect and be affected by patterns of interaction in their intimate couple and family relationships. 

For instance, a partner’s depression may be in part caused by marital conflict and may serve to keep the other partner in the marriage (because he or she doesn’t want to abandon their depressed partner); likewise, a child’s misbehavior may redirect the parents’ attention from their talks of divorce towards managing the problems exhibited by their child. 

In the systemic view, improvement in an individual’s mental health and functioning only occur when these problematic “loops” between an individual and her or his family change. 

In this brilliant book, a team of leaders in the field associated with The Family Institute of Northwestern University in Chicago present a well-tested integrative systemic approach that combines the best aspects of different family therapy theories and show how this approach can be used not only in couple and family therapy, but also in work with individuals. 

Titling the book “Integrative Systemic Therapy” rather than “Integrative Family Therapy” emphasizes the applicability of their approach to working with clients individually as well as in conjoint relationship therapy. 

By William M. Pinsof, Douglas Breunlin, William Russell , Jay L. Lebow , Anthony L. Chambers , Cheryl Rampage

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Integrative Systemic Therapy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Integrative Systemic Therapy (IST) provides a comprehensive and unifying framework for individual, couple, and family therapy. The book guides practitioners to use concepts and strategies from specific models of therapy--behavioral, analytic, emotion focused, and so on--with a set of practical and flexible guidelines for what to do with whom, and when to do it. The book also offers a treasure trove of case examples that illustrate how therapists can use IST to treat a wide variety of challenging problems.


Book cover of The Ethical Lives of Clients: Transcending Self-Interest in Psychotherapy

Peter Fraenkel Why did I love this book?

Dr. Doherty, a Professor in the Department of Family Social Science and Director of the Citizen Professional Center at the University of Minnesota has long been a voice for questioning the manner in which the psychotherapy field avoids the moral/ethical issues presented by our clients. 

Some of these ethical issues are presented directly by clients; others maybe be unacknowledged by them, such as the moral issues around whether to engage in a secret affair or to withhold important information from partners, friends, or business associates in order to attain personal gain. 

From Freud onward, psychotherapists have been trained to adopt a stance of ethical neutrality, with an emphasis on maximizing the client’s individual happiness, even if this means pursuing goals that may negatively affect the lives of those with whom they have important relationships. 

This emphasis on personal happiness above all else draws upon the larger Western Eurocentric emphasis on the individual’s rights and opportunities, as opposed to one’s involvement in a collective and community. 

Doherty presents a comprehensive, practical guide to the principles and craft of addressing such issues, ending the book with a strong argument for why therapists should emerge from the four walls of their offices and use their conflict negotiation skills to address problems in society: What he calls becoming a Citizen Therapist.

By William J. Doherty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ethical Lives of Clients as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This casebook provides therapists with the skills needed to be effective ethical consultants for clients seeking guidance for moral dilemmas. It describes the LEAP-C model for creating constructive dialogues while respecting client autonomy by listening, exploring, affirming, offering perspective, and even challenging clients. In-depth case examples demonstrate how to apply this model in various scenarios. This book also provides guidance for being a citizen therapist who lends their expertise to address societal issues, like political discord and police-community relations.


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Book cover of A Beggar's Bargain

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

Historical Fiction Post WW2.

A shocking proposal that changes everything.

Desperate to honor his father’s dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.
Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time—a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

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