What are some fictional books that feature realistic and healthy couples?

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What are some fictional books to read about happy marriages? Stories that are fun and good to read, and also feature realistic and healthy couples.

The only one i can think of is The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is slightly weird in the beginning.


We’ve talked about reading non-fiction books about marriage, and we’ve talked about reading non-religious books about marriage, so now let’s talk about reading fiction books about marriage!

Here are some suggestions before I open it up to the Homies…

My hopeless romantic guy friend suggested, “Try something by Mike Gayle or Lisa Jewell. They always seem to write about couples who work it all out.”

In Offbeat Bride’s collaborative recommended reading list for books about marriage and relationships, there were two novels:

Your turn, Homies! What are some good books that feature realistic and healthy couples?

Comments on What are some fictional books that feature realistic and healthy couples?

  1. It may not be exactly what you’re looking for, but it’s the first thing that popped into my mind… If you enjoy mysteries, one of my favorite series ever is the Mary Russell novels by Laurie R. King, starting with ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice“. They feature an older, semi-retired Sherlock Holmes, and a much younger woman. They absolutely do not start out with a romantic component, but it shows up by the end of the second book. It’s a slightly unusual romantic pairing, as there is a significant age difference, and don’t expect any explicit sex scenes. But I love the dynamic between them, and how two very differently broken/dissatisfied people make a life with each other. They don’t have marriage issues as much as they have real-life issues that intrude upon their marriage occasionally.

    • I was going to suggest Laurie King’s other series, the Kate Martinelli books (Also mystery).

      I don’t know if they quite fit the criteria or not, Kate and her partner go through some pretty rough patches, but they get things worked out. And they are an excellent depiction of a relationship being good, and right and healthy for both parties involved but still HARD sometimes.

      Also, bonus points for being a lesbian married couple (They are not legally married for most of the series, but they are already in a committed relationship when the series starts. It’s not a romance. It’s a mystery series in which that view point character’s personal life is a major subplot.)

      The later books in Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series (Urban fantasy) feature a pretty healthy marriage, but it takes the characters several books to get over their Unresolved Sexual Tension and get there. The most recent book (Night Broken) featured both characters showing admirable refusal to pick up the Stupid Ball and cause unnecessary drama in the face of a challenge to their relationship, which made me happy.

      Patricia Brigg’s other series, Alpha and Omega (Urban fantasy or paranormal romance) is much more about the relationship between the characters. Both characters are very damaged people in ways that makes their relationship challenging and the relationship plot of the story is very much about how they make their relationship work, despite their problems, once they are committed and how they each heal.

      Also, not a book but a TV show, but Peter and Elizabeth on White Collar (Police procedural) are a great example of a healthy, happy fictional marriage. Also, it is a to rate show.

  2. Ellie Haskell Mysteries” – tends to lose steam the further you go in, but features an interior designer and her restaurant-chef owning husband and the silly weirdness around them in their “castle” by the sea. The first book is “The Thin Woman” when Ellie and her husband-to-be meet and she’s struggling with her weight while dealing with her dysfunctional relatives.

    Lord Peter Mysteries” – the latter novels featuring “mystery writer” Harriet Vane (her first appearance is in “Strong Poison“). Dated, but is about gentleman detective Lord Peter and the mysteries that happen while he courts Harriet Vane during the 1930’s. They get married two novels later at the end of “Gaudy Night“, but there are more novels that deal with their marriage written after Dorothy L. Sayers’ death.

    (In that vein, I can also rec “Tommy and Tuppence“. Rich socialites who take up crime solving as a hobby, they still have a tight marriage that becomes stronger in every story.)

    Not exactly healthy, but certainly realistic is “The Thin Man” (the original novel). Nick and Nora’s marriage was based on Dashiell Hammett’s relationship with Lillian Hellman. 1930’s, very much a product of its time while also being quite racy (for its time), but the pair have a pretty good marriage suited to their personalities.

    I’m afraid all I know are mysteries. I’m interested in married couples having adventures, but adventure stories tend to imply that as soon as the word “marriage” is mentioned, that’s the end of having adventures.

  3. I wouldn’t say that “Committed” is fiction. Isn’t it a follow-up memoir?

    Anywho, I really like the love story found embedded in the fantasy series “The Sword of Truth” by Terry Goodkind. Their love and devotion to one another is quite lovely. It definitely touches on dealing with their hardships by accepting their own limitations and trusting in one another. They accept natural feelings of disappointment and jealousy amidst dangerous adventures.

    • I’ll second. I have a lot of criticisms of the series now that I’m older (let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s Ayn Rand with dragons) BUT basically all of the romantic relationships are pretty good. Besides the two lead characters, there are several other couples throughout the series, including a lesbian couple, and a couple that struggles with an age gap, and various people dealing with disabilities.

      • I was just about to make the Ayn Rand with dragons comment, haha! I do love a lot of aspects of the world and plot(s) he created. And I didn’t disagree with him as vehemently as I do with Rand; though on the downside, his ideology inserting itself directly into the dialogue (often via long, pretentious speeches) feels a lot more forced to me (though, ironically, perhaps less intentional).
        I do think one flaw of the series is similar to that of Patrick Rothfuss in the Kingkiller series; namely, that women in the series are all oh-so-beautiful and powerful, but conveniently, less powerful than our hero Richard. Oh yeah and every nubile young woman is head over heels in love with him.
        Ok, that rant aside, there are a lot of cool things in the series, and depending on your taste, you might enjoy it a lot.

  4. I actually believe that Elizabeth and Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) have a fairly realistic relationship. They come to feel love for each other after a thorough investigation of each other’s faults, and a laying out of their histories.

    Not all marriages, let alone fictional ones get to that stage. Before tying the knot.

    We don’t really know anything about them once they marry, but they’ve approached the relationship sensibly and with full disclosure. So there’s a damn good chance they went on happily together.

    Oh, and the series we named my daughter after, the Hyperion Cantos. Aenea and (insert main characters name here because I cannot for the life of me recall it right now) have a flawed but beautiful relationship.

    • Oh man yes re: Hyperion Cantos! Actually the relationship that always strikes a chord for me isn’t so much Aenea & Raul, though that one’s pretty good, but Sol & Sarai Weintraub. I mean, it only makes up like 1/8 of the first book, but it’s beautiful.

    • Ooh, I haven’t gotten to those yet, but I was going to suggest Shards of Honor and Barrayar. So far I’ve only read those two and The Warrior’s Apprentice (which is not focused on relationships like the first two but was loads of fun), but I’m definitely planning to read more.

    • I second any recommendation of Lois McMaster Bujold’s work on principle:)

      I would add her Sharing Knife series to this list (Why didn’t I think of that before??)

      It is a romance novella that exploded into 4 novels. The first book is a romance plot (Beginning when the characters meet and ending when their relationship is cemented) and the next three books follow them through their adventures as a cross-cultural married couple looking for a place for themselves and trying to solve the problems between their two ethnic groups. And fight terrifying, life devouring monsters from under ground. Because it IS fantasy.

  5. I’ve always thought Jamie and Claire in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon have a pretty realistic relationship. Also, there’s a book I read recently by Carrie Brown titled “The Last First Day” that’s a really beautiful story of a relationship (full disclosure: Carrie is a dear friend of the family whom I’ve known my whole life but I swear all her books are beautifully written).

    • If marrying a sexy Scottish Highlander and following him across the globe is wrong, I don’t want to be right…That being said my boyfriend and I have an agreement that I warn him when re-reading the Outlander series because afterwards I question all relationships like ‘OMG why don’t we live in Scotland and why aren’t you wearing a kilt at all times and riding off into the sunset with me?!’

      • I agree with Jamie and Claire! I completely love their relationship! I’ve read the books through twice and my husband and I are watching the show together. These books have a strong female following, but there’s a lot of war and fighting in them, so men like them too.

      • I don’t want to be right, either! My fiance now knows the way to my heart is through occasionally affecting a Scottish accent. Last night he asked if I wanted a “wee dram” of wine and I nearly swooned.

    • I haven’t read the Outlander series, even though it’s highly recommended. I only got past a few chapters…but isn’t Claire married? She time travels and meets Jamie who she loves but it bothered me that she was married in the beginning of the book. If I’m wrong please let me know, I just had a hard time continuing because to me, cheating on your spouse(even with a hot Scottish Highlander) is not a healthy relationship.

      • Have you read the books? If not, it’s hard to explain without giving away huge plot points. But suffice it to say that she is only with Jamie to save her life, and then because she thinks she will never go back to that time. Later in the books she ends up with Jamie full time (no cheating), and Diana Gabaldon said she will probably write about them until they are in very old age because she never read a story about a marriage- just being married, after the “honeymoon phase” is well over. Although it is technically a time-travel story, it is the most “realistic” story I have read in terms of the depths of the life of a relationship.

  6. The Time Traveller’s Wife? Really? That relationship really icked me … I found Henry creepily pedobear-ish (especially the scenes when time-travelling middle-aged him met pre-teen Claire and talked about having lots of sex with her future self) and Claire rather co-dependant and self-absorbed (especially the storyline about wanting to have a child).

    That being said, I love Isabel Allendes portrayal of relationships and family. I can recommend each and every one of her books!

    • Yes, The Time Traveller’s Wife isn’t exactly what i would describe as healthy or normal.

      Claire can’t focus on everything else besides being with Henry from a young age and once she got there she is unhappy with him but stays because she knows that they are together in the future and he would mature. Then he doesn’t even tell her he got a vasectomie, he just got one.

      And the end isn’t exactly healthy either.

      It’s a good book, but NOT what a marriage should be. At least in my book. They do love each other, but that’s it. Nothing healthy or normal in The Time Traveller’s Wife.

    • Yes! I was about to post this exact comment! He meets his wife as a child, then KEEPS meeting her, telling her she’ll be his wife someday….not to mention he always arrives naked. It’s child grooming at it’s finest. Completely skeeved out by that book.

      • I guess it’s kinda difficult to apply “normal” standards to “unnormal” concepts like time-travel, but still … I’ve written a detailed book review in my blog (in German, alas) but to cut a long story short … I really resented the notion of “love endures all suffering” in the book. Henry comes across as really manipulative and predatory, and Claire is so passive most of her adult life (her only identity being “the time traveller’s wife”, hence the title, constantly sitting around and waiting for him, passive-aggressively complaining and blaming that he’s gone again even though she knows he can’t help it, because time-travel works that way), except for when she cons Henry into conception because she’s egotistical and wants to be a Mommy sooo bad, even though he had serious medical reasons to be opposed to the idea … no, not a good example for a healthy relationship at all.

        The serious SciFi buff side of me constantly wanted to scream: “See, THAT’S why you’re not supposed to cross your own timeline, idiot! NOT EVER!” πŸ˜‰

        • I actually thought Claire had a really strong identity as an artist – her needing space to make art is a driving force for plenty of the plot, and she has a big impressive art show when Alba is three. She definitely has the more successful career of the two.

          • It’s been some time since I read the book so I might not recall all the details correctly … but as far as I remember, Claire deliberately chooses her art career because she knows that this is the means to “finally” stumble upon “her timeline’s Henry” because he’s this museum curator guy. I don’t mean to diminish her achievements and I’m sure she’s a good artist, but still, it’s yet another component of being “the time traveller’s wife” and adjusting every aspect of her life choices just to meet and marry Henry in the end. Self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe?

        • I can’t respond to your response to me for some reason, so? ugh?

          Actually, the only thing she knows about Henry is that they meet in Chicago (he’s not a museum curator, he’s a librarian – maybe you’re remembering that child-Henry first meets adult-Henry at the Natural History Museum?) She does choose to go to Chicago because she knows they meet in Chicago, but her pursuing art is entirely her own thing.

          • I’m sorry, no one should ever start a comment with “actually”. I swear I am not trying to be a condescending jerk, I just really love TTW.

          • Alright, I stand corrected (as I said, I don’t remember all the details anymore, so thank you for pointing that out). So Claire’s successful career is indeed entirely her own and that’s great – nevertheless, in my opinion a career alone does not make for a whole personality (she’s still a whiney, selfish, and devious person in my opinion, albeit a whiney, selfish, and devious person with a career of her own …) and it certainly does not make a functional, respectful, honest, thriving, sane relationship / marriage, which Claire and Henry’s is totally not.

            It might be a curious and compelling love-story that strikes a chord for some, but I don’t feel that it’s a good one to put right on the top of a list of novels that emphasises on examples of “realistic and healthy couples”.

            By the way, I didn’t perceive your comment as condescending – different opinions are what makes a discussion interesting, right? πŸ™‚

      • I loved the whole of the “Hija de la fortuna / Retrato en sepia / Casa de los espΓ­ritus” series (sorry, I have no idea what the English titles are, even tough I’ve written my undergrad thesis on the topic …), my all-time favourites being Blanca and Pedro Tercero, who are so resilient and strong against all who would oppose them … but to be honest, I loved Irene and Francisco in “De amor y de sombra” even more. And, of course, Isabel Allende’s real-life relationships in “Paula”, which totally broke my heart.

  7. I thought the marriage & relationship portrayed in Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly was very realistic — loving without being gushy. And our heroine, Jenny Waynest, is the one who leaves the kids with their dad and heads out to deal with the dragon.

  8. Barbara Hambly. Her historical mysteries are more about the characters than the mystery.

    The Abigail Adams series has a wonderful relationship between Abigail and John. And the rest of life is worked in. Housework, religion, children and making a living are part of life and don’t go away just because there is a crime. The conflicted emotions about slavery, liberty, religion and the coming revolution are there as well.

    The Benjamin January series is set in 1830’s New Orleans. (A Free Man Of Color) It’s much darker and uglier simply because of the time and place and the way race works in that society. It’s very historically accurate, and I wouldn’t give this one to a teen unless I as willing to discuss the background. All of it, as race, sex and slavery twist everything. Once again it is the relationships that count, Ben wouldn’t be able to function without his mother and sister, and his relationship with Rose is the center of his life. The range of people and relationships are vast, interconnected and well portrayed. They aren’t fun quick reads, but they are excellent books.

    She also written SF and fantasy. It’s often much lighter, again relationship driven. Good books but the change from light to dark is still there.

    • The Abigail Adams mysteries were the first books that came to my mind. John is often occupied elsewhere (as of course he was) but when they do have scenes together, it’s adorable and I could easily picture them being exactly like that. My favorite portrayal of them outside 1776.

      I’d also say that the relationship between Gordianus the Finder and Bethesda in the Roma Sub Rosa mysteries by Steven Saylor, while probably better than the average relationship between a master and slave in Ancient Rome in that he eventually frees and marries her, is generally realistic and healthy.

  9. I’m writing one…. πŸ˜€ But yeah, I’m loving this topic! Part of the reason I’m writing a novel with a realistic marriage relationship (despite being set in a fantasy world), is because I have a hard time finding good novels featuring them. Thanks to everyone for this list! Gonna have to go look these up.

  10. I love Laurell K. Hamilton’s depiction of realistic relationships in her Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series. Yes, their relationships get complicated by the practicalities of juggling multiple paranormal species (vampires, werewolves, etc.). But she addresses many types of relationships and gives page time to her thoughts about why one aspect of the relationship is good, and why others are bad/unhealthy. She’s also very open about having polyamorous relationships, and the nuts and bolts of making them work.

    For more realistic fiction, I like Victoria Dahl‘s contemporary romances. She portrays a wide variety of realistic individuals, with professions ranging from brewers, to librarians, to sex shop managers.

    • I love Laurell K. Hamilton’s work! Her Merry Gentry series is also great at exploring alternative relationships. Couples aren’t the only healthy dynamic for loving and relating but it’s hard to find polyamorous character in fiction. Some of the better examples I’ve seen have actually been in webcomics like Kimchi Cuddles.

    • Huh? Anita Blake is my “go to” example for horrifically unhealthy relationships in vampire romances. I’m fine with polyamorous relationships…if everyone involves enters them willingly and has the mindset to enjoy them. Anita Blake ends up with polyamorous relationships kinda by accident and expresses monogamous sentiments at weird moments. There are also troubling power dynamic/consent issues in the later books. She acquires “lust magic” and becomes alpha of a pack of weres and acquires some vampires to. Since it’s expressly stated that were and vampire societu gives the guy (or gal) on top complete control of the bodies of everyone, it’s highly questionable whether her partners can say “no”.

      If you have certain tastes it may be hot but it’s certainly not healthy…

  11. I actually just picked up a book called “One Plus One“. I haven’t read it yet, but I saw a review of it and said it was awesome. It’s about a single mom of an unconventional family, and as the reviewers say, “doesn’t need a man to save her”, but there is a man (an imperfect man) in the story.

    I’ve also always felt Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice had a fairly realistic relationship. Both stubborn and proud, not wanting to admit their own faults, but for each other and their relationship they work through and admit their faults.

    Many of the relationships in the Game of Thrones series I would classify as realistic in their romantic nature and interactions…not necessarily the relationship structure itself as realistic (brother-sister love I don’t feel as being realistic…but how they feel and interact in the relationship feels like any real/normal couple).

    • Although looking back to your original question you were looking for healthy relationships as well. I don’t think I’d qualify most of the relationships in Game of Thrones as healthy. Some are…most aren’t.

          • It doesn’t change the day-to-day reality Catelyn experienced, but I’ll just leave this here anyway. Fair warning: contains spoilers through Book 3 (A Storm of Swords) and some major speculation that may or may not ruin future plot points, if you’re not into that kind of thing.

        • Not a BAD marriage in most ways…but a bad step-parent/family dynamic situation. Essentially she passive agressively tortures her husband’s kid until he decides he doesn’t deserve love and becomes a monk.

  12. On the paranormal romance end of things, Eileen Wilks World of the Lupi series (starts with Tempting Danger) has more than one amazing, loving, healthy couple. They deal with normal issues that couples have, plus all the wacky werewolf things that get thrown in, including issues of step-parenting, whose house do you move into, relationships with in-laws, and whether or not your chosen lover is “the one.”

  13. Um….”These Happy Golden Years” and “The First Four Years” are about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s marriage.

    Other than that, I realized that almost none of my books have married couples in them (well, sometimes they end up married, but it’s not ABOUT their marriage). The only ones with people who are married throughout the book are my Phillipa Gregory books about the Tudor court, but those are arranged royal marriages, and not exactly healthy.

    The King of Attolia” (by Megan Whalen Turner) features a married couple, but you CANNOT read it without reading “The Thief” and “The King of Attolia” first…since they come first in the series.

    Wait….Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” features a married couple. Not happy, but married.

    • I was about to post about Laura Ingalls Wilder too! For their time, they were pretty darn modern. When she tells him she doesn’t want to promise to obey him in their wedding vows and he asks the minister to take the line out I was pretty sold on Almanzo as a keeper.
      If you pick and choose around the dated gender roles, the whole Little House series is full of gems of knowledge on family life, and how to build/hunt/smoke/plant all sorts of things!

      • I loved the Little House books and I never minded the dated gender roles. It is a genuine representation of life at that time. Things were very black and white about who did what in a home. When I have gone back and read them as an adult I was struck by the politically incorrect, verging on racist wording in some of it, but that too is a product of the time that they were set and when they were written.

        • Is anyone else excited for the soon-to-be-released ACTUAL autobiogrphay from Laura Ingalls Wilder? We know that The Little House Books were softened up quite a quite a bit to make them suitable for children. The autobiography is supposed to be more “gritty”.

    • Oooh! I had totally forgotten about those books until I read your comment! Read the majority of them when I was a teen and LOVED them! And yes, I would second that they have a pretty good relationship, from what I remember :)… Now, I’m going to go and hunt them down and re-read them all! πŸ™‚

    • Emerson and Amelia have the BEST marriage…he never tries to stifle her yet he is an alpha male. Perfect example of a strong man and strong woman who compliment each other perfectly.

  14. Well, happy healthy relationships don’t exactly make for compelling fiction, do they? I just scrolled through the last five years of my Goodreads “read” books and there’s not one book, not ONE, that portrays a marriage worth emulating. Oh well.

    • I really liked the relationship between Jo and Professor Bhaer in “Little Women.” They start off having a great friendship, which then blossoms into a healthy romantic relationship. I also loved it when Professor Bhaer encouraged Jo to keep going with her writing career, even though his critique of her “sensational stories” was a tad blunt. But all he wanted her to do was to be true to herself as she was writing.

      Don’t you really wish every spouse could be as honest and supportive as Professor Bhaer was to Jo?

  15. It’s a graphic novel, but I’ve just read Saga volumes 1 and 2 and so far I love the relationship between Alana and Marko (plus they have a newborn, so parenting stuff too). The interactions with the in-laws also seem realistically awkward/heartwarming, but with more magic spells, I guess.

    • AGREED, I was just about to chime in with this! “Healthy” might be a stretch — Alana and Marko are both deeply flawed characters mostly doing the best they can, but hey, aren’t we all? And the main characters don’t have a monopoly on interesting relationships in the series, either.

  16. Nobody is going to mention Twilight (sarcastic grin!!)

    I really like the Poison Study series by Maria Snyder. The main characters relationship feels like a bedrock for me. Through all the trials and tribulations that relationship is very solid. (Even if he does try to poison her when he first meets her – no relationship is perfect πŸ™‚ )

  17. It’s genre and tie-in so it varies all over the place but Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade Skywalker’s married partnership in Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Survivors Quest is really a neat look at how two married people can build off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and have a partnership. It helps to have some knowledge of Star Wars books if you’re reading it, but would not be strictly necessary. It’s a stand alone title and certainly if you’ve read Zahn’s Star Wars titles you’d have enough to go on.

    • I think several of the relationships portrayed in the Star Wars novels are fairly healthy and egalitarian – in the first arc at least. One of the benefits to an ensemble series as that it does give room for portraying the sort of solid, healthy relationships that do not make for compelling dramatic love stories on their own. So once Luke and Mara get through the long, potentially unhealthy path to their marriage (he’s a mess and she is quietly carrying a torch I think) we do get to see them in a solid partnership.

      I’d add Corran and Mirax to the list of pretty healthy relationships in the novels too. The two of them are very upfront with each other and quite self aware in a way that allows them to build a life together that is honest – if a little heavy on the syrupy endearments.
      In fact, for a series that contains a lot of descriptive battle scenes, there are a surprising number of examples of people having frank, thoughtful discussions or introspective interludes about relationships and their own emotional state .
      It’s kind of impressive.

      On an unrelated note, I always liked Mr and Mrs Quimby in the Ramona books by Beverley Cleary. That was a realistic family. They had the occasional disagreement (the Quarrel) but those parents generally backed each other up and did what had to be done to make life decent for their kids even with the financial struggles and wacky relatives.

      • Yess! The Quimbys! And on the topic of “kids and youth” books: Rusty’s American foster parents in Michelle Magorian’s “Back Home” which was a teenage favourite of mine; you didn’t get to see much of the “marriage” aspect because the book is told from the kids’ perspective and therefore focuses on the “parent” aspect, but they were crazily supportive and always stuck up for each other and for their family.

  18. I just read “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki and was struck by the nice long-term relationship portrayed there. It’s not the major focus of the book’s plot, but there are a lot of mentions of how a couple negotiates a life together and define their identities relative to each others’. The relationship is very mature and loving, but the book looks honestly at the difficulties of building a life together. Also, there is cool speculative tech and ghosts!

  19. I’ve been scanning my brain trying to figure out some book besides the Outlander series that depicts a good marriage. Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure was written in the 1700s and it has a lot to say about marriage and love. Jude is in a long-term relationship with a woman and they are very much in love, although they never marry (shocking for the time period).

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