The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Romantic Love
How To Become a Master of Love
The most important thing I've learned studying love over the past several years is that love is a skill... and just like any skill, you can master it with the right training and regular practice.
But most people don't know where to go to get the training or what to practice... so they jus try to figure stuff out by themselves, and end up making the same mistakes over and over again. Their relationships are never as great as they could be. They just float around in a state of mediocrity.
You don't want to be the kind of person who has mediocre love (or you wouldn't be reading this)... so, I've put together a list of resources to help you develop the most amazing love skills on the planet! By no means is this list comprehensive. If you have resources you'd like to add, please leave them in the comments.
Mastering The Fundamentals
The first thing you need to tackle when learning a new skill is the fundamentals. Building a strong foundation based on the basics of what makes a relationship work, and love thrive, will make building the rest of your relationship SO much easier.
Anybody ever tell you that relationships take a lot of "work" and "sacrifice"? Well... these books do an incredible job at explaining what this mysterious "work" is and how awesomely fun it can be!
Please note that as a single man, some of the best books I've read have the word "marriage" in them. If you want to prepare for an awesome marriage... read books that people in awesome marriages read.
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
Every person on the planet who wants to have an amazing long-term relationship should read The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The findings in this book are based on decades of scientific studies performed in John Gottman's Love Lab, so you know the information is based on science and not just conjecture like so many other relationship books.
John Gottman has pinned down the leading causes of breakups, and can predict divorce with over 90% accuracy after watching a couple argue for only a few minutes.
This book is based on science, and decades of studies, but it doesn't read like a text book. It's super approachable. I could see myself in nearly ever chapter. I remember nodding my head and saying, "Ooooooooh! That's why I do that..." or, "Oh crap, no wonder 'x' hasn't been working for me!"
At the end of every chapter is a list of homework and exercises you can do to start strengthening those relationship muscles. You'll learn what you do that contributes to the suffering and downfall of your relationships, and how to turn your weaknesses into strengths.
If this book doesn't make you go "Oooooh, now I get it." Or, "Oh crap, I've been doing this wrong for my whole life!" I don't think there is a relationship book that will.
The New Rules of Marriage
The New Rules of Marriage is so great. Seriously though. So. Great.
The basis of the book is that most people try to create this amazing and idealistic 21st century love using 20th century skills. Kind of like trying to access the internet using a typewriter... it just doesn't work.
So Terry Real outlines the new rules of modern day love that will help you create the type of relationship you want.
It's chocked full of amazing rules that will help you re-think what you're responsible for in your relationships. Suddenly you'll start holding yourself accountable for the right things... which can honestly transform your relationship.
Here are some examples:
Rule: The golden rule of relationship empowerment is: "What can I give you to help you give me what I want?"
Rule: While it is important to tell your partner the difficult truths about your experience of him, it is no less important to share the pleasurable ones.
Rule: You have no right to complain about not getting what you never asked for.
Rule One of the greatest paradoxes of intimacy is that in order to have a healthy, passionate relationship, you must be willing to risk it.
Terrance Real is like that uncle that always wants to give you advice... except his advice is amazing, and often funny, and inspiring, and will help you be an amazing lover and partner. I refer back to this book almost weekly.
The Five Love Languages
The Five Love Languages book is a lot like being vegan or doing CrossFit. People who have read this book can't help but talk about it like it's the end-all-be-all of relationship advice. I think we all have a friend who says things like, "Oh... sounds like her language is Words of Affirmation." Or, "Oh, I'm a Physical Touch person."
I love the book. It has a great message. It's approachable and understandable. The author, Gary Chapman, is a great dude, and one of my favorite guests on the podcast.
The only problem I have with this book isn't even about the book itself. It's with the people who read it. This book is just a very very small sampling of what it takes to create dynamic, lasting, passionate, connected love. It doesn't delve very deeply into the overall fundamentals of love.
If you'll allow me to make a sports analogy: A couple practicing the Love Languages is a lot like a basketball player practicing layups. It's an important element of the game... an element that, if not mastered, can really hurt your chances at winning. But there are also SO many other skills to develop, like passing, dribbling, perimeter shooting, free-throws, defense etc.
Read this book. It's great! But please please please don't let it be the only thing you think you need to read to be a great partner.
Also, just a heads up, this book is very Christian based. (Not a bad thing, but I thought I'd let you know in case it isn't your cup of tea.)
Daring Greatly isn't a book written specifically about romantic love... but it's a great book for those of us who struggle letting down our guard, allowing ourselves to be truly seen, or feeling like we need to be perfect all the time in order to be worthy of love and acceptance from others.
I think I cried reading this book.
It helped me understand that the most courageous thing we can do is often to show other the things that scare us the most:
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness. - Brené Brown
If you want a tease about what the book is all about, I recommend checking out Brené Brown's TED talks, The Power of Vulnerability, and Listening to Shame. The book is written in the same conversational tone with which she speaks.
Read it. It will make you a better, and more compassionate, empathetic, and kind person... and those are the qualities that create the mortar for the foundation of your love.
The Mastery of Love
This book is incredible. Don Miguel Ruiz is often recognized for his book, The Four Agreements... but I think The Mastery of Love is by far his best work.
This book is crammed full of inspiring parables, lessons, and messages that will transform the way you relate to yourself, and the way you understand love.
One of my favorite lessons from this book is where Ruiz compares the way we love our animals to the way we love each other. I'll paraphrase the teaching:
You don't get a cat and then get mad at it for not barking, or wagging its tail, or wanting to play fetch with you. That would be ridiculous. We love our cat for being a cat. We love our dog for being a dog. So, then... why do we insist on saying we "love" someone, while simultaneously trying to turn them into something they are not. This is not love. If you can't accept someone for exactly who they are, you do not love them.
This book is great for understanding the philosophy and concepts of love, and how you've probably had it all wrong your entire life.
Women purchase 74% of the books in the relationship and family category. There's a real imbalance of women willing to educate and prepare themselves for relationships compared to men.
Yet an emotionally intelligent man who is willing to learn, communicate, invest, and grow in his relationship is clutch when trying to create legendary love.
Here are two of my favorite books that have helped make me a better man:
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Nice guys tell people what they want to hear. Good guys tell people what they need to hear.
Nice guys seek approval. Good guys seek the truth.
Nice guys make friends. Good guys make a difference.
Nice guys care about their reputation and what others think of them. They'll often lie or manipulate the truth to save face.
Good guys care about integrity, honoring their word, and being held accountable to the things they say they will do... even if it sometimes hurts others.
For the majority of my life I was a Nice Guy... and I didn't even know it. And my Niceness was a giant wall standing between me and connecting with the women I tried to date.
Reading No More Mr. Nice Guy completely leveled my ego, and exposed me to how ugly and destructive the nice guy mentality is.
If you are the kind of guy who is constantly asking, "Why do women only date jerks?" Or maybe you feel like nothing ever goes your way, or that the odds are always stacked against you, or that you never get what you deserve... then this book is for you.
It will get you out of the most ugly negative cycle a guy can get stuck in.
The Way of the Superior Man
The Way of the Superior Man is a book that is not for everybody... especially if you haven't spent much time or done much work in the personal development space.
It's a little "woo woo," but when read with the right context, it's an incredibly powerful and insightful guide to mastering your spirituality and sexuality as a man.
As one Amazon reviewer says, "There is a desirable middle ground between being a timid wuss of a man-boy, and being a knuckle-dragging, chauvinistic thug; the whole book attempts to be a manual on how to become that middle ground."
It is a lot more graphic than No More Mr. Nice Guy (which is why I recommended that book before this one), but for the man who is prepared to read TWofSM, it can be a transformative, inspiring, and even life-changing read.
If you want to become more familiar with what it could look like to really step into your identity as a man. Or if you want to explore the idea of what a "manliness" is in the 21st century, this is a book you'll want to check out.
If I'm honest, publishing this section makes me really nervous.
I'm not a woman, and I don't want to appear to speak on behalf of women. Ladies, you can take my advice here with a grain of salt. Based off of my experience, these are some of the resources that I've consumed that made me go, "Oh yeah, that makes sense." or information that made me feel more understood as a man.
If you've read something that you'd like to recommend, I'd love for you to leave it in the comments. This list will probably grow and change with time.
The Surrendered Wife
Before you jump to conclusions about The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle, let me just provide some context.
First of all, Laura is great at creating sensationalized and controversial book titles that lead to passionate conversations.
Second of all, this is not a chauvinistic book about how women need to be submissive and docile for their husbands.
The underlying message of this book is that women are the gatekeepers to intimacy in a relationship. If there is a lack of emotional, physical, or spiritual intimacy in the relationship, there are a lot of things a woman can be responsible for (not to imply there isn't a lot a man can be responsible for as well).
One of the most powerful things a woman can do to transform her relationship is to surrender unnecessary control over her husband and the relationship, and take ownership for the things she is responsible for.
It might ruffle some feathers, but that's not always a bad thing.
Sex, Passion, and Infidelity
For many of us, sex is easily one of the more difficult topics to talk about... but it's also one of the leading causes of relationship discontent.
Sex, sexuality, desire and passion can be really complex things to navigate in a relationship. Aside from the shame surrounding sex that exists for many people, I think one of the reasons sex is often difficult to navigate is that we often don't completely understand the biology, or sociology, or psychology behind sexual attraction, performance, and desire.
The following books and resources will give you a window inside yourself, your partner, and your relationship with all things sex. Remember! The more you know, the easier it is to identify where you are so you can figure out where you want to be.
Mating in Captivity
If you haven't seen her TED talks, The Secret To Desire in a Long-Term Relationship, or Rethinking Infidelity, a Talk For Everyone Who Has Ever Loved, you absolutely must. They are wonderfully compelling, insightful, and informative.
One of my favorite points in Esther Perel's message is that you cannot desire that which you possess. Kind of like when I really wanted to own a Nintendo as a kid. The anticipation and longing for it was almost off the charts... then a few weeks after getting it for Christmas it kind of became a part of regular life. The excitement dissipated over time.
Similarly, if we approach our relationship with the idea that we somehow own, or possess our partner, the novelty of desire, and the tension of wanting can wane and even completely disappear. In her book, Perel explains how to change your mindset away from the idea of "ownership" and more towards "choice."
It's scary to think that your partner could choose leave you at any time... but in a sense, that fear of loss also creates a consistent desire to satisfy, impress, or win the approval of the one you love.
She explains it much better, I promise. So please check it out!
Not "Just Friends"
I have learned more surprising things from Not "Just Friends" than any other relationship book I've read in a long time. The book is all about infidelity... how to prevent it, and how to deal with the emotional outfall, and rebuilt trust and recover your sanity if it does happen.
Here is just a teaser of some of the stuff that blew my mind in just the introduction of the book:
At least one or both parties in 50 percent of all couples, married and living together, straight and gay, will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during the lifetime of their relationship.
What?! For real?
I mean... if that statistic is true, and you've never been taught how to create appropriate boundaries, or cope emotionally when there's unfaithfulness in your relationship... well... no wonder the divorce rate is so high.
Oh, and here's another huge one that blew my mind:
Most people mistakenly think it is possible to prevent affairs by being loving and dedicated to one's partner.... simply being a loving partner does not ensure your marriage against affairs. You also have to exercise awareness of the appropriate boundaries at work and in your friendships.
Everyone should read this book. It will help you realize just how harmful infidelity can be, create a plan so that it never happens to you, feel less crazy if you've been cheated on, and even recover if you're in the midst of it.
It's been a really healing book for me to read.
She Comes First
I haven't actually read this book, but it's next on my list. I'll update this review after I read it.
The reason this book is important is because the process that leads to arousal and eventually orgasm for men and for women are completely different. Like... so so different.
"How to Pleasure a Woman" is not typically a conversation that is found in the Standard Parenting Manual. For most of us, sex is a lot like learning to swim the hard way. We just get thrown in the deep end of the pool under the assumption that we'll figure it out. But when all you have to draw from is your own experience with your own body, and your body is nothing like that of your partner, well... a little help is warranted.
(Consider this: Studies show the average woman takes about 20 minutes to reach her first orgasm during a typical sex session, while men take a mere four minutes.)
That's where She Comes First comes in. It's the guide to pleasuring a woman that you never wanted to get from your parents... and it dispels a lot of myths and can help you really step up your sexual game. Your lady will thank you.
Sex at Dawn
Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships challenges much of the conventional wisdom about sex. By studying the origins of sex in human history, the authors call into question many of the commonly held beliefs surrounding sex, monogamy, marriage, and family.
Even though you may not agree that the way sex, and marriage, and monogamy were viewed in the past, this book will at least give you some insights into your biology, your history, and it might give you some context for any desires you might have that exist outside your current set of values or beliefs.
This is more of an educational and informative book exploring the history of sexuality and how that history affects the present day.
It's super fascinating, and an interesting read, but might be outside the comfort zone of the more conservative reader... but I think everyone should give it a chance.
Codependent No More
I love the topic of boundaries, because it's something most of us know very little about.
Boundaries are essentially what keep us safe in our relationships, and allow us to thrive and have tons of fun. Without boundaries we often put ourselves in position to get hurt, taken advantage of, or we feel awkward because we don't know how to behave in a given set of circumstances.
Melody Beattie wrote this book specifically about setting boundaries to prevent abuse within a relationship where addiction is present... but the principles apply regardless of whether you have an alcoholic spouse, or if you just see yourself as someone who has a hard time saying, "no." Or if you're the type of person who always puts the needs of others before your own physically, spiritually, emotionally, or in any other aspect of life you can think of.
Do yourself a favor and check out this book. You'll keep yourself safe, keep other safe, have a lot more energy and resources to dedicate to creating epic love.
Obviously I have a bit of a bias here, but if you haven't listened to The Loveumentary podcast yet, it's really one of my favorite things. I'm really proud of it.
I've traveled all over the country and interviewed couples from all walks of life who are madly in love with each other. I've talked to love experts, therapists, authors, and scientists.
These conversations have changed my life. I hope you love them too.
Friends of The Loveumentary, Michelle and Tony, share hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married. Most of the episodes are based on The Gottman Institute's 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work... the number one book on my list.
These episodes are short and bite-sized, fun, and informative. A great podcast to check out if you only have a few minutes... not to mention their website is chocked full of amazing content... and I'm supremely jealous of the design.
One Extraordinary Marriage
I haven't listened to a TON of these episodes, but the one's I've listened to I enjoy. Some of that enjoyment may stem from the fact that I just love sitting down with couples who are willing to be honest and vulnerable about what's going on in their lives, how they handle the struggles, and how they celebrate the wins.
Tony and Alisa have been married for 17 years, and in that time have dealt with Tony's 18-year addiction to porn, the loss of a child at 18 weeks, debt in excess of $50k, poor communication, lack of mutual interests, and questioning trust... and on the podcast they talk about how they've handled all of this together as a couple. It's pretty cool.
The Art of Charm
The Art of Charm is a podcast directed towards men. They all sorts of subjects including dating, career success, developing social confidence, and a bunch of other awesome stuff.
One of my favorite podcast episodes in the history of ever is from this podcast. It's a conversation with the incredible Esther Perel. The conversation talks a lot about how we've put such a significant emphasis on the progress and growth of women in the last 5 decades, and we've kind of neglected the growth and evolution of men... particularly in the department of emotions.
It's super insightful and helped me understand a lot of the issues we face in modern day relationships, as well as how we can help men find more purpose as a man in this crazy world.