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.

-Artemis

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?

    • 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.”

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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…

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. the glamourist histories series by mary robinette kowal has a pretty solid married couple at its core

    • 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. 🙂

  13. 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.

      • You should! Just a warning — I spent an entire month doing almost nothing but reading, going to work, and sleeping when I first encountered them.

    • 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.”

  21. 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.

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