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The All-Or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  890 ratings  ·  132 reviews
The structure of modern successful marriages is revealed in this inspiring and useful new perspective on the most important relationship a human being can have.
The institution of marriage in America is struggling. But as Eli Finkel's most recent research reveals, the best marriages today are better than the best marriages of earlier eras. Indeed, they are the best marria
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 19th 2017 by Dutton Books
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Sep 22, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a kitchen sink advice book on marriage. A bunch of social science studies and some random advice and quotes. He quotes Ester Parel, Alain De Bottom and Gottman. Just go and read those books. There was nothing new here--although I suppose it is always useful to be reminded to hug your spouse, lower your expectations, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Feb 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
Skip this book.

It's not horrible, but there are way, way, way better books out there.

First: The first 3/4 (yes, 3/4) of the book is the culture history of marriage. Important, but the book would be more honestly titled "The Culture and History" of marriage. While an understanding of the cultural changes in the nature and expectations around marriage is critical, to see how this is done well I encourage the interested reader to turn to the spectacular book: Love Sense by Sue Johnson. Her work is
Scott Lee
Nov 06, 2017 rated it liked it
The first portion of this book, in which Finkel briefly (and, admittedly, generally) traces the history of the marriage relationship in Western society and what we, collectively, have tended to ask of the relationship over time was well-written, well-researched, and easy to follow, yet thought-provoking and eye-opening at the same time. I kept thinking, that makes so much sense, I can totally see that, and wow, looking at it that way explains so much of what I see around me and experience myself ...more
Dec 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book, and would recommend it for anyone who is interested in the hows and whys of making a successful long term marriage, whether just starting or many years in.

This book has three distinct sections: 1) a brief history of Western cultural models of marriage, 2) an in depth explanation of the “best” marriages of today, and 3) practical ideas for improving one’s own marriage.

The first section was a great summary of (basically) Coontz’s “Marriage: A History,” which I loved. Th
Sarah Novak
Dec 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I listened to the audiobook of "The All-Or-Nothing Marriage" without reading the description. Eli Finkel is an incredibly smart, prolific, and charismatic figure in my field, so I knew I'd be interested in whatever he had to say. I enjoyed the entire book, but because it contains two distinct sections (with overarching themes), it seems like some readers aren't equally game for both parts. The first part is more of a historical/sociological journey through the evolution of the concept of marriag ...more
Steven Kaminski
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes books come to us at the right time for us. And I have been ruminating on this book in a sense for the past two weeks (among being REALLY busy & buried in work). But I took a lot away from this book and I see where I may have had failures of my own but also why they were so acute. And also this book goes very deep into how marriage is changing. Marriages that work are stronger in today's society than they were before. And a big reason as the book points to is that even though we have so ...more
Amy Rhoda  Brown
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This isn't really a self-help book; most of the book is an academic examination of the history of marriage and the recent changes in marriage in the last century, the repercussions of which we're still working through. It's only in the fourth part of the book that the author gives some suggestions on how to improve your marriage, or figure out how to be happy with the marriage you have.

To oversimplify the history of marriage: It has been working its way up Mazlow's heirarchy. From the medieval p
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is not a usual self-help relationship book, but is instead a review of the history and science of marriage in the U.S., supporting the hypothesis that although we are asking more of our marriages than ever before, that "climbing to the top of Mount Maslow" is possible if we're willing to invest the time and energy to do it. Or, if you aren't, that you can build a perfectly fine "good enough" relationship but you should be honest about what you're expecting in that case.

It's fascinating, an
Bryan Baecker
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I would choose John M Gottman over him for marriage counseling. In fact, I think he sees Gottman as a bit of a threat and tries too hard to differentiate himself from him. Can he really prove that his theories are better(the title claims the "BEST" so I feel like I can ask this)? Not really. Because Gottman has been doing this longer. There was a startling evasion of racial data as well-- especially given how much time he talked about class. And too much time was spent recounting historical view ...more
Kylie Brooks
Aug 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a good read for those of you who, like me, love reading about interpersonal communication and relationships. I skimmed a lot of the history portion at the beginning but found that the practical ideas were interesting. I will likely be taking a few of the ideas Finkel suggests. I appreciate the academic tone of the book as well.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I know this is sooo characteristic of marriage issues, but I had no idea others were going through same. Further, I had no idea people were talking about issues. Thanks to Eli, and every single individual he cited or who helped with this book.
Christina Raggio
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this interesting - more as a intro to how marriage has evolved over the last 100 years and diving into different schools of thought on relationship styles. I would call this more informative than self help but it was enlightening for me.
Dylan Groves

I do t think I'd like the people who self consciously fulfill his vision of an ideal marriage very much.
Mar 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
More like reading a text book from grad school.
Valerie Sherman
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed both the history and the tips, both delivered in Prof. Finkel's immensely readable writing. I have been meaning to read this for a while because Prof. Finkel is married to my old coworker, whom I adore. Highly recommend for all my married friends.
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very readable introduction to the social-psychological literature on close romantic relationships!
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this book. It contains a lot of facts and scientific research, but never reads like a dry textbook at all. It has a very good blend between facts, advice, insights, and so on.
I might re-read some parts in the future.
Longer than it needed to be, and still abbreviated in many ways. It's an all-or-nothing book: it tries to provide a history of marriage, show how to have a transcendentally fulfilling marriage, explain many of the possible permutations of marriage these days, AND make you feel OK if your marriage is thoroughly, unredeemably mediocre. It's not a TERRIBLE book--it just attempts too many things and is mediocre at all of them. Which wouldn't be such a problem if it wasn't ultimately concerned with a ...more
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a good overview on modern marriage. It is comprehensive and touches on almost all aspects.

1. Marriage rate has been dropping, and divorce rate rising then stabilising.
2. Marriage satisfaction has become much more important to life satisfaction.
3. However, marriage satisfaction has been dropping.
4. So the All-or-Nothing Marriage of the modern world. In the bad old days, we marry for survival: men worked the fields, women made clothes, cooked and the kids helped out. Industrialisation
Andrew Lee
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Found this as a recommendation via the Atlantic Monthly and the premise intrigued me. Professor Finkel uses an enormous amount of statistical research to support a very promising premise: the "All or Nothing Marriage." Here he builds upon the research and theories of his predecessors with the conclusion that marriage has morphed from and into various stages throughout human history with the demands and expectation people want from their marriage growing ever more complex in each succeeding gener ...more
Maria Ryan
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Up to Date and Encouraging Information

Research driven with many data visuals included, this book offers the latest on what makes a marriage not only healthy but everlasting (at least till death). It starts with a historical accounting of the pragmatic marriage and moves toward the love-based marriage. Finkel offers many literary references to make his points. I enjoyed the ones about Elizabeth Gilbert’s flighty marital approach and how she eventually settled on lesbianism. I found this very tel
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
The book starts out with an interesting claim: modern marriages are about the top of Maslow's pyramid -- self-actualization. In the past marriages focused on lower parts of the pyramid; a thousand years ago the focus was on safety needs then eventually it progressed to belongingness and love needs, and so on. This isn't to say those were the *only* reasons for marriage, just that they were the prime reason for most marriages.

As a starting point, the theory has intuitive appeal. As our society ge
Mia Milne
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I found the All or Nothing Marriage to be informative and well-written overall. The first three-quarters of the book is on the history of marriage which was interesting and not too dense. Finkel summarized other research such as Coontz's work on how love-based marriage is a very new concept. He added to the discussion by introducing his own theory linking Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to different expectations placed on marriage over time.

The last quarter of the book is basically a self-help secti
James (JD) Dittes
I read this book with my wife and found it a mixed bag.

At its base is a concept that educators have understood for years: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which Finkel adapts as "Maslow's Mountain."

In the first half, as Finkel goes into the history of marriage, he goes from a time when marriage was merely a formal alignment of property to a time now where Tom Cruise could tell Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire, "You complete me," and every couple in the theater teared up. The expectations of marriage
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book for looking at marriages.

The first part goes through a history of (Western) marriages. He talks about how historical (Western) marriages were mainly for survival, but have shifted in modern times to nurturing emotional needs and achieving self-actualisation. He conceptualises this as Mount Maslow (derived from Maslow's hierarchy of needs) - since marriage is oriented towards the higher altitudes of emotional nurturance, "it has required greater oxygenation - greater nurturan
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked the explanation on people who choose the happiness model vs those who chose the meaningful model for relationships (or can be applied to any other commitments in life that take effort, like career or art). The first is on a basis of hedonism and when it no longer feels pleasurable or good, we move on. The second is based on the idea of growth and that meaning comes from putting in effort and succeeding and learning (rather like the education philosophy that Amy Chua drums into her kids i ...more
John Pyrce
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this to be a more sociological view of marriage than the typical relationship book. The author uses the Maslow hierarchy of needs as a schema for human needs that relationships can also help meet and fill. He proposes that the needs addressed by the marriage relationship have moved "up" the hierarchy over time as society has become more proficient at filling basic needs. This allows marriage partners to try to help each other meet their self actualization goals. If successful, this is gr ...more
I get frustrated with books like this often, because the authors so often need an editor. Yes, the socio-historic information prefacing the book is useful to some degree and necessary, but the fact that no current exploration or actionable examples and case studies are addressed till nearly the end of the book is infuriating. It's a fundamental problem of myopia in terms of audience: the author is writing this for, it seems, colleagues, but the publisher is marketing it for the general public. T ...more
Alla Sonder
Jun 30, 2020 rated it did not like it
1 star instead of zero for the chapters on polyamory. 90% of this book is a white-washed, neoliberal, colonialist history of marriage- so poorly done. Not a self help book or a history book really. The only valuable takeaways were thinking about the definition of compatibility, and maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and a couple’s ability to be compatibility at each level of needs- and also a couple of practices- like taking time to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, allowing your partner’s p ...more
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Eli J. Finkel is a professor at Northwestern University, where he has appointments in the psychology department and the Kellogg School of Management. He directs Northwestern’s Relationships and Motivation Lab, and is a regular contributor to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. He lives in Evanston with his wife, two kids, and a stepcat. Visit him at or on twitter at @EliJFi ...more

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