Most romance novels are about characters falling in love with each other for the first time. In a troubled marriage or troubled relationship story, these characters were in love at some point in the past, but now they’ve hit rough waters. Maybe it’s struggling with work-life balance, adjusting to milestones like retirement or the arrival of a child, managing financial stress, experiencing a health crisis, or simply getting stuck in a rut – can our protagonists find their way through and reach an HEA?

If you want a book that doesn’t ask “How can we get together” but rather “How can we stay together,” this list of relationships and marriages in trouble is for you!

Note: This blog post updates AAR’s Troubled Marriages llst, which is a great place to start for lovers of this trope. That’s also why some great books, like the legendary Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas, don’t appear here – they’re on the original list.

If you’ve got any suggestions for titles that fit the bill, please let us know in the comments.


Living in Secret by Jackie Ashenden

Separated for a year and on the verge of divorce, Connor and Victoria get a kick-start to their marriage when a night at a party they both attend reveals hidden desires and shatters their illusions of each other. Both have been keeping secrets that kept them at arm’s length in their marriage and Connor won’t sign any divorce papers until they explore them at length. It’s a tense, emotional, erotic journey to their ultimate happy ending.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Salvage by Meljean Brook

Do you want your troubled marriage story to also feature sky pirates, a kidnapping, explosions, and enormous mechanical sharks? In this steampunk novella from the Iron Seas series, Georgiana Thomas’s husband Thom returns from the sea with a bullet wound and a single gold coin. While the cause Georgie and Thom’s separation is a bit simple, the action-adventure and teamwork in this novella are top-notch. (This story is available in the Enthralled anthology)

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Winterblaze by Kristin Callihan

A couple split apart by years of lies and betrayal have to find their way back together in this sexy,  action-packed instalment in the Darkest London series. Inspector Winston Lane of Scotland Yard discovers his wife of fourteen years has been lying to him and keeping secrets after he is attacked and badly injured by a werewolf – and naturally is not happy at the deception.  Not wanting to be around Poppy – who has confessed to being head of a secret supernatural society – he leaves England, but the pair are reunited a few months later when Poppy seeks him out, determined to protect him after she receives a threat against his life.  Their reunion is filled with angry words and bitterness, but soon they have to turn their attention to defeating a larger threat – and as they do so, they rediscover the strength of their feelings for one another.  The author balances this rediscovery with the story of their romance, told in a series of flashbacks, while in the present of the novel, they come to a new appreciation and understanding for and of each other.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Perfect by Delaney Diamond

Learning that her food-and-beverage magnate husband Cyrus bought off her then-boyfriend so he could ask her out is the final straw for Daniella Johnson, and she demands a divorce. Cyrus refuses, unless she agrees to conceive a child with him to carry on the family business. For some readers, Cyrus’s controlling and manipulative behavior will make this book a DNF. But ‘alphole tycoon’ is practically its own subgenre for a reason, and if you’re one of the readers for whom this is catnip, you won’t find a more perfect example of it than, well, Perfect.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble

Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand

Kai and Kurt have been driven apart by miscarriages and depression. They’ve been separated for a year and a half when Kurt surprises Kai by arriving at her cabin just as snow starts to fall. The resolution of this troubled marriage novella is gorgeous, moving, and utterly believable.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

An Infamous Marriage by Susanna Fraser

General Sir John Armstrong couldn’t deny his best friend’s deathbed request to marry and care for his widow, but he deployed to Canada a week after their wedding and has not been home since. The novel is divided into three parts: first, flashbacks both from Jack’s and Elizabeth’s points-of-view tell the events that led to their marriage and how their relationship developed after that; second, Jacks’ return to Yorkshire, and third, the history of 1815 intruding on their fragile new equilibrium. This grounded, character driven historical (with no nobles in sight!) is a Regency romance that is out of the common way.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen

In Shana Galen’s extremely charming spy drama, Lord Adrian Smythe’s cover as the world’s most proper, boring gentleman is blown when his wife, the adventure-seeking fellow spy Lady Sophia, discovers that her dull husband is actually anything but.  A fun as heck take on True Lies in which our – formerly retired – hero and heroine spies unite (and compete) to foil the bad-guys while at the same time starting to forge a new appreciation for each other.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Kiss and Make Up by Judy Griffith Gill

In this AAR DIK, divorced Rand Waddell persuades his ex-wife Kat to let him move into the basement apartment of their British Columbia house to be their children’s new nanny. He wants to prove he’s changed and win back his family; she’s skeptical and wants to avoid raising false hopes in their two kids. If it’s hard to write the story of a couple falling in love, it’s even harder to write the story of a couple falling in love again after credibly falling out of love, and hats off to Gill because she nails it. Bonus for well-written kids.

This title is currently available in used paperback format only.

Strong, Silent Type by Lorelei James

After years of infertility and misunderstandings, Libby McKay sought a trial separation from her husband Quinn. But Quinn is determined to win his wife back, and to replace their mechanical, conception-focused sex life with the scorching fantasies he never had the nerve to voice. This story is sensitive to the stresses infertility can put on a marriage, but readers looking for a true infertility story will probably want to skip the epilogue.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

When Was the Last Time by Kelly Jensen

A fifteen year committed relationship for Evan and Paul is on the rocks as they’ve fallen into a rut (as many couples do) with no clear sense of how to get out of it. This lovely Valentine’s themed novella by Kelly Jensen explores the changes that happen naturally in long term partnerships and how to rekindle the romance that brings people together in the first place. It’s a low angst yet emotional and satisfying story.

Buy it at: Amazon

Inevitable Conclusions by Christina C Jones

Kora Oliver, Tony-winning actress turned director, and Tariq Evans, NFL star turned financial advisor, have known each other for over two decades. They are each others’ best friend and closest confidante, and also their greatest lover (yes, they’re sleeping together). What they aren’t is a couple, at least not in the conventional sense. A short stint as boyfriend and girlfriend in their twenties went poorly, and the two decided to prioritize their friendship. But they’re different people now – maybe they can make it work? This DIK read is an emotional triumph of realism, emotion, and a relationship so right it may ruin you for all characters who have just met. 

Buy it at: Amazon

Making It Last by Ruthie Knox

Are you tired of epilogues in which couple blissfully picnic surrounded by tooth-meltingly cute offspring, gazing into each other’s eyes as if they’re in that Doctor Who episode where statues will get you if you blink? Making It Last is the actual, realistic epilogue, a novella sequel to How to Misbehave (which you should read first). Amber and Tony have ten, eight, and six year old boys, financial troubles, and not enough time for each other. This is the story of two ordinary people attempting to save their marriage in the face of real-life problems, and nobody has ever done it better, before or since.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean

A whirlwind romance ends in a marriage that goes badly wrong in this novel, and the eventual HEA is hard-won. This is a tale involving cheating, which will make it a no-no for many readers, but the author redeems the hero with considerable aplomb and those who take a chance on it will find a well-written, passionate and insightful story, full of heartbreak, hope, redemption and love lost and won.

Buy it at Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes and Noble/Kobo

Dukes Are Forever by Bec McMaster

The final tale in a fabulous long-running series was completely worth the wait. Our hero has, for much of this series, been engaged to a young woman he feels trapped him into marriage, and in the previous book, married her. He’s a Blueblood, she’s a human and, when the novel begins, he wishes he never gave her a second thought. But Adele is manipulative, devious, clever, and determined to thrive, all of which make her a match for Malloryn, our hero. Their story is a gem, full of mistrust that, grudgingly, turns to trust and lust that turns to lust AND love. The payoff for this book will be most satisfying if you’ve read the earlier books first.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Rend by Roan Parrish

Rend is a superbly crafted portrait of a marriage in trouble that encompasses incredible highs and incredible lows as it charts the downward spiral of one of its protagonists and the way it affects his marriage.  Matt and Rhys have been married for eighteen months and are blissfully happy, but when Rhys – a musician – goes away on tour for a few months, Matt’s deep seated insecurities – never far away – come back to haunt him in full force, and he starts to fall apart. It’s a real tearjerker, and the author wisely intersperses the darker moments with a series of flashbacks that tell the story of how the couple met and fell in love. Rend is heart-breaking and deeply emotional but also uplifting, and quite, quite beautiful.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Beyond Duty by SJD Peterson
Gunner Sergeant Gunther Duchene and Special Ops Sergeant Macalister Jones have spent twenty-two years keeping their relationship secret. At forty-two, with their time in the military coming to an end, they are beset with questions about the future. What will they do to keep busy? Should they tell their family and friends about their gay relationship? Should they get married, or at least pledge themselves to each other? What Peterson sets up is the interplay between two men who’ve had decades to reconcile their differing personalities to the daily grind of military life and who now face a new frontier. This is the ultimate love story because it isn’t about immediate attraction or falling in lust with the good-looking stranger across the room, but is about the real happily ever after. (This book was also featured in our Seasoned Romances list)

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Marriage Bed Secrets by Nalini Singh

Vicki Callaghan walked out on her husband Caleb in a desperate bid to force him to see her as more than the accessory wife to his attorney career. Discovering her pregnancy sends her back to him. A lot of this book has a retro fifties vibe – the working husbands and secretary mistresses, the ‘be a lady’ sexual mores drilled into Vicki by her grandmother, Caleb’s dark secret that really isn’t a big deal – but in a way that works. Both Vicki and Caleb are nice people,they work maturely and methodically through their issues and seek to become more honest and open with each other. You really do believe that these two have done what it takes to make things work.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Kiss Me Again by Dee Tenorio

Kira Weston left Ethan Rourke because their relationship had plenty of physical intimacy, but Ethan kept himself emotionally closed off and distracted with work. Six months after their breakup, Ethan tries to win Kira back by asking for help with a harassing female boss, by asking for work advice, and by playing off their intense chemistry – but not by opening up, the one thing Kira asks for. The supporting cast is a nice touch, especially because Kira and Ethan’s relationships with their friends reflect back some of the same mistakes and bad habits they have with each other. This is a story that doesn’t underplay the difficulties of a broken relationship, nor does it rush its characters into resolving it.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Is It Over Yet? By L.A.Witt

Rhys and Derek have been married for fifteen years, but are getting divorced after Rhys cheated in a one-night-stand.  But when their daughter announces she’s getting married, they agree to keep the situation quiet so as not to spoil her big day, and to act the happy, loving couple they have always been – and along the way they start to remember why they fell for each other in the first place.  Can they salvage their marriage?  Do they even want to?  This is a very angsty, emotionally charged read that won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s a journey worth travelling.  The author does a great job of showing the effect of betrayal on a relationship and of painting a portrait of a marriage in trouble – and then showing the work needed to fix it and make it work long-term.

Buy it at: Amazon

Love in a Sandstorm by Zoe York

What happens when a quickie marriage gets to the ‘for worse’ part of the vows? Jenna, a midwife on location in a transit camp in Turkey, meets Canadian soldier Sean. Romance romance flourishes quickly, and the two get married on a short holiday. But when Sean returns to duty and suffers a brain injury, he stops contacting Jenna. She finds out what has happened and chooses to follow him home to Canada and fulfill her part of the vows. She’s up against a stubborn Sean, who wants nothing to do with her anymore if he can’t be the happy-go-lucky guy she married. With themes of PTSD, courage, resilience and deep abiding love, this is a marriage in trouble story with a realistic and hopeful happy ending.

Buy Now: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes and Noble/Kobo

On Hart’s Boardwalk by Samantha Young

Lawyers Nate and Live Sawyer were happily married, but are hitting a major rut in their relationship and decide to take a second honeymoon to recharge their batteries. This novella is very nice exploration of both their romance and the connection that has kept it alive and stable for so long, but this short sequel is definitely better if read after the couple’s first story, Before Jamaica Lane.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


Interested in finding more books AAR Loves..?

Check out these posts:

Yes We Can! Our Favourite Activist Heroines

Romances featuring Refugee Heroines

Romancing it Royally – Some of our favourite royal romances

AAR Loves… Historical Romances featuring scientist heroines

AAR Loves… Romances featuring music and musicians

AAR Loves… Romances featuring realistic parent/child relationships

AAR Loves… Partners to Lovers romances – Part One (Military, law enforcement etc.)

AAR Loves… Partners to Lovers romances – Part Two

AAR Loves… Seasoned Romance

Five Baseball Romances Worth Your Time

AAR Loves… Modern Historicals

AAR Loves… Representation of Disability and Chronic Illness in Romance (Part One)

AAR Loves… Representation of Disability and Chronic Illness in Romance (Part Two)

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