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

Updated Oct 12 2015
Thanks to danielle for uploading this photo to our Offbeat Home Flickr pool
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?

  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.

    • And not only Jamie and Claire but many of the other couples as well (e.g.: Brianna & Roger), even the ones we only ever see from the outside (e.g.: Jenny & Ian)

    • 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!" 😉

        • 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? 🙂

    • I was going to mention Isabel Allende also. It's been a couple of years since I read it, but I remember loving the end of Retrato en Sepia largely because I loved the way the relationship was written.

      • I loved the whole of the "Hija de la fortuna / Retrato en sepia / Casa de los espíritus" 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 have a couple hundred books on my shelves and I can't find one that centers around a marriage or a married couple. No wonder being married is so hard, my books have let me down!

    • Yeah….a lot of mine have some element of romance (since many have heroines in a fantasy setting)….but I'm having a hard time thinking of a marriage one.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. I'm writing one…. 😀 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.

  11. 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…

  12. 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.

        • Unless you count the fact that his child from an affair at the beginning of their marriage lives with them, and Catelyn completely resents his presence…

          • 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.

  13. In Mary Doris Russell's The Sparrow, George and Anne have a wonderful, healthy marriage. There are some other respectable relationships, but any elaboration would be full of spoilers!

  14. 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."

  15. 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".

    • Yes, the Amelia Peabody series is wonderful! And the relationships are healthy for the personalities involved, and a *lot* of fun to read!

    • 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! 🙂

    • 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.

  16. 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.

    • Such a good answer! I think I might open that book up again and read through, it's been a good decade since last time. Too long!

  17. I remember loving the married relationships in Alcott's "Little Men" (the "little women" all grown up and paired off), though it's been so long since I've read it. Guess it's time to pull it off the shelf!

    • 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?

  18. 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.

  19. 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 🙂 )

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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).

    • Thank you for bringing it up! As it's mentioned in the books, Alexia and Lord Maccon "fall in annoyance" – which is the most realistic description of love I've ever come across.

    • I love Gail Carriger's work. The Parasol Protectorate is great fun. But I wouldn't have called it a good example of a healthy marraige. Especially in Blameless!

      Which just goes to show that this is a very "Your Mileage May Very" thread.

  23. Many of Barbara Kingsolver's novels feature relationships that I feel are life affirming and positive. There are plenty of failed marriages and relationships in her work too, so it depends on which book you pick. But I have always loved the successful relationships in her novels and short stories. I know there's a great romance in Prodigal Summer, although I am not sure how realistic it is – it may be a bit idealized. I am pretty sure the other novel of hers with a great romance is Animal Dreams. When I read that novel, it kind-of inspired me to think about what kind of partner I would really want (and eventually found).

    Nick Hornby is another writer who is very smart in his portrayal of relationships between people, though there is probably more failure than success in his novels. But even so, I always feel like he *gets* something very very right about contemporary romantic relationships and why they succeed or fail.

    So, I wasn't really thinking about "marriages" per se. As someone who is in a long-term partnership without marriage, I wasn't even thinking in those terms. I'll have to think harder for marriages in particular to offer a better answer to the original question.

  24. I don't know how well these would fall into the category of realistic (they are intended to be over the top and have an unreliable narrator – which is used to great comedic effect), but I love the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. The series runs in time from 1884-1923, and they are mysteries with a side of Egyptology. The books have accurate archaeology information as the author had a PhD in Egyptology. Amelia Peabody is not married at the end of the first book, however it does end with her proposing!

    One of my favorite quotes from Amelia is "Marriage, in my view, should be a balanced stalemate between equal adversaries."

  25. I third…(or fourth or fifth?) the Jaime and Claire/Outlander recommendations above. Maybe not realistic with all the time travel and stuff, but boy do they know how to keep it hot and heavy and healthy years and years later.

    Also, Still Alice by Lisa Genovese shows how a marriage weathers dementia in some pretty powerful ways.
    A Good House by Bonnie Burnard really stands out to me too as a great depiction of love and relationships and how they work and grow together over generations.
    And anything by Alice Munro – while often her protagonists aren't always very happy in their marriages, she can cut to the heart of the matter with one short turn of phrase that brings it all into focus for the characters, and is totally relatable to the reader too.

  26. Oooh I can do this!!

    The Graceling series by Kristin Cashores. I cannot say enough good things about it. The relationship in Fire is the most mature, but Graceling and Bitterblue both have really good representations of young people figuring relationships out.

    I'mma second what someone said about Prodigal Summer – it has a bunch of relationships, and really explores the idea of what makes a relationship good. But absolutely absolutely absolutely Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams. It's a less talked about one of her novels, but it is SO GOOD and the relationship in it is great.

    I might get yelled at for this one, but I think that Katniss and Peeta's relationship in The Hunger Games is really good and realistic. (don't pelt me with rotted vegetables, please.)

    I didn't much like Audrey Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, but there is a really, really good marital subplot in it (a couple navigating severe OCD)

    Jane Austen's Persuasion. Absolutely my favourite Austen, and with an extremely mature love story.

    • The relationship between Katniss and Peeta didn't seem very healthy to me. Realistic maybe, but not good. Peeta felt a little obsessed, even from the puppy love stage. Katniss seems to only want Peeta out of a sense of obligation (loyalty?), that then morphs into a relationship of necessity due to their shared trauma. It doesn't feel like a two-way street, but adjacent one-way streets.

  27. Great Googly Moogly, but I love recommending books! I can't be stopped (in order of when I read them over the last year):

    1. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Topper – Lots of different married couples in this one (read it soon, there's a movie being made of this that comes out really soon I think). Topper's more recent book One Last Thing Before I Go also has some interesting things to say about marriages that last and those that don't.
    2. Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler – not ostensibly about marriage, but about friendships that last from childhood into adulthood, and marriages happen between the characters along the way – some healthier than others.
    3. We Are Water by Wally Lamb – Blended families! Gay wedding! No one writes about family relationships like Wally Lamb!
    4. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead – Did the pretty but mediocre ballerina marry the right man, or did she settle?!
    5. Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead – Very different from Astonish Me, this one is a social satire set during a wedding weekend in a wealthy New England beach town.
    6. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver – In one future, a woman steals a kiss with a guy she's not married to on her birthday. In another, she refrains. The two stories play out side by side…. (This book was tough for me to read, it hit pretty close to something I struggled with in the past, but I finally got through it and I was glad I did.)
    7. Q by Evan Mandery – This bizarre but good little book is about a guy who gets visited by his future self who says that he mustn't marry the woman he's about to marry. And his future self keeps coming back again and again… but is different every time.

    Ok, ok, I'll stop! I read a lot.

  28. Say what you will about Nora Roberts, but I don't care because her ladies rarely suck. The "In Death" series (by J.D. Robb, her alter-ego) follows a futuristic cop and her rich Irish man-candy husband. They fight and there's lots of misunderstandings and adjustment to life as part of a ongoing relationship, but they always make it work. Sure, I sometimes want to smack one or both of them, but the same could be said of many of my friends.

    • I was coming here to say just that!
      I like her books as Nora Roberts, but they do (especially the early ones) have a tendency towards the hero and heroine going from meeting to engaged/married in a month or two, which somewhat stretches my suspension of disbelief (you've only known him a month! WTF are you doing!). I like it better when they at least in theory have a history as friends and know each other from before the book starts.
      But, I love the In Death series! It's great to see a couple working through their 'happy ever after'. Although I'm not sure Eve and Roarke count as having a completely happy ever after given the body count in those books…

  29. It may not be the answer you want but the first married couple that sprang to mind were the Weasleys from Harry Potter. They were not centre stage but the portrayal of their relationship and family were what grounded the whole series.

  30. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. Ooh, and the Mistborn series too. Also the Earthsea Quartet by Le Guin, eventually anyway. And Voices by the same author (Orrec and Gry, so cute). Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books.

    Also, Pratchett! No one's mentioned his books yet! How about the watch books with Vimes and Sybil?

  31. I have always thought the relationship between Thursday and Landon in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde was refreshingly realistic, refreshing, and loving. Especially in the later books, the story involves a lot of the interactions and banter that occur as they grow old together. And the couples in Thursday's family and circle of friends are also great representations of how completely different people work together to support each other and their relationships.

  32. Definately check out Denis Lehane's Kenzie/Gennaro novels (which include Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone). Not a marriage, but the two characters are partners in every sense, they have a very healthy and natural dynamic in the ones I've read so far. Alternately, I would check out Steig Larson's Millenium Trilogy for examples of really complex and beautiful character relationships that don't revolve around the traditional, heteronormative, or manogamous. Really a good read to contrast all of these "happy marriage" tales!

  33. The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson! For one thing, they're super cool fantasy novels. But also, the love story goes past marriage and they continue to work towards the main plot once married. Relationship is remarkably healthy, too.

    • I went looking for a list of realistic fiction marriages because I just finished book 5 of the series and was hoping their relationship was realistic. 🙂

  34. The Liaden series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller has lots of interested married pairs, and you get to see the progression of the relationships over many years. The series is second only to Bujold's Vorkosigan books in this respect.

    • Oh and I just remembered the Catherine LeVendeur mysteries by Sharan Newman! 12th century ex-novice who (spoilers for the first book) marries an Anglo-Scot nobleman and also solves mysteries! They have a lovely loving and supportive marriage, through good times and bad and unexpected family revelations and murders and stuff. I only read about the first six, but I really enjoyed them.

  35. A book that completely changed the way that I thought about relationships was YA fantasy novel Graceling. The main character, Katsa, is super-competent and sort of rough around the edges, and she ends up falling in love with Po, who is kind and gentle. They go through a lot of turmoil in their relationship because she has commitment issues and he can hear people's thoughts if they're thinking about him (which totally flips her out because she's immensely private and doesn't deal well with feeling trapped). It's an incredibly sensitive and thoughtful meditation on the nature of a relationship, the boundaries between two partners, and what "being in a relationship" really means.

  36. I tend to favor science fiction and fantasy, so I'm listing stuff in that general end of literature. I am most certainly missing things in my reading history here, but some things that come to mind:

    CJ Cherryh has, if I remember correctly, several marriages/LTRs in her books that work out well. The one that stands out to me is the relationship between Bren Cameron and Jago in the Foreigner mega-series (15 books now). It's not a marriage and never can be: Bren is human, Jago is Atevi and the species are just similar enough outwardly and way too different emotionally to have what we'd call a marriage. It is, however, a loyal/affectionate relationship that's long-standing, stable, and healthy. Each person involved feels for the other what they'd feel for a spouse of their own species. The differences in emotional reaction are central to the overarching plot of the series (human and Atevi must live on the same planet and make terrible mistakes in dealing with each other) and the relationship is an important reflection of how Bren can bridge the two cultures. Lots of violence external to the couple but intrinsic to the plot and lots of political intrigue and diplomatic tension throughout the whole series.

    I'm also reminded of Julie E. Czerneda's Trade Pact Universe books. I've read "A Thousand Words for Stranger" and "The Ties of Power" and they also focus on a human/nonhuman pairing. The plot of the first one centers around power and consent and the ending may be triggering to some but is a logical manifestation of the thinking of some of the antagonist characters. I remember "The Ties of Power" less well, but it involves the couple after they are committed to each other (again, not a marriage per se, but as close as possible given the species and culture differences).

    In the land of graphic novels, I'd say that Fables has some really unstable relationships with some very realistic (for a fantasy setting) stable ones as well. Snow White and Bigby Wolf come to mind. Not always smooth, they deal with lots of problems, but ultimately loving. It's one bit in a huge series, though, so you may not want to become entangled with it.

    Also in graphic novel land, Sandman Mystery Theatre features a stable, committed but non-married couple (scandalous in the mid-1930s setting) Wesley Dodds (the Sandman, an investigative vigilante armed with a sleep-gas gun) and Dian Belmont (adult daughter of the mayor?). They have their own lives but are faithful to each other. Stories generally focus on Dodds, but as the series goes on Belmont comes into her own. I think they talk about marriage and may get engaged, but what I've read does not have the married. There may be more of the series that does.

    Sorry for the length. I like talking about books!

  37. For the fantasy side, I would recommend Patricia Briggs especially her Mercy Thompson series. The couple aren't married at the beginning, but you can see their relationship grow through the books. Also Ilona Andrews (Magic series). And of course another cheer for Lois Mcmaster Bujold

    • The author does an unusually good job of describing a healthy relationship once they are married. The catch is, the person she is maried to seems like a very different person after they are married then he seemed during the love triangle of the early books.

      The author basically pulled a Mr. Darcy, but fortunately didn't dial it up to 11 like many fantasy novels to.

  38. I'm not sure if this is realistic enough but Francesca Lia Block's Dangerous Angels series follows a marriage from the couples meeting through having kids then on to their middle aged years. They hit a bunch of rough patches here and there but pull through it every time.

    Block is young adult writer (though the books are still fun reads as an adult), and her novels are heavy on magical realism. Weetzie and My Secret Agent Lover Man's marriage doesn't take center stage in all the novels in the series, but their meeting and early relationship and baby having years are covered in Weetzie Bat and Witchbaby and later in the series (you don't have to read them all/in order) Necklace of Kisses handles midlife relationship bumps and whatnot. The series begins in the later eighties, so there is also lots of 80s/90s nostalgia to be had.

  39. The Red Tent by Anita Diamantshows the main character in two very very different but lovely marriages. The whole book is the story of Dinah, the daughter of the biblical Jacob and Leah and is *mostly* a story of complex relationships between women. FANTASTICLY written complex relationships between women. But in there are a lot of things about marriage and what works for some people not working for others.

  40. Pretty much anything Madeleine L'Engle wrote has healthy adult and young adult relationships. The Wrinkle in Time series shows the progression of 2 young adults finding their way together but mirrors it with the adult relationship which has been torn apart by circumstances but is still strong loyal and devoted and faithful. No one is perfect but the relationships are healthy and realistic. With her other young adult novels the Chronos chronicles the parents are loving but not perfect. Good role models but not without faults. There are strong Christian overtones in all of her work so you mileage may vary, but I was raised without religion and grew up LOVING these books and the characters. I'll always remember in A Ring of Endless Light the parents telling the children that they made love after the death of the grandparents as a 'reaffirmation of the goodness of life". I've always thought that was beautiful advice.

  41. Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund is my favorite book of all time. Not all of the relationships are positive, but many of the marriages are quite beautiful. The first line of the book reads, "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last."

  42. The Love Comes Softly book series is a good marriage-centric series. It does have religion in it since it is based on the same time period as Little House on the Prairie (also another good one), but it has fights and secrets and opening up to each other all throughout and growth and strength in their marriage.

  43. The Tales of the City novels by Armistead Maupin.

    I love these books and have probably re-read them more than any others. They are about a group of friends who meet when they all live in an apartment house in San Francisco in the 7o's. There are many kinds relationships in these books, (friends, lovers, family) between many people identifying in many kinds of ways (gay, straight, trans).

    These books more than any others taught me how I want to relate to and interact with people whatever our relationship. The books are great on the realities of romantic relationships, the graft involved in long term commitment monogamous or otherwise and the dangers of unexamined expectations.


    • I was going through this thread thinking about recommending this series, though not at all sure which relationships I would flag as the marriages or as the best over the long term– but that, I think, is part of their beauty.

  44. I'm completely overwhelmed with suggestions, and for life reasons, not really reading like I usually am (ugh, life)

    But I wanted to chime in with a thanks (in case anyone was wondering where the question asker was) and I have SO MANY things to add to my Goodreads list once I have time again.

    Thanks, homies!! Y'all are the best

  45. If you like horror, a great novel with a husband and wife that LOVE EACH OTHER DEARLY and work through everything is The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons. I'm a huge horror novel nerd, so the fact that I found a scary book with a married couple working as a team and living together through the craziness in the story was extremely refreshing.

  46. I'm not sure if sci-fi books are considered Realistic but to me, Stephen King always works really cool, realistic and even sometimes healthy relationships between men and women into his stories. He's always been one of my favorite authors when it comes to intimate insights into human relationships (both good and bad).

  47. So many great suggestions! I'm throwing my hat in for Tiger and Del, from Jennifer Roberson's Sword Dancer series. They feel like real people, not just as a couple, and their interactions always feel so realistic. Healthy? Well, they do what they can (if you haven't read, their lives were pretty terrible before they met). I just finished the seventh book a couple of weeks ago and it reminded me of how much I love these two. There's a lot of character growth for both of them over the course of the books which is really nice, but they still maintain their individuality throughout. I really love this fact, because it would feel wrong otherwise, especially from Del. She's one of the most powerful, blunt, take-no-crap heroines I've ever met. They aren't technically married, but that doesn't stop them from being a strong partnership.

  48. I second any mention of Brandon Sanderson. He just writes amazing characters who are very real and there's real growth. I don't think his book Elantris was mentioned, probably because the marriage component is complicated for reasons I don't share because spoilers. But it's a really compelling book with incredibly compelling characters to the point where I even adore the villain in the end.

    My recommendation is the October Daye books by Seanan McGuire. All of her books are really great urban fantasy with interesting well rounded characters and realistic relationships, romantic and otherwise. The October Date books especially feature really great relationships among all characters. The main character in particular is a really interesting progression. Just be aware that there are 9 books so far and the first three or so aren't strong on relationships because of the main character's outlook on life. Part of the joy of the books is seeing that change. Also be aware that while the relationships are fantastic, (all of them, I actually like some of the platonic and familial relationships as much as the romantic ones because everything is handled so well) they are not the main plot. You have to enjoy them alongside the plot. I find I enjoy them more the second or third time I read the books because ice already enjoyed the plot.
    Also major points to Seanan McGuire for super respectful and realistic depictions of LGTB characters. She does it incredibly well, primarily because the fact that any given character is LGBTQ (in whatever manifestation that is) is totally secondary to who they are as a person. It's really nice to read about a character who is a person first and a lesbian/transgender/whatever second. Obviously, their identities are important, but they aren't the purpose of the character.

  49. I had a hard time coming up with books that I had read with healthy relationships in them. I was actually searching for lists or suggestions when I found this article/thread.

    I would suggest The Rosie Project – thought maybe not a completely typical relationship, as the male lead is OCD (possibly Aspergers), I still appreciate the ups and downs in their developing relationship and how they deal with them after marriage in the followup book The Rosie Effect.

    Also I do think The Vow is a good relationship book as well. Its based on a true story and was made into a movie a couple years ago staring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams.

  50. My two: Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall from 'Outlander.'

    And the other one: while Kim Harrison's Hollows series put Rachel Morgan in some pretty realistic relationships, the best one to me is the one she had with Kisten. He was willing to roll with the punches her life brought to her doorstep, and seemed to accept her as she was as a whole. Plus, if you can read the part where she finally remembers how he died twice and NOT cry like a baby that had its blankie taken away, you have a stronger fortitude that I do.

    And I guess in a way her "relationship" with Al the demon kind of counts.

  51. "Landline" by Rainbow Rowell. The novel takes place during a normal rough-patch in a normal marriage. So not super happy, but not depressing either. And realistic, which I appreciate. "Where'd You Go Bernadette" by Maria Semple features a nice realistic marriage at its core, too.

    And I second the above recommendations for Outlander and The Sparrow.

  52. Technically for children of course, but for healthy family dynamics it's hard to beat the Moomins. Moominpappa and Moominmamma have a beautiful relationship, full of warmth and fun and amused tolerance of each other's eccentricities.

  53. Honestly, while they aren't the hugest focus of the books, any of the Watch books from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series has one of my favorite fictional couples in Sam Vimes and Lady Sybil. They're wonderful together and feature in all 8 books that involve the City Watch. Fantasy/Humor genre, really fun stuff!

    And, while they're a little bit racier, the relationships in JR Wards vampire series The Black Dagger Brotherhood, are really well done and actually deal with important issues like infertility, trauma, and mental health. I really love them! They're more paranormal/romance in the tawdry sense but still fun.

    • Good call on Sam Vimes an Lady Sybil. An excellent couple very realistic in how they relate to each other. I'd also like to third (or fourth?) the vote for Alexia and Conall in Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. They aren't always perfect, but they fiercely love each other in a believable way. And also Jamie and Claire in Outlander. Swoon.

  54. I recently have been looking for feminist romance novels and have found a few series I like.

    The Cyclone series by Courtney Milan. These book feature strong women, and people of color and queer people as protagonists. I haven’t encountered that in romance very often. I’ve also heard good things about her historical fiction.

    The Chemistry series by Susannah Nix.

    This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. The couple in this book is so relatable.

  55. Odysseus and Penelope of The Odyssey. ^_^ While lots of the story is about Odysseus outsmarting the wrath of gods to return to his love, Penelope, but there's still a good portion of the story that covers their happy reunion, and their collaborating to outwit the scheming suitors and save their son.

    I always liked that fighting gods was half the battle, now the *real* test is figuring out how to resume life as a family!

    Granted, it's not a perfect or especially deep depiction of marriage, but I appreciate how active Penelope is as an intelligent participant in her own fate, marriage, and rulership. Given how old the story is, it's unusual to see a marriage that more closely aligns with modern, partnership-based values, in some ways.

  56. May I add a Nicholas Sparks book to the list -I know!don't shoit me, but the sequel to the Notebook is actually my favorite and most relatable book of his. It's called The Wedding. Its about Noah and Allies son in law and his wife, who have been married for 30+ years and have grown apart. Its a great example of how everyday life can get in the way and how to get that spark back – something most long term relationships go through.
    Also for something different – Two For One by Sean David Wright. An actual healthy portrayal of a triad/poly relationship! Not the best writing style but I liked the content as I was navigating this type of relationship at the time.

  57. this ones actually a comic but the marvel adventures spiderman series has spiderman in a melodrama free relationship where they talk about there issues, are invested and supportive of each others lives and respect that not all issues can be worked out immediately (sometimes you need time to calm down and forgive). its the standard I judge romantic relationships too and is what got me hooked on wanting to read about healthy relationships

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