Rhonda Stoppe explains how a mom with sons can shape them into becoming good and godly men. She offers moms practical guidance for spiritual training, effective communication, supporting the father-son relationship as a wife, and more. (Part 2 of 2)
With personal stories and humor, Dr. Greg and Mrs. Erin Smalley reflect on the importance of marital commitment and offer insights on how you and your spouse can strengthen your relational endurance and conflict resolution skills.
Dr. Greg Smalley: Conflict is gonna happen. Hard times are gonna happen. We’re gonna go through some really difficult seasons. And how we go through those will either keep our marriage strong or they’re gonna, you know, widen the gap. And I think for Erin and I, looking back, I think one of the greatest things that I’ve learned is that, we have to keep fighting for this relationship. God has given this amazing marriage as a gift. And it’s a part of our job to steward this.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: You’ll hear more from Dr. Greg Smalley as he and his wife, Erin join us today on “Focus on the Family.” I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, a crucial ingredient in marriage is commitment and today we want to examine what a committed marriage looks like and how you can cultivate that with your spouse in a variety of ways. Greg and Erin, they were on the broadcast back around Valentine’s Day to introduce their newest book titled, Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage: 12 Secrets for a Lifelong Romance. And folks, we can’t get enough of good instruction when it comes to marriage. I’m tellin’ ya, as we move forward in the culture, Christian marriages are going to be critical as a demonstration of God’s witness. So, let’s get to work and make them as good as they can be, so they can stand out in a positive way in the culture.
John: And we enjoy having Greg and Erin on the broadcast, because they offer those little tune-ups. I mean, we’ve been married Dena and me, for over 30 years. You and Jean have been married—
John: –yeah, so even after all these years, there are just these little rocket fires, course correction things that have to happen.
Jim: Oh, really? No (Laughter), I’m kidding. It’s so true and—
John: Well …
Jim: –tune-ups are good if you’re been married 50 years. I mean, it’s a good thing to do.
John: And Greg and Erin specialize in speaking life into marriages and offering great advice. And we’re so glad to have them on the staff here at Focus. And they travel around the country, as well, and speak for marriage conferences and events.
Jim: Greg and Erin, welcome back to the studio. You’re on the team here at Focus, so it’s just a, you know, a little bit of a walk for you, but it’s great to have you back.
Erin Smalley: It’s always a pleasure.
Greg: Love being part of the team.
Jim: Especially good to have Erin back.
Greg: I know.
Jim: I don’t know about you, Greg.
Greg: No one ever wants me back.
Erin: That’s what everyone says. (Laughter)
Greg: I think when she’s on, I just am along.
Jim: Okay, good. I like that, but you guys make such a good pair, partly because you’re so open about the struggles that you’ve had. And you know, Greg, you’re the son of the late—sorry to say—
Jim: –but the late Gary Smalley. And Gary was such a guru of marriage counseling and you started your marriage off in a place that, you know, most people would say, they’ve probably got it wired, but you struggled, didn’t you?
Greg: Absolutely. Really—
Greg: –we say that probably three years into our marriage I really was thinking that we were one more big kind of blow up, one argument away from Erin leaving me. I didn’t think she’d divorce me. I just thought she was ready to go back home, get away from me. We were stuck.
Jim: You know, let me ask you this, because a lot of Christian young people, they grow up with their mom and dad, goin’ to church and I think in some ways, they think they’re gonna get this through osmosis. And then they get married and go, “Oh, my goodness, I didn’t know she was that bad or I was that bad,” or what.
Jim: How did you process that, you know, being believers, growing up, in your case, Greg, in a Christian home? How did you stop and go, okay, the roses aren’t smellin’ right.
Jim: This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go.
Greg: That’s exactly how I put it (Laughter), I think just to Erin one time.
Erin: And I think for us, too, I know for me, I’ll speak just for me, that I had so much personal growth that needed to happen. I mean, I had so much that I needed to learn about who I was, what I was bringing to the table. And then you introduce Greg, who, I won’t say who’s judging, but (Laughter) had his own stuff. And–
Greg: Self-judging (Laughter), I’m just saying. (Laughter)
Erin: –would bring that, you know, and just the combination of that, we never expected it to be quite as challenging as it was. And we were left wondering, did we marry the wrong person? You know, what–
Jim: Wow, that’s serious.
Erin: –what did we do wrong?
Erin: And of course, everyone would come up to us and go, “Oh, you’re Gary Smalley’s kids; you have it all together. You don’t have any challenges.” And we—
Erin: –would just look at each other and we’re—
Erin: –the deer in the headlights.
Jim: Well, and I appreciate that, because that’s part of it. I mean, you don’t have it all together.
Jim: And the reality is, none of us do. There’s always gonna be blank spaces that we can always work on. Now you’ve written this book and the 12 traits you’ve written about in Crazy Thing Called Marriage that forms the marriage effort here at Focus. Just mention that for folks. You got three main areas that you’re looking to help people. Talk—
Jim: –about it.
Greg: Boy, our passion here at Focus is to help you prepare to get married, to want to help engaged couples have a great marriage. We want to help strengthen existing marriages and then help couples who are in crisis. So, those are the three things that Erin and I get up every day, thinking about how will we do that today?
Jim: And with this book, you’re talking about those 12 Secrets for a Lifelong Romance. How’d you whittle it down to just 12? I’m sure people go, “All right, there’s gotta be 24.”
Erin: Of course. I mean, but (Laughter) you know, we’re simple minded. I can only remember 12. (Laughter) So, you know, there’s all this research out on marriage and you know, do this and try that. And for me personally, it was overwhelming. You know, really what are the 12 that actually if you do these 12 things, you’re gonna automatically build a great marriage.
And that’s what we did. We really looked at all the research, did a lot of meta-analysis of it and brought it down to 12. And there are just 12 simple things that if you do these, it will build a great marriage.
Jim: And we covered a couple of those back around Valentine’s and if you missed that, you can get that through Focus on the Family. We’re gonna cover a couple more today. One is that true love commits. That’s your first one of your 12. So, what does it look like, committed love?
Greg: Yeah, we think about commitment, we think that there’s three key pieces to that. So, if we’re gonna have a lifelong committed relationship, we need to be doing three things. For me, I reached the place to where I really didn’t think about commitment, because it’s kinda like, hey, I told you I loved you once. (Laughter) You know, I’ll tell you if it ever changes. It’s kinda like, hey, I committed to you for a lifetime.
I wasn’t thinking about commitment and that was such a terrible decision on my part, because there really are some things that we need to be doing actively to make sure that we do stay married for a lifetime.
For me, it begins though with a decision. We have to decide that we are going to stay married for a lifetime. Early on in that really hard season, honestly, there were times where I’d joke with Erin and say, “Well, fine, then just leave me. Just divorce me. It sounds like you think you’d be better off without me.” And we would make these little snide remarks, kinda half-truths, little tongue in cheek about–
Jim: But letting—
Jim: –off some pressure.
Greg: Letting off pressure, just being immature. But the point is, that we were willing to speak that into our relationship. And we got to the point that Erin and I made a commitment to each other that, that word does not exist in our marriage. It’s not a part of our vocabulary around our marriage, that we won’t tease about it, joke about it, hint about it. The other day Garrison, our 15-year-old son, he was listening to Erin and I. [We] were kinda bantering and just havin’ fun, joking and he’s like, “Whoa, dad. You know, you better watch out; mom’s gonna divorce you or mom’s gonna leave you.”
And I drew my son in. And I’m a pretty laid-back guy, kinda just whatever, kinda, you know, I don’t get angry and yell. I brought that boy right smack to my face and I said, “Son, don’t you ever speak that into my marriage ever again.”
Jim: Wow, so was he—
Greg: And he just—
Jim: –in shock?
Greg: –oh, he was stunned. His mouth is open.
Greg: And I said, “Garrison, seriously, that word does not exist and I don’t ever want you to tease about that.” And he’s like, “Okay.” And I wanted him to know that we don’t joke. We’ve made a lifetime decision and there are some other things that we needed to do, but definitely we’re not teasing about that.
Jim: Well, talk about the long-term effect of that. Maybe a couple, they’ve allowed that word into their marriage as part of the battle arsenal.
Jim: When they get really frustrated, they use that one pretty regularly and they’ve been doin’ it for 15 years. What’s the long-term effect of that?
Erin: Well, it leaves you wondering, is this really gonna end? You know, is this conversation, this disagreement gonna be the one where he’s gonna leave? And early on in our relationship, that’s what I felt. I was constantly like, well, you know, if divorce is an option, then you know, maybe this is it.
Jim: So, you were feeling insecure—
Jim: –pretty regularly.
Erin: Yes and once I will never forget it; it was within the first year of our marriage. We were in the middle of our typical, you know, throw down and it—
Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)
Greg: Good way to put that.
Erin: –it pretty much was. And I just remember we looked at each other and we went, uh-hm, no more and we’re removing the word “divorce” from our vocabulary.
Erin: And for me, I was so naive to so much of the marriage, you know, what was healthy for a marriage and what was helpful and really for me, that was probably the beginning of really educating myself about, take that word out, because when you do, then the option to leave is not there. You have to work it out.
Jim: Right, so you take it off the table.
Erin: And that’s what we’ve done. We just hit 24 years. And 24 years later, we don’t joke about it anymore.
Jim: Right, I think that’s great. You also talk about true love needs time to grow. I like that one. We can be impatient people though. How do you do that in a healthy way in a marriage?
Erin: Uh-hm, because busyness in our culture is just rampant and even in our own house. We have four kids. Granted two of them are out of the house now, but the research shows that the average couple in the U.S., the average married couple is spending about four minutes a day at deep heart level conversation. And with four minutes a day, that’s not enough to grow a strong healthy marriage. Typically, we’re talking about who’s gonna pick the kids up? Who’s going to the grocery store?
Jim: Right. (Chuckling)
Erin: He calls me when he gets up. Hey, can you go by, you know, [to] the Quik Mart to pick up milk or whatever. And you know, we need more than that.
Jim: That doesn’t count for meaningful conversation?
Erin andGreg: No. (Laughter)
Jim: Jean would agree with you and we’re saying, hey, we’re talkin’.
Erin: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter) Yeah, but really, the truth is, we’ve gotta go to that deep heart level, you know, the deep heart level that we went to when we were dating, when we were engaged, when we were, you know, first married. It’s important to take time and be intentional about that.
Jim: You, Greg, in this area of letting your love grow, you had something about Funyuns or what is a Funyun? I’m not even sure (Laughter) what that is.
Greg: Well, one, it’s the greatest potato chip[s] ever invented.
Jim: A Funyun.
Erin: And it is gluten free.
Jim: I’ve never tried one. I don’t know.
Greg: They look like little onion rings and crunchy. You know, it’s manna. I’m tellin’ you, it’s what the Israelites (Laughter) were eating in the desert.
Jim: I’m gonna have to run out of here and buy some Funyuns.
John: It’s a snack bag, Jim. We’ll buy you some here.
Jim: How do you not eat something named “Funyun?”
John: I’ve had them. (Laughter)
Jim: So, what happened with these Funyuns?
Greg: You know, Erin and I were so busy and disconnected that our mentor, a guy named Gary Oliver, I talked to Gary Oliver, said, “Hey, you guys, great marriages just don’t happen. You have to keep doing things and right now, you guys are so busy, you’re not doing things to keep your marriage strong.”
He said, “Go up into the mountains.” We were in Denver. “Go to the Rockies. Have a picnic.” But he said, “You’re not allowed to talk about anything to administrate your marriage. You’re not allowed to talk about schedules and school and work and—
Greg: –what budget.”
Erin: Yeah, or hot topics.
Greg: Or hot topics. (Laughing)
Jim: What would be a hot topic?
Erin: Yes, the sensitive ones that we all have and I followed the rules. I’m a rule follower. He is a rule breaker and he brought up a really sensitive issue as we were driving up there.
Greg: As a joke. I was just —
Jim: Oh, good, way to go, Greg.
Greg: –making light of it—
Erin: Yeah, isn’t that funny?
Greg: –of it and just tryin’ to keep it playful.
Jim: I could help you with that one.
John: You knew it was a mistake as soon as you said it.
Greg: Yeah, I knew it the minute.
Jim: Okay, so you’re in this big argument sitting in your car.
Greg: We get into this big argument to the point that she turns completely away from me. She’s not even lookin’ at me. She’s lookin’ out the window.
Jim: Oh, man.
Greg: I’m trying to re-engage. She will have nothing to do. She’s just staring so far the other direction. Well, I round a corner in our little pickup truck and I just slam on my brakes, ’cause we almost ran smack into a horse seriously–
Greg: –standin’ right there. She is so mad at me, she will not even look. Like she didn’t even look to see why did he just hit his brakes. Well, I pull up next to this horse, rolled my window down just to say, “Hey, move along.” And the thing sticks his head into the cab. And I’ve got this huge eye staring (Laughter) at me. Finally she [looks].
Erin: Well, I could feel this wet stuff hitting my arm and this heavy breathing.
Jim: Slobber, horse slobber.
Erin: I couldn’t figure out what he was up to.
Greg: What is wrong with Greg?
Erin: It was a horse. (Laughter)
John: Sticking his head into your little pickup truck cab.
Greg andErin: Yeah.
Jim: And what was that horse doin’?
Greg: Well, he’s sniffin’ around, ’cause he’s hungry. He wants something to eat. We had been eating Funyuns. (Laughter) And so, as I’m debating with Erin, “What do I do? Do I drive off? Will his head (sound of “Pop”), you know, pop off? What should I do here?” This horse leans down to eat the Funyun that was in my lap. (Laughter) So, this horse (Laughter) goes “Harrung” right in my lap area, seriously. (Laughter) Well, as you can imagine, the high pitch scream that followed.
Greg: Scared the horse. He ran off and–
Jim: Smart horse, I’d say. You know you’re not supposed to feed animals that kind of food. (Laughter)
Erin: That’s right.
Greg: –no feeding the wild animals.
Jim: Gotta squeeze that in here. (Laughter)
Greg: Yeah, well, I look at her, like for help, like she’s a nurse, like can you attend medically to whatever just happened? And she had a look on her face that made me instantly realize that she had like set the Funyun in my lap—
Greg: –like as a way to get back at me.
Jim: That’s how it ended up there. Is that true? (Laughter) Is this confession time?
Greg: Would you call that passive aggressive?
Erin: That is not true.
Jim: Okay, good.
Erin: And we had this discussion frequently. I did not put the Funyun in his lap.
Greg: Yeah, on her deathbed, she’s gonna go, “I put the Funyun in your lap.”
Jim: You know, it’s funny, but your picture of looking the other way so sternly and looking out the window, I’m identifying with that. That’s a heart that is closed.
Greg: Totally, absolutely.
Jim: I mean, that is a clenched fist.
Jim: How are you feelin’ at that point? I mean, it may have been funny now, but then, was it hatred? Or what were you feeling for Greg?
Erin: Yeah, I wanted to jump from the moving car.
Greg: Contempt comes to mind.
Erin: You absolutely nailed it that [I was] completely closed down, because we had agreed that we were gonna go and have a day just to enjoy each other. And it was ruined because of this topic that came up. And so, definitely closed, wanted to get away. I didn’t want to be with him on this, you know, enjoyable day. It wasn’t so enjoyable.
Greg: For me either.
Erin: But I think the key is, that often we are like that in our relationship and we don’t even recognize it–
Erin: –that we just get used to that stance. And the truth is, we weren’t created to have that closed heart. We were created to be open and connected with God and with our spouse. And often we don’t recognize it.
Jim: And it’s years later that you can laugh about it, but in the moment, it’s painful.
Erin: Yes, very painful.
John: Well, in more ways than one, it was painful physically and emotionally and—
Greg: Thank you for the empathy, John. (Laughter)
John: –I am empathizing.This is “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and our guests today are fellow staff members here at Focus, Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin. We’re talking about their book, Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage. And in it they capture 12 Secrets for Lifelong Romance. You can learn more about the book, our app, a CD or download of this conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
And for a gift of any amount today, a generous contribution to Focus on the Family to support our marriage strengthening efforts, we’ll send a copy of Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage to you as our thank-you gift.
Jim: Greg and Erin, you call it “The Romance Secret No. 10” and that’s “true love endures.” That one catches my attention, because I think one of the great mistakes that young couples particularly are making is they’re not enduring through the hard stuff. I mean, you guys have been talkin’ for a few minutes here about although now fun when you look back on it, at that point in time, it was painful. And you had to endure in order to get to this point 24 years later where you can laugh about those things. You wanted to jump out of the car back then.
Erin: Pretty much.
Jim: So, that enduring desire is so critical. And I think too many divorces are occurring today, ’cause people are not willing to endure. So, speak to that idea of fight through it.
Greg: You know, in 1 Corinthians 7:28, Paul makes such an interesting statement when he says that, “For those of you who get married, you will experience times of trouble.” And you know, conflict is gonna happen. Hard times are gonna happen. We’re gonna go through some really difficult seasons.
And how we go through those will either keep our marriage strong or they’re gonna, you know, widen the gap towards, you know, maybe divorce, towards just disharmony. And I think one of the greatest things that I’ve learned is that, we have to keep fighting for this relationship. God has given this amazing marriage as a gift. And it’s a part of our job to steward this.
So, in those moments, how do I continue then to fight for my marriage? And I think for me, it’s just recognizing that when we go through hard times, first and foremost, man, we are under spiritual attack. See, those are the moments that Satan is goin’ after us. And he’s gonna fill our mind with, “See, this is how she always is. This is never gonna get better. You know, why don’t you just leave? You should just divorce.” And a part of what we do now in our marriage to protect it is, that we’ll say that out loud. Man, right now, I feel like we’re under a ton of spiritual warfare–
Greg: –like last night. So, in preparation, we are literally prepping for, what are we gonna talk about? And we end up in this crazy huge argument–
Jim: Last night. (Laughing)
Erin: Last night.
Greg: — that made no sense. I mean, I was downstairs watchin’ TV. She was gonna take our son out to buy some clothes or somethin’. And she yells down to the basement. “Hey, we’re leavin’. Will you clean up after dinner?” And which I always do, but I was in the middle of just doin’ somethin’ with our 8-year-old daughter. So, I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do that.” Well, I forget.
Greg: Well, what was left out was this huge package of raw chicken meat. (Laughter) And she’d cooked some of it.
Erin: Yeah, so I come home, you know, an hour later and I actually even tried to call him and his phone never range.
Jim: Just to remind him?
Jim: ‘Cause you know him well.
Erin: Yes, to say, “Hey, don’t forget that chicken up there.” The cat got on the table and ate the raw chicken.
Jim: Okay, now it’s getting’ bad.
Erin: And so, there was—
Erin: –not only raw chicken all over the place, there was cardboard from the packaging everywhere. And I was like, “I told you that if you didn’t come up here and get it, the cat was gonna get it.” Well, he never heard anything about the cat.
Erin: He was in his own little world down in his cave land. (Laughter) And we literally got into it over that and it’s just so there’s something callin’ it what it is, that the enemy was there trying to cause disunity. And even this morning we had to sit down and just talk it through.
Jim: If you could replay that tape, how could that be done differently?
Greg: I wouldn’t have a cat (Laughter) first of all.
Jim: You’d have a dog. (Laughter)
Jim: You’d have a dog—
Jim: –and the dog woulda ate the chicken.
Jim: And you’d still be in the same boat.
Erin: I wouldn’t have bought chicken either. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, right, go with steak.
John: I wouldn’t have trusted Greg.
Jim: But what could have happened differently to depressurize that?
Erin: Well, first and foremost, I would not have handled it the way I did, because ugly things came out of my mouth. You know, “I told you to do this, to get the chicken in the freezer” and you know. Well, he didn’t hear me. And if I would’ve given him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he didn’t hear me, then I wouldn’t have gotten so upset. But I went and immediately to, “He always does this. I ask him just to do a simple task and he didn’t do it again.”
Jim: But a little bit to your defense, I mean, we are men. Sorry, Greg. I mean, you don’t have to grab him by the cheeks—
Greg: Oh, man.
Jim: –like you might a 3-year-old and say, “Look at me, sweetie. What am I saying to you?” (Laughter)
Erin: Sometimes. (Laughing)
Jim: You know, I don’t know that we ever as men get the skill set for really listening (Chuckling).
Greg: Well, I always clean up.
Jim: Yeah, so you gotta be normal.
Greg: So, I mean, in my mind, I went—
Jim: Yeah, whatever.
Greg: –of course, I’m gonna clean up (Laughter), you know. I don’t have to do it this moment. I just didn’t hear the part and realize there was raw meat. I think for me, when King Solomon said in Proverbs, that pride leads to conflict, that has so revolutionized my way of thinking now of conflict, because God opposes the proud and so will your spouse. (Laughter) In those moments, like when I came up there—
Jim: That’s true.
Greg: –and she’s barkin’ at me, goin’, you know, “Why did you leave this out? And look what the cat did,” instantly I went right into a prideful moment of, “Who are you?” I said, “And your hands work? Why didn’t you walk the meat out?” (Laughter) I mean, I’m thinking, like why are you so mad at me? You could’ve [done it.] It would’ve taken you 10 seconds to put the meat away. You know, I’m saying, “I always clean up dinner. Like why are you mad at me?” It was all pride.
And when I’m prideful, I’m not listening to her. I think I’m right. I’m worried about me. My thing is, how do I shift in those moments out of the prideful wound and into humility? ‘Cause God says He gives His grace to the humble. And what I’ve learned is, so will Erin.
Jim: Well, it sounds like you got a lot of experience working these (Chuckling) things out.
Erin: I had more experience in the first two years (Laughter) in this.
Greg: But it’s a part of our story and that’s what I love. And I always tell people [who] will say, “Man, you guys have a lot of conflict.” And I’ll go, “You know what? And it’s that stuff that has made us—
Greg: –who we are. God has used the argument to cultivate us to be more like Him and to grow in our marriage.
Jim: Well, and I’ll tell you that what’s really good about it is, you’re not phony and that’s a good thing. So, you’re dealing with the imperfect family stuff, which is more real—
Jim: –and actually more honest.
Greg: And we’re not goin’ anywhere. I mean, we’re in this thing—
Greg: –for the long haul, so we gotta work through it.
Jim: But with that honesty comes more glue, more cement. That’s the irony of it–
Jim: –the more you can work through those details.
Erin: And I think as people see that in us, I was just with a girlfriend last night. She called me. We went for a walk and they’ve been in crisis for one year. And I stopped and I said, “You know, just look at where you’ve come. One year ago is when all this started and here you are.” And I said, you know, I didn’t quote it just like this, but two-thirds of couples that stick it out, five later, their marriage is happy. They will report their marriage is happy.
Jim: Right, the enduring part.
Erin: The enduing part of it and I was able to use that yesterday with my girlfriend to say, “That’s what we have to do.”
Jim: And still—
Erin: And you’re not alone.
Jim: –work on.
Erin: Yes and you’re not alone in this.
Greg: You know, we did my dad’s memorial service a couple months ago and we divided it up into one of us was gonna talk about his marriage, his ministry and then just kinda his life as an individual. And so, I got to do his marriage and Erin and I actually stood up there together. So, I asked my mom. I said, “Hey, mom, if yo
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