The Art of Marriage: A Guide to Living Life as Two by Catherine Blyth begins with a chapter in defense of the married state. Happily, this tone is sustained through the succeeding sections that detail, in great range and depth, every possible marital menace: in-laws, child-rearing, money, work, friends, fading desire, cheating and fighting. Glimpsing the enormity of what can go wrong might put a reader’s own “inventory of irritations” into perspective.

The guide is surprisingly fun to browse, due to the author’s knack for backing up every point with a variety of anecdotal and historical evidence. Where else could you find Henry VIII on the same marital page as Brad and Angelina, or Epicurus and Heidi Klum closing their vast cultural gap on one another? The weight of so many quotes, quips and scandals is leavened by the author’s own deft hand (she did, after all, write The Art of Conversation), and the whole thing comes off as an extended meditation on marriage in all its gore and glory.

As for what could go wrong before the honeymoon, see How I Planned Your Wedding  by mother-of-the-bride Susan Wiggs and daughter Elizabeth Wiggs Maas. Although it’s categorized as a memoir, smart bookstores will shelve copies in the wedding section, because brides-to-be can learn much from this pair. As a best-selling author of romance (including the Lakeshore Chronicles), Wiggs mater is well qualified to devise a precise and perfect wedding plan, but not surprisingly, her daughter has different ideas. They end up collaborating on the wedding and the book as well, alternating voices in a fresh and funny narrative.

Each chapter covers one essential aspect of wedding planning—budget, venue, dress, attendants, invitations, registry, guests, ceremony, reception and so on—and each begins in Elizabeth’s voice, followed by Susan’s maternal perspective on the same situation, and finishes with a dandy “cheat sheet”: a synopsis for brides in too much of a tearing hurry to read the whole thing.

Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In is by Laurie Puhn, a Harvard-trained family and divorce lawyer and mediator who has seen more than her share of clients at “the point where a lack of appreciation, respect, or intimacy” threatens a relationship. Communication, she argues, is key, but the big idea here is that “couples don’t need to talk more . . . they need to talk better.”

Readers pick which situation best describes the conflict at hand: Do you argue about everything? Do you avoid intimacy? Is your spouse the silent type? Do you both need to learn to apologize, negotiate or stop overreacting? Are you shockingly rude to one another? Corresponding step-by-step strategies—designed to take just 5 minutes of practice per day—can produce instant results, even when only one partner is actually willing to read the instructions. This kind of talking cure is good for any committed couple: “those at the beginning of a great relationship, couples in the thick of it who know it could be better, and even those who feel that there is no hope left.” 

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