Review: Baby Bomb by Kara Hoppe, MFT & Stan Tatkin, PsyD

Baby Bomb is the latest book on keeping your relationship healthy after you have a baby. Although Hoppe says there really aren’t books on this topic, I often suggest John Gottman’s “And Baby Makes Three” or Stacie Cockrell’s “Babyproofing Your Marriage” (my favorite). However, I was compelled to read this book because I really do love Stan Tatkin’s theory that combines attachment theory with neuroscience. This book is not significantly different than the other two, but does originate with Tatkin’s PACT approach, so if your client is already familiar with that, this might be the preference.

Hoppe organizes the book around ten guiding principles, the first of which is “the couple comes first.” This is something those familiar with Tatkin will recognize, the idea that no matter what happens, when you commit to someone, your “couple bubble” comes first – before anything, and that includes your baby. Hoppe reviews the attachment styles and also encourages partners to know their partner’s “tells” – the small ways your partner reveals their feelings (such as tensing up, a frown, etc).

The remainder of the agreements talk about learning how to co-regulate or take care of each other; how to make and honor agreements; making decisions as a team; valuing your own and each others needs; keeping family and work life balanced; redefining and reconnecting to romance; fighting fair and treating each other with sensitivity and respect. Hoppe does a good job of giving examples of couples not doing each principle well, and then turning it around to show how they would do it well.

I think we all know that the title of this book is true; having a baby is kind of like having a bomb go off in your relationship and most couples don’t plan for it, and are surprised by it. I’m happy to see another book on the topic. It’s been awhile since I read the other two that I recommend, so I can’t say definitively which one is my absolute favorite. But I do love Stan Tatkin and his philosophy and this is a solid contribution to this genre.

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Review: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzer

I’ve heard my best friend sing the praises of this book for some time now. I guess I thought it was more of a business leadership book (it is that also). But now that I’ve read it I think it’s a “must have” book for both therapists and clients. This is literally the best book on communication that I’ve ever read. They give lots of relationship examples in addition to business examples. We communicate. with everyone we come in contact with – so yes, this works if you are in business, but it also works if you’re a stay at home mom trying to communicate with your kids or partner – and everyone in between.

Basically, a conversation becomes crucial whenever you are having a difference of opinion with someone that is causing emotions to run high. Sounds familiar right? We all have those! They start with asking you to work on yourself. Do you know what you want and what you don’t want? The want is usually easy – I go into a conversation knowing what I want. But what about what I don’t want? I want to achieve my outcome, but I don’t wan’t to have a fight, become estranged or end up hating each other. We so often forget that we need to find a way to talk about what we want without endangering the relationship.

The authors talk about how to recognize when safety has been lost in a conversation, because people will stop talking or start fighting when they don’t feel safe. They teach you how to restore the safety of the conversation so that you can get back to the topic at hand. They talk about the stories we tell ourselves in these situations and the assumptions that we make that can take a conversation off track. And they teach you how to be persuasive without being abrasive.

They then move to the other person and teach how to continue a productive conversation when the other person isn’t managing it well, either retreating into silence or blowing up. They talk about how to make sure that what is decided in the conversation actually turns into results and action. And finally, they give a whole bunch of examples of situations you might run into that would be challenging.

I honestly think every single one of my couples should read this book before we even start therapy, because it would just give us a solid foundation to start with. I can’t think of a single person who would not benefit from this book. Buy it, read it, and go forth to have better conversations!

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Review: Helping Couples by Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott/Dr. David Olson

I was super excited about this book — actually so excited that I reached out to them to see if they’d send me a free copy for my review and they did! Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott have a marriage assessment test called SYMBIS, based on their book “Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts”; and Dr. David Olson is the designer of the marriage assessment called Prepare-Enrich. They also have a website,, associated with this book. First, I think it’s totally cool that even though most people would see these as competing assessments, these professionals just see that the world needs MORE marriage help than ever, and we can’t be competing in this endeavor. I personally am certified to do both Prepare-Enrich and SYMBIS with couples. I can never decide which I like better, so I usually end up just having people take both! And most of my couples love taking both, because they are a little different and there’s so much value in each one.

If you’re familiar with either of these assessments or these authors, you might note that they are technically Christian authors. However, there is nothing inherently Christian about this particular book. In addition, the assessments are geared somewhat towards a religious audience, but I use them with all kinds of couples, and the fact that there are some spiritual questions has never been an issue. You can find the SYMBIS at, and Prepare-Enrich at I highly recommend getting certified in these assessments if you are a counselor.

Now to this book. My only complaint is that I wanted more, but to be fair, they did say in the introduction that this was not an exhaustive book on marriage; but they hit all the high points. And in fact, I think this is a great book to have around as kind of a “top-level” reference guide for therapists and counselors. My favorite thing about the book is all the science and statistics, because I find that statistics resonate particularly well for men. Couples like to know we are not just guessing but that we have some science to back up our thoughts and interventions. And people are much more likely to do things or stop doing things if they know the cost. For example, if I tell a couple that “the odds of divorce for couples who have monthly date nights is 30% lower than those who hardly ever go out” (page 98), I think they are more likely to actually do it than if I just say “date nights are good for you”.

This little book (I read it in two hours) covers all of the basics, gives a ton of good statistics, and is just a great reminder of some of the most important points to helping couples. If you help couples you know that it’s so easy to get lost in the weeds – there’s so much going on! But if you make sure you hit the points in this book, you will be on your way for sure. And you can always delve much deeper into any of the topics with these authors’ other books. I would definitely recommend having this on your shelf for quick reference if you are a therapist or coach working with couples.

The above link is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from purchases made with this link.

Review: The Five Core Conversations for Couples by David Bullitt, J.D. & Julie Bullitt, LCSW-C

I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. The concept is interesting – Julie is a counselor and David is a divorce lawyer, so they do have some really interesting perspectives and stories. And if you think of it as more of a “memoir”, you will probably enjoy it. But if you are looking for some real, practical advice, I think it’s lacking a bit. The five topics of conversation are: communication, finances, parenting, sex, and work-life balance. All of these are also what I would say are probably the five most crucial topics. But again, if you are looking for some real in-depth advice, you’ll be disappointed.

One of the things I do like about the book is the abundance of metaphors. Being somewhat of a “metaphor queen” myself, I got a few new ideas on easy ways to explain concepts here. For example, they talk about the oxygen masks on planes (take care of yourself first before helping others); replacing the roof on your house (you don’t wait until it’s falling in to replace it); make-it and take-it basketball (if you made the mess, you’re the one who should clean it up); and the escort car to a wide load vehicle (sometimes you’re the one who needs help and sometimes you’re the one providing it). So if you are a therapist who uses a lot of metaphors, you’ll like this book for that.

There are also some really good one-liners to remember. The key to working on the ebbs is to work harder on the flows; if it won’t matter, don’t say it; and so forth. But there is also some advice I don’t like. For example, when they were talking about the silent treatment, they said that time outs are like five year old tantrums and have no place in a relationship, because it’s punishment. Maybe they were only talking about it in terms of the silent treatment as punishment, but time outs when things are heated can be a very effective strategy in my opinion, and I’m afraid couples will read this wrong. And I kind of really don’t like how they talked about differences in sexual frequency – it felt disrespectful to me. I felt that the book was really weighted towards the person who does not want sex as much and disregarded the pain that often happens for the person who does want sex more often.

The book is basically a log of conversations between the two of them over the years. And don’t get me wrong – conversations between a counselor and a divorce lawyer are probably endlessly entertaining. I found the tone of the book a bit snarky, however. Also, you must be comfortable with foul language, because there’s a lot of it. I’m not a prude regarding language, but I feel like it’s somewhat of a trend to try to make books appealing by swearing a lot.

Again, if you read this more like a funny memoir of two people with converging (diverging) careers, you might like it. But if you’re looking for more solid couples advice, there are a multitude of better options.

Disclaimer: I received this book free from Net Galley for my review. The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from orders placed through this link.

Review: Why Couples Fight by Mira Kirshenbaum

Mira Kirshenbaum has written a wealth of books (mostly about couples) and the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere are consistently 4.5-5 stars. This book is specific to fighting and working out conflicts. There was only one thing I didn’t like about this book and that was what I considered the unprofessional kind of language that she uses. I know I’m not reading a textbook, but saying things like “Look, I ain’t gonna hype you”, makes me think of something my teenager would write. I get that she is trying to be relatable, but I don’t think you have to do it that way. It’s really a small complaint, but it was bugging me throughout.

There wasn’t anything I read in this book that I didn’t already know as a couples therapist. However, if you are a therapist who doesn’t specifically specialize in couples therapy, or if you are just a person who is part of a couple trying to work out conflicts, I think the information is super useful.

I feel like there is kind of two parts to this book. The first part is where she claims that “power moves” are the main (only?) culprit in couples being unable to resolve conflict. And because she knows that many people will not resonate with that, she goes to great length to define power moves, giving a lot of examples and stories. The bottom line is that anything I say or do that makes my partner feel disempowered is a power move, even if that was totally not my intention.

Then she moves on to her solution, which she calls the “1, 2, 3, Method”. For any conflict there are three steps: 1. fully understand and hear each other, 2. explore a ton of options, and 3. brainstorm solutions and decide. This sounds crazy simple, but obviously it’s not or we would all be doing it! In my experience, couples go into conversations like this knowing already what they want and therefore they don’t hear each other, they only have one option idea (theirs) and therefore they never get to step 3. This is the kind of process that any couples therapist will lead you through but the book is intended to help couples do it on their own.

She also talks about some topics that are specifically problematic, like money and sex, because they have inherent power issues attached. All in all, I think the book could be useful to laypeople or therapists who only see couples occasionally and don’t have a ton of skill in resolving difficult arguments. This book comes out January 2021 and is available for pre-order now at the link below.

Disclaimer: the link above is an Amazon affiliate link, for which I receive a small compensation. My summaries are NOT intended to replace purchasing the book; they are simply intended to save you time if you do not currently have time to read the whole book, or in this case, to access the main points while you wait for the book to become available.

Review: A Love That Laughs by Ted Cunningham

First, a disclaimer: This is a Christian book by a Christian pastor. While I normally try to review books that have a larger, more general swath, but I do not actually know a secular author who has this same mission, introducing fun into the couple relationship. So although this book is pretty Christian, if you can overlook the Bible verses and such, I think you will get a lot of good information here. I think I liked his earlier book, “Fun Loving You” just a little bit better, and I had a lot of non-Christian clients read that one and love it.

This book is a blend of serious and silly, which is really nice. Cunningham starts with a discussion about humor and how important it is to relationships- couples that laugh together stay together! And he makes good points about how it’s hard to really be mad or bitter at people that we laugh with often. He suggests having a laughter goal or a laughter to conflict ratio goal. He also sets up the book with a “points” system, where you and your partner can get points for doing the suggested exercises and getting a laugh – kind of gimmicky but if you’re a competitive couple, it might be fun!

He discusses the benefits of laughter: Mental, Emotional, Physical, Relational and Spiritual. But he does caution against inappropriate humor and goes to some lengths to define humor that is used as avoidance or harmful to relationships. He talks about humor being a skill that can be learned, not just something that you either have or not. Humor requires paying attention – there are funny things going on all around you. Each chapter ends with activities you would do to try to get a laugh from your partner, and also some conversation starter type questions that might encourage laughter.

Next he goes into some more serious couples topics but brings it back to how humor can help these more serious issues. He discusses communication and the art of listening; conflict and how appropriate humor can assist; differences that every couple struggles with and how to use humor to defuse these; making it a priority to have other couples around you as friends and mentors that can encourage a healthy and humorful marriage; and healthy habits that happy couples have.

There are a few cautions for non-Christians here. He discusses the NFL “take a knee” movement in a way that might trigger some, but it’s in the context of the larger discussion about how it’s important to listen to each other. He talks about gender differences and although it’s useful to talk about these stereotypes, he does reference the “marriage is between a man and a woman” stance, which isn’t surprising considering that he is a conservative pastor. Lastly, there’s a chapter on divorce which references it not being God’s plan – which you may not agree with, but if you’re reading a book on happy marriage, you presumably can agree that any ideas about making marriage work are helpful. If you can, try to take these sections in the spirit in which they are given, taking the parts you agree with and leaving the rest.

All in all, I’m a big fan of strategies that make marriage more fun and funny, and de-emphasize the “marriage is work” perspective. I’d love to see a secular book on this topic, but since I don’t know of one, see if you can make this book work for you!

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon Affiliate link – I receive a small compensation from purchases made through this link. Also, the summary above is NOT intended to replace purchasing of this book; it is simply to save you time if you currently do not have time to read the entire book.

Review: State of Affairs by Esther Perel

I love Esther Perel, her first book was “Mating in Captivity”.   Although she can be cheeky about infidelity, in truth she is very respectful of our relationships, but she does like to challenge some of our thinking about how we think about monogamy. These are real life stories, but also analysis about affairs and why we understand them so poorly even though they are so common. This is not an affair recovery book; more, it’s a book that will help you have a little compassion for the human experience and why it’s so hard to have faithful longterm partnerships.