Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be married. I was always "falling in love" with boys and looking forward to being a mother. However, when my parents divorced during my teenage years, that led to some serious doubts and wounds regarding marriage. It suddenly became something very scary.
Years later, when I met my husband, I knew after a month that I wanted to marry him. I can’t explain how I made that jump except to say that I finally fell in love with Jesus, Who transformed my heart. That led to a deep dive into the purpose and beauty of marriage and what that means for my life. Fast forward to present-day: I have been married to my best friend for almost nine years and we have four beautiful children.
Discerning marriage is a deeply personal experience that builds upon a personal relationship with Jesus. We are all called to the universal vocation of holiness and that looks different for each of us. For some of us, it may include a call to marriage.
Best Books for Discerning Marriage
I hope that this list of books will encourage you in your journey of discernment and give you a deeper understanding of how God wants you to live out your holiness.
For the Intellectual
First, let’s lay the foundation of what marriage is: what it means, why God created marriage, and the mission of marriage. Anyone who is discerning vocations should start here.
Some of these books may be a bit “academic” but there is so much beauty and truth here.
Three to Get Married by Fulton J. Sheen
Marriage is impossible without God. He is a very active and vital participant in the union between husband and wife. So on your wedding day, you are not only making a vow to your spouse, you are also making a vow to live out your vocation of marriage with Jesus at your side.
Fulton Sheen, in all his saintly wisdom, beautifully covers the true meaning of love, the role and purpose of marriage, and the mysterious and unbreakable bond that marriage creates.
Love and Responsibility by Pope John Paul II
One of the things that I love about Pope Saint John Paul II is his ability to speak to the heart of every man and woman with love and truth. He had a way of addressing the needs of the wider Church while making each individual feel seen and understood.
Love and Responsibility came at the height of “sexual revolution,” a time when the world needed so much transformation. His wisdom will change the way you view the opposite sex, the way you date, and the things you are looking for in your future spouse.
Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love by Edward Sri
This book is very good at unpacking Love and Responsibility and making it accessible to every reader. You’ll be able to examine your heart and apply JPII’s vision to your own life, in whatever stage you find yourself.
I also really appreciate the discussion questions at the end of each chapter, which makes it a good book study for a small group or an engaged couple (or maybe if you’re on a date and you want to get straight to the point).
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II
Another beautiful gift from John Paul II is a collection of his addresses that have revolutionized the way Catholics view identity and sex: the Theology of the Body. We live in a world where sex has been skewed, twisted, and surrounded with lies. But we know that sex goes way beyond the physical act. It is a total gift of self: in mind, body, and soul.
JPII dives into the mysticism of marital and sexual union and brings much clarity, renewal, and healing to the Church and world. It is so refreshing to read his insights, especially coming from the Holy Father at the time.
Good News about Sex & Marriage by Christopher West
If you find Edward Sri’s practical application of Love and Responsibility to be helpful, this book by Christopher West would be the practical companion to Theology of the Body. West has a beautiful way of simplifying the profound beauty and intricacies of the Theology of the Body.
This book has a very straightforward, Q&A style format which makes it super easy to read and understand.
For the Practical
Now that we have that foundation laid, let’s get into the practical help. Throughout courtship and marriage, you’ll find yourself going back to these books and talking about it with your significant other. My husband and I have found these books to be incredibly helpful as we navigate the joys and challenges of marriage.
Emotional Virtue by Sarah Swafford
I truly believe that anyone who is pursuing dating needs to read this book. We frequently hear about being chaste and “saving yourself until marriage” but when do we ever hear about emotional chastity?
Instead of focusing on all the things we shouldn’t do, this book gives helpful and beautiful insight into all the things we should be doing to build healthy relationships. In friendship, dating, and courtship, we can work to protect our hearts and the hearts of the opposite sex.
The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett
“Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you,” God tells us in Jeremiah 1:5. And He gave each and every one of us a personality, too! Our environment and childhood have a profound effect on us, but there are innate parts of ourselves that make up who we are and these are our temperaments.
Choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic... which one are you? Similar to personality tests, this book reveals so much of who we are and how we perceive the world, especially in relationship with one another. Being aware of our temperaments can help the way we interact and understand each other.
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
You may have heard of the phrase “love language” in Christian circles before, but have you ever stopped to consider how you express and receive love? (Spoiler alert: it may not be the same as your significant other!)
So much can be miscommunicated and your bids for love may be totally missed if you and your partner are not speaking the same love language. This is not only a very helpful and practical guide for your marriage, but for all your relationships: with your parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, and even your kids!
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
In a world where over half of marriages are end in divorce, we may feel disheartened and skeptical of the possibility of a lasting marriage, especially if we have personal experience with divorced parents and broken families. After 25 years of extensive research, Dr. Gottman has been able to pinpoint the main causes of divorce and predict the success of marriage with almost 95% accuracy.
He also presents life-changing and daily practices that can prevent divorce. He brings the perfect balance of science and romance to create a practical guide to emotionally balanced and long-lasting marriage. The Gottman Institute has personally given me so much hope in believing that I do not have to repeat the mistakes of my family’s past and that I can truly have a happy and holy marriage.
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
When you become one with your husband, you also become one with your incomes, bank accounts, spending habits, and pending loans. A huge part of marriage involves finances and it’s important to talk about because it’s not just about money. We attach very personal meanings, memories, and values to money. Throughout marriage, career changes, kids, retirement, and life in general, talking about money is going to be a very regular occurrence. It’s best to start before you tie the knot.
This book allowed my husband and I to have very honest conversations about debt, budgeting, and our financial goals. Achieving financial freedom has changed our marriage and given us one less thing to stress about and more things to dream about our family’s future. Not everybody agrees with Dave Ramsey’s philosophy on finances and that’s ok, as long as it can help initiate those conversations surrounding financial expectations and bring about financial unity during marriage.
I’ve included a few fun reads because discerning marriage should be fun! It is a wonderful time of wonder, anticipation, and growth as you reflect on what kind of love story God has in store for you.
Love Letters to My Husband by Gianna Beretta Molla
I really enjoyed reading this book during my engagement because of the way Saint Gianna carried herself with grace and holiness throughout her engagement and marriage. It made me think about the kind of wife and mother I want to become and she was a huge inspiration to me.
The way she writes about her feelings for her husband, Pietro, are full of romance and hope and it is evident that their mutual love for the Lord is what made their relationship stronger.
By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride by Alice VonHildebrand
If a newly engaged or newly married friend asked me, “What do you wish you had known before getting married?” I would hand her this book.
It is written in the style of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and it presents a very realistic but hopeful view of marriage. It’s like if you had written letters to moms, aunts, friends, and other women in your life whom you deeply trust asking for their advice, and received these letters in response. This book is a collection of letters that show the ups and downs of marriage with very applicable guidelines on how to love your husband more, how to become the woman and wife God is calling you to be, and how to strive for holiness in your vocation of marriage.
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
This is one of my favorite books and one that I read again every few years. It is a romance novel modeled after the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer. A man falls in love with a woman and rescues her out of prostitution. But the main story is about how God rescues this woman by proving His love to her. The book is also a reminder that no one’s past is too great for the Lord to redeem and that true love covers a multitude of sins.
It is two love stories in one book, and every time I read it I fall more in love with my husband and the Lord each time!
Holy Sex! By Gregory Popcak
Sex is a very integral and important part of marriage. It is a gift from God for a husband and wife to enjoy. Even in marriage, we are called to be chaste and pure while enjoying each other in the marital embrace. When we get married, we enter a new world of sex, and that can lead to a lot of questions. Dr. Popcak explains how we as Catholics can enjoy a rich and satisfying sex life with our spouses while still holding true to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
It also includes questionnaires and quizzes that can help open up honest communication about sex, which might otherwise be an awkward dialogue. Just a fair warning, this book does go into some intimate details regarding the act of sex, so if that is something you’re sensitive to, it may be best to read this book after you are married. It would be fun to read it with your husband!
Instruction manual from IKEA
Okay, this one is kind of a joke, but my husband and I have always said that they should make furniture-building a part of every marriage prep course or Engaged Encounter retreat! Building something complicated together (especially if it comes with a very unhelpful, wordless instruction booklet like IKEA furniture does) can reveal so much about your relationship: how you communicate, how you divvy up responsibilities, and how you (inevitably) deal with frustration.
It may just make or break your relationship, but the hope is that you come out of it learning how to resolve conflict and tackle projects without killing each other!
The World Needs Holy Marriages
We are all uniquely made in the image of God, along with our beautiful differences and our individual callings. Maybe your calling is to marriage, and it is a beautiful vocation. The world needs more examples of happy and holy marriages. It is equally as important as seeing examples of happy and holy priests and religious.
As you discern the unique path the Lord has laid out for you, it is vital to stay close to Him through prayer and the Sacraments. I hope that you would use those opportunities to respond to His love and His will. As you take the steps to actively discern your vocation, I pray that you would find clarity, conviction, and peace of heart.
What are your favorite books for discerning marriage?
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