Valentine’s Day is coming up and I thought I would list a few books that are really helpful for marriage, to read in preparation for marriage, or for help in whatever romantic relationship you are in (or not in– a lot of these are beneficial in just thinking about what kind of person you should be looking for, describing realistic expectations for romance, and showing you ways to thrive as a person regardless of your relationship status).
The books are listed in no particular order, and the titles are linked to the book’s Amazon page.
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. He describes beautifully the loves of affection, friendship, eros, and charity (which is not like giving money to charity, but you must read it to find out what he means by the word). This contains his incredibly famous paragraph that begins, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken…” The book is just a beautiful treatment of all sorts of human relationships (and of God’s love for people), and I highly recommend it to anyone, whatever your particular relationship status is at this moment.
The Confessions by St. Augustine. My ethics professor in divinity school described this book as a romance novel. And it is, the very best kind. “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our souls find no rest, until they find their rest in thee…” A must-read, especially for those, whether married or single, whose hearts ache for something more.
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. Tim Keller is a Christian pastor in New York city, but this book isn’t preachy at all. It’s extremely accessibly and culturally relevant. He analyzes a lot of current data about relationships and examines just why it is that young people are so afraid of marriage. His wife Kathy actually wrote the chapter on gender issues, and it’s beautiful. The Kellers talk about how love is not primarily about our feelings, because as any married person knows, feelings will go up and down and the giddy, butterfly in the stomach, ecstatic feelings of an early relationship will actually die a painful death… But something deeper and more beautiful will be re-born, if you let it, if you stick with the marriage rather than pursue those fleeting feelings with another person (Keller quotes a lot of C. S. Lewis on this topic). This is actually a GREAT book for people who are not married– who are dating, engaged, or want to be in a relationship.
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. I think this book may have single-handedly saved our marriage during that crazy first year. The premise of this book is the question: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” That might sound a little depressing; it’s definitely not the romantic comedy/fairy tale version of marriage, which is basically: you find the perfect person, and they complete you, and you live happily ever after (and the corollary: when they stop making you happy, you must find another person who will). This book recognizes that real marriages are gritty and messy and not perfect and shows you how to make a beautiful, joyful marriage in the midst of the imperfection.
Intimate Allies by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman. Allender is a counselor and a professor of counseling, and Longman is a brilliant Old Testament scholar. This book combines the wisdom and heart of both approaches. They say: “Life is war, and marriage provides us with a close and intimate ally with whom we may wage this war.” Nice, eh?
Anyway, these books are for people who know that relationships about rolling up your sleeves and dealing with the grit and pain and sweat and tears of real life. And for people who know that in the midst of the sweat and tears there is beauty and joy to be found. And for people who suspect that maybe these romantic relationships are almost but not entirely the very thing we were made for in life. (Oh, and if anyone else has good recommendations of books on relationships I would love to hear your thoughts!)