On a near-daily basis I receive emails from people asking me for book recommendations. When I feel equipped to give those recommendations, I am happy to share them (and even have a section of my site dedicated to this).
A little while ago I had a young man write to ask about books on marriage. He told me that he had recently become engaged and that he and his fiancée were eager to prepare themselves. They thought they would do this by reading all of the best books on marriage. He asked specifically for 6-8 books, and said that they intended to read each one of them. It was a noble request made for the best of reasons. But I think it was a mite misguided.
When it comes to books on marriage we are spoiled for choices. I can easily put together a list of 6 or 8 marriage books that are grounded in the Bible and full of godly wisdom. I could probably list another 6 or 8 that may not be quite as strong but still contain plenty of value. And then there are the myriad books that deal with the nuances of marriage—sex, romance, money, conflict, and on and on. Again, we are spoiled for choice and blessed beyond measure.
But it is possible to have too much of a good thing, or at least to partake of too much of a good thing. Reading 6 or 8 books on marriage before exchanging wedding rings may be too much of a good thing.
This is the counsel I gave that young man:
Read one or two books on marriage and maybe even read them out loud together. Consider The Meaning of Marriage and When Sinners Say ‘I Do’, perhaps. It may be wise to read, or at least have ready, a book like Ed Wheat’s Intended for Pleasure which can help with the intricacies and difficulties of the sexual relationship. (Many who don’t have a resource like that in the early days soon wish they did.)
After you’ve settled on your marriage books, find a book or two that address a specific sin or weakness in your life. Or, perhaps even better, books that will motivate you to grow in holiness. R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God always tops my list, with Jerry Bridges The Pursuit of Holiness right behind it. Read them too, either alone or individually. After all, personal holiness is a much better gift to bring your new spouse than extensive book-knowledge of the ins and outs of marriage.
And then stop reading and start inviting—stop with the marriage books and begin to invite yourself into the lives and homes of people whose marriage you admire. If you have a home of your own, invite couples into it. Otherwise, take the risk of inviting yourself into their home. Talk to these people and ask them about the joys and sorrows of marriage, the ups and downs of their relationship. Ask them how they met and married and what they remember of the early days of their marriage. Ask them how they resolve conflict and why they decided to have children right away or why they decided to wait. Ask them how they maintain their relationship today and what they would do differently if they had to do it all again. Talk about money and in-laws. Even ask them for counsel about a healthy sexual relationship if such questions seem appropriate. Learn from them. Best of all, follow-up with them weeks or months after your wedding—visit again and tell about the joys and difficulties you have experienced. Let them counsel and encourage you again.
Books are wonderful, and I believe strongly in the value of reading. Books on marriage can be wonderful, and I have benefitted from reading many of them. But the best and most helpful books on marriage are the ones being lived out by husbands and wives in your family, in your neighborhood, and especially in your church. Read them longer and more thoroughly than any other.
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