Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family Broadcast

Nurturing Your Spouse’s Heart

Nurturing Your Spouse’s Heart

In a lighthearted look at marriage, Dr. Greg Smalley offers advice on how to nourish and cherish your mate’s heart – an essential ingredient for marital satisfaction.
Original Air Date: October 31, 2016

John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family, Dr. Greg Smalley has a question for you.


Dr. Greg Smalley: What do you want in your marriage? What do you want in your relationships? Maybe it’s friendship, passion, intimacy, great communication, to be known deeply. Whatever it is, I promise you that’s only possible if you have two open hearts.

End of Preview

John: You’ll hear how to be open-hearted, and your host is Focus president Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us today on Focus on The Family, I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, I think we all want those things Greg mentioned, but sadly too many couples find themselves drifting apart and often it’s because a sense of hardheartedness has set into their relationship. Um, so today, uh, Greg Smalley, our vice president of marriage here at Focus, is going to share what he believes is the secret to a healthy marital relationship. And he should know. Uh, prior to joining Focus, Greg and his wife, Erin, worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University, and he’s the author of 12 books on relationships including his latest called Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage, written with his wife Erin.

John: And Greg does a lot of speaking and what we’ll hear today is from a conference that was held at Focus on the Family. We’re going to pick up after Greg has explained that, as the son of the late Dr. Gary Smalley, he was very confident about his relationship skills before and perhaps until he actually got married.

Jim: (laughs)

Greg: To be honest, about two years into our marriage, I really thought that we were one more argument away from Erin leaving. Just the way that we tried to work through our differences, we were stuck. We weren’t getting along. We were sort of entrenched in conflict, both miserable. The expectations that had gone unfulfilled. I mean all that just led us to such a, to such a place. Now luckily, we got help, and- and again we’re going on 20 years and so, I mean, we- we made it. Looking back though, probably of all the things that I’ve learned about marriage and- and how to have a great marriage, probably there’s one thing that stands out. This actually was starting to happen in my marriage, that almost ruined it. And so l- let me ask you real quick, all right? What is the key, the-the most important thing, what’s the foundation of a great marriage? You’re only allowed to choose one thing, all right? So just shout some of these out to me. Wh- What do you thinks the secret, the key to great marriage?

Audience: Jesus.

Greg: All right so Jesus, or you- your spiritual relationship. Okay, what else?

Audience: Friendship.

Greg: Friendship, so forgiveness, good.

Audience: Honesty.

Greg: Communication, which usually, that’s usually number one. That’s usually the first thing you hear. That’s a great one. What was the other one back there?

Audience: Honesty.

Greg: Honesty, commitment. So any others?

Audience: Intimacy.

Greg: Intimacy. I wouldn’t disagree with any. I think all of those are important, but I tell you what. If something else isn’t happening, none of those things are possible. I’d never heard this before, I didn’t get this, and because I didn’t understand this, it almost destroyed my marriage. So let me share with you what I believe is the key to allowing you to have all those things, okay. Let me tell you a quick story, to illustrate this, about my, my oldest daughter Taylor, when it was her first day of kindergarten. How many of you moms remember sort of, you’re sending your oldest child off for their first day of kindergarten. Let me see your hands. Was that sort of a painful day and hard? I know Erin is crying, and, you know, I was like, “Yes, one- one out, you know, three more to go,” kind of a thing. So it wasn’t quite the same, but she’s upset, you know. We get Taylor loaded up on the bus, and she goes off and get Erin back in the house, and she informs me that she has to be gone that afternoon. So she gave me very clear instructions that I’m supposed to be on our porch, waiting for the bus to pull up so I can greet Taylor. So three, whatever, there I am on our porch. The bus pulls up. I’m waiting for Taylor, find out about her first day. Taylor gets off the bus, I found her holding hands with a boy.

Audience: laughter.

Greg: Seriously. I remember thinking, “Huh, that’s interesting.” Wasn’t sure what to make of that. So I’m watching Taylor and this boy, that, uh, right up to me, and I have no time to process what to say before Taylor yells out. She goes, “Dad, hi!” She goes, “This is Hank. We’re in love, and we’re going to get married.” You know, I’m going, you’ve been for eight hours, what’s going on, you know? You’re getting home-schooled. I’ll tell you that tomorrow, starting tomorrow. But I thought, all right, here these two are. I got to have a little bit of fun with them. So I said, “Really?” I said, “So- so you guys are in love, and you’re going to get married?” And they both went, “Ah!” I said, “Well,” I said, “Uh, being five and all, ” I said, “First of all, where will you live?” And they kind of looked at each other, looked at me, shrugged their shoulders, and Taylor takes this kid over to the side of the porch and they huddled up and they’re talking about this. And I’m just patiently waiting. They broke huddle and came back, and Taylor says, “Dad, if it’s okay with you and Mom, Hank and I would like to live in the back yard in the little tykes house.” You know, those little plastic you know, things. The log cabin or a castle or whatever. And I thought eh. I said, “Sure, Mom will love having you right there in the backyard. I’m- I’m… She can visit you know, anytime. I’m sure that’s fine.” It was so interesting though, to watch these two over the next few weeks, He lived in our neighborhood, so they were always together, playing and whatever. Taylor would come home from school, tell us about Hank, everything was always so positive and glowing. He kicked the winning soccer goal, answered the right question on the test. Until one day, when I came home, I walked in. No Taylor. I said “Hey, where’s Taylor?” And she said, she goes, “Your daughter’s upstairs. You need to go see her.” (laughs) And guys, that’s code for what? They’re in trouble. So- so I found Taylor on her bed. She is just bawling. She goes, “Daddy, you’ll, I know you won’t believe it when I tell you this,” but she goes, “Hank broke up with me today.” So I said, “Oh,” I said, “Taylor, I’m so sorry. That must hurt.” And she goes, “Yes.” She goes uh, “and daddy,” she goes, “I am so mad at him.” I went, “I imagine.” And she goes, “And I hate him.” And she goes, “And I want him to die.” (laughs) What in the world? By the way, she gets that from her mother’s side of the family, I’m just saying, so you’re not worried about me. But I’m thinking what in the world. Just this morning she left for school, in love with ol’ Hank, and everything is perfect and wonderful, and now at the end of the day, she wants the kid to die. (laughs) What- what happened? Let me ask you this, all right? Because I tell you, the same thing that happened to Taylor, is what happened to Erin and me. As a matter of fact, what happens to Erin and me, it happened back in those first two years, is the biggest thing that I see with the couples that I work with who are in trouble. When Taylor left for school that morning, if we just think about her little heart, would you say that when everything was just wonderful and going great, what would you say Taylor’s heart was towards Hank? Open or closed? Yeah, yeah, pretty open, right? Once she got hurt, and disappointed, and expectations went unfulfilled, once he hurt her, what do you think happened to her little heart? Do you think it stayed open, or do you think it shut down? Guys, I’m telling you more than anything that I’ve learned, I think the secret to great marriage begins with understanding something very important. In the Bible, Jesus, the only time he was ever asked about divorce, what did he say? He said, “Moses permitted you to divorce because of the hardness of your heart.” The reality is, I believe, is that a hardened heart is the kiss of death for a marriage, for a relationship of any kind. And I tell you what. The moment that our hearts begin to shut down towards our spouse or towards that other person, over time a closed heart will harden. I never knew that. That’s exactly what began to happen inside my marriage is that, because of the conflict and the disappointment and the hurt and all the frustration, all that, my heart and Erin’s heart, we just shut down to each other and slowly, by slowly our hearts began to fossilize. Luckily for us, we got help, and our hearts began to open once again to each other. But I never understood this. All that stuff that you guys yelled out, communication, intimacy, spiritual life, I mean all that stuff you guys said, I guarantee none of that’s possible, unless two hearts are open to one each other. So I would say this way, the foundation of a great marriage, really of a great relationship is that you have two open hearts. I tell you what. It is so important. King S- Solomon, wisest man that ever lived, said “Above all else.” So above everything else, the only time he ever used that phrase, what did he say? “Above all else, guard your heart.” Why are we guarding our heart? What are we guarding it against from doing? And I’m telling you, what we’re guarding it against doing is closing down, because it goes on to say, because our hearts’ the wellspring. God’s love is intended to flow out of our hearts, and if our hearts closed down, that wellspring isn’t able to flow out. So Solomon is saying here, guard your heart from closing. It’s got to stay open so God’s love can flow out. Why do we need an open heart relationally? Because again, every single thing that you want, why- why you’re here. What do you want in your marriage? What do you want in your relationships? Maybe it’s friendship, passion, intimacy, great communication, to be known deeply. Whatever it is, I promise you that’s only possible if you have two open hearts. So let’s talk about relationally real quick. Why- why does a heart close? Our hearts will open and close every day. Boy, I can be leaving the house and get a look or a comment from my wife that’s hurtful and shut right down. We can talk on the phone and maybe she apologizes and my heart’s going to open back up. But the bottom line is, this is what happens though. In a relationship, when you don’t feel safe with someone, your heart will shut down and you will disconnect from them. I don’t care what relationship you’re talking about. It could be at work, that could be with your kids, a sibling, a parent, a spouse. When you don’t feel safe with someone, they make you feel unsafe, in some way, your heart will close, and you’ll disconnect. But the, here’s the good news, though. So there’s good news to this. The way that our hearts were designed, realize that your default setting of your heart, the way that your heart was created to exist, was in openness. Openness is the default setting of the heart. It actually takes more work to keep your heart shut down. And what we know is that, when people feel safe inside of a relationship, their hearts naturally open, and then intimacy just happens. You don’t have to try to figure out how to build intimacy. You don’t, you don’t have to- to try to figure out, how do we create this great wonderful intimate relationship? I’m telling you, what you got to figure out is, how do I keep someone’s heart open to me? And the only way a heart is going to truly stay open to you, if it feels what? Safe. And that’s why, why I’d love to offer for you to just consider is that what if we made our goal inside of our marriage, with our kids, in any relationship, what if our goal became to create relationships that feel safe? What if your home became the safest place on earth? Wh- what would that be like? What I can tell you is that hearts are more likely to be open. Lots of things can shut our hearts down. We can’t control all those things. When we’re busy and exhausted and worn out, your heart’s going to close. That has nothing to do with your spouse. But again, what we can control though, is the environment of our marriage, the environment of our home, and we can create homes that feel like the safest place on earth. So let me talk real quick about what- what do I mean by safety? What I would say that safety, emotion safety really means, is that when you feel free to open up and to reveal who you really are, that deep stuff, your deepest thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, I mean that stuff that- that we all have that we’re not just going to share with anybody, right? As a matter of fact, if you think about it, the people that you share your deep stuff that’s inside your heart, is really only with people, I bet you, that you feel safe with. If you really thought about it. We feel safe when we feel that we can open up and share that stuff and trust and believe that our spouse will handle that stuff with the utmost care, will listen, will understand, will validate, will cherish and honor who we really are. See, I think when that is happening, then- then we start to feel safe. So really, the question becomes, so how do we create that? So let’s talk about, how do we get there? Well actually, you know, the answer’s there in the scriptures. It’s really right there. What I did is, I spent a year… I do marriage seminars around the country, so over the year we surveyed about 10,000 people. Just asked them, “What- what happens that makes you feel safe and- and what happens that makes you feel unsafe in a relationship? When we analyze what helps people feel safe, we- we realized that there was really more of an attitude and then some actions. All the responses, really you could divide them up into those two things, and it’s really right here. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but what nourishes it and cherishes it. Something about those two words, nourish and cherish, I think, is really the answer. So let’s talk about, first, the word cherish. I believe that cherish is an attitude and that says basically is that I get how incredibly valuable my wife is. Now, I’ll tell you, when I’m mad at her, frustrated, hurt, disappointed, I mean, I certainly lose sight of how incredibly valuable she is, but you know, the truth is, is that my wife is extremely valuable. Not because I say it’s so, because her heavenly father made that very, very clear. Listen to what he says about my wife. He said that my wife Erin was made in his image. That alone makes her valuable. He said, okay, that she is his treasured possession. Love that one. The God of this universe says that my wife is his treasured possession. Jesus said that my wife is his glorious inheritance. Wow!

John: You are listening to Dr. Greg Smalley on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. And just a quick note. You can learn more about the principles that he’s sharing. It’s all in a book, Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage. We’re offering that for a gift of any amount today, so donate as you can and request that book when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or just stop by our website, Let’s continue now with Dr. Greg Smalley as he shares an illustration about his dad, the late Dr. Gary Smalley.

Greg: One of my very favorites is, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” See what that verse is saying? That what you value, where your value is, there will your heart is going to be open to that thing. That’s why for me, when we want to help someone to feel safe, it’s because I get how valuable you are. One of my favorite examples of this, actually something I saw w- in my parent’s relationship. Now my mom and dad, they’d been married for 47 years. Okay, again, my dad is one of the four most world experts on marriage. He’s probably written over 60 books, you know, on- on healthy families and healthy marriages, and yet, what I love about my parent’s marriage, because it just actually makes you feel really normal, is that still, every once in a while, they still get into a massive argument. (laughs) It just makes you feel normal. I’m like, “Well, if they can fight and still make it, then okay. There’s hope for us,” you know. And so one thanksgiving, we were at my parent’s house and so, my parents get into this big argument. They’re- it’s- it was- it sort of escalates to the point where- where my mom heads off in one direction, my dad heads off in the other. As my mom starts to walk away, all the women just naturally just go right to her to comfort and, you know, do whatever else you do quite well, and me and my son, we’re watching my dad walk away and I’m going, “Well, you know,” I said, “Uh, we should probably help out.” And I said, “Hey, Garrison,” I said, “Go talk to grandpa. He likes you better anyway.” (laughs) And so, Garrisons like, “Me!” He goes, “You’re the adult! You go talk to him!” I’m like, “All right.” I said, “Hey dad, whoa!” I said, “Hey, hold up!” And he goes, “What?” And I said, “Hey, I can see you’re really upset.” “Yeah?” I said, “I- I- I literally know exactly what to do in this situation.” “What?” I said, “I know.” I said, “I- I really do know what to do for you to help you out.” He goes, “All right.” I said, “What I’m going to do is, I’m going to go to the bookshelf, and I’m going to grab one of the books that you’ve written, and I’m going to read to you what you should be doing for mom right now!” (laughs) Well, the door that slammed in my face, I think was evidence that, I don’t think he thought that was real funny, but I still think it was funny. So, I waited, and I came back, you know, a minute or so later and knocked on his door and he’s like, “Who is it?” “Hey, it’s Greg.” “Come on in.” And so I find him at the computer, but as I walk around, I was just going to go around to… He’s in his chair, and just kind of put my hands on his shoulders and “Hey, I- I’m sorry. How can I help?” Well, as I walked around, I- I can see what he’s looking at. He’s not online. He’s actually reading a document, a word document, and at the top of the document, my mom’s name is Norma, it said, why Norma is so valuable. I thought, what-what. I said, “Now what is this? What- what are you looking at here?” He goes, “Well,” he goes, “Yeah, a number of years ago,” he goes, “I- I was thinking about your mom, and I just started to write some things about her and what I love about her and how valuable she is and put them on the computer and then, you know, I add to it from time to time.” I kid you not. Hundreds and hundreds of little words and phrases about my mom. And I said, “All right, but” but I said, “Why are you looking at that right now? You’re- you-re mad at her.” And he goes, “I know.” He goes, “What I’ve learned to do,” he goes, “Usually I just would come in my office, and I’d sit, and I’d stew about how mad I was, and she had no right, and who was she, and la- la- la, and I’d stay mad at her.” He goes, “Well, what I do now, is I make myself open this up,” and he goes, “I start to read through the list.” He goes, “You know, I get to the first couple and I’m like ‘ppfftt,’ that’s not true and why did I put that? I’m going to erase that one for sure!” (laughs) But he goes, “You know, after a moment, I settle in, and I remember that you’ve got a pretty amazing mom.” I thought, “Whoa!” Because I’m telling you, that- that’s what he’s doing. Where your treasure is, what you value, there will your heart be open. And that’s what helps him get to a different place, simply by doing that, which I thought is great. Does that make sense? Number one, it comes from the fact that we cherish our spouse, our kids. But you know, attitude without action though, can sometimes can be meaningless. And that’s what I think the nourish part is all about an, all about action. To treat our spouse, to treat our kids in valuable ways. To back up. I see your value and I want to treat you in valuable ways. And I think when we do that, we begin to create safety. So I love that verse, ‘Let us not love with mere words or in tongue,’ but with what? With action. So what does that look like? I asked all those couples, “So how do we do this?” And- and basically, what I asked them is to just answer the statement ‘I feel loved when you, dot- dot- dot.” When you what? Whatever. And they gave thousands upon thousands of answers. Two of the top ones that we found, number one, the number one answer was gratitude. Isn’t that kind of interesting? Because the number one thing that we found that makes people feel unsafe, is criticism, and gratitude is the anecdote for criticism. So I think, if we want to help someone to feel safe, boy, gratitude is going to go a long ways, recognizing what they’ve done, that you appreciate, what you value about them. Here’s another one though, and this was one of my very favorites. To laugh and to have fun. Who likes that one? Tell you what. My wife never feels safer than when she’s laughing and playful and just, when we’re having fun. And that’s- that’s one of the things I so appreciate and value about our relationship, is that’s one of our core values. But you know in a… My- my- lis- love the fact that my wife just really has made this commitment, our relationship and there’s really odd times that she tries to be funny. Like, for example, okay, a couple, I don’t know, maybe a couple of years ago, like 3:30 in the morning, okay, she wakes up, convinced that she’s heard a noise. This is… Any women do that, just wake up, think you hear an intruder or some noise? So she says, she wakes me up and says, “Greg!” she goes, “Wake up!” She goes, “There’s someone, I’m telling you, there’s an intruder in our home! You got to go look!” All right, so I do my little night watchman thing, can’t find anybody, but I’m smart enough to where I come back towards our bedroom, I hit the hall light just to look, see her in bed. All right, shut the light off. I’m so tired, it’s like 3:00 in the morning. So I just kind of stumble, just about to get into my side of the bed. Well, it was not Erin that I saw. Those were pillows that she had poked into her side of the bed, because she’s laying on the ground right next to my side of the bed. She thinks she’s being real funny, okay? So when I go around, as I’m just about to get into bed, she screams bloody murder and then pulls me down, okay? So what do you think I’m thinking? The intruder! You know, I didn’t think to look under my own bed, you know. So, I’m yelling out, “I love you!” You know, we’re about to die!

Audience: laughter.

Greg: And it’s her! I’m telling her, “Honey, I’m getting older. My heart’s getting weaker! How are you going to explain this to our kids? Dad’s gone because I scared him to death,” you know?

Audience: laughter.

Greg: I’ve never felt more loved in all my life, oddly enough. I can- it’s the weirdest thing how that makes me feel completely safe with her. Isn’t that strange? Okay, but that’s me. But really the question though for you is, what helps you to feel loved? Because that’s the stuff that’s going to help to create safety and that’s the stuff. I tell you, it’s a goldmine of information. At some point, if you are willing to write those things down, exchange those lists, tell you what. That can be the difference between a- a hurting marriage and- and a marriage that is on that journey towards a place of being able to thrive. Hopefully all that you’re hearing me say is this. That in order to get everything that you want, whatever it is, fun, being scared half to death, communication, intimacy, sex, I mean you name it, those are not possible unless two hearts are what? Are open. What is your opportunity to do to- to help your spouse’s heart to open? All it takes is that people, when they feel what? Safe, their hearts are going to begin to open. What can I do to help my spouse, to help my kids feel that our family, our home is the safest place on earth?

John: Dr. Greg Smalley, as we wrap up our presentation on today’s Focus on the Family.

Jim: That is really, a great message um, but I don’t know (laughs) how anyone can live or feel safe, uh, when they’re with Erin Smalley. (laughs) She is a practical joker. Um, she is something else, but uh, Greg and Erin have both been wonderful additions to our team here at Focus, and they’re the authors of the book, Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage, 12 secrets for a lifelong romance.

John: And they’ve been here on this program talking about that book and- and various chapters. There’s a lot of research behind what they wrote about. The uh, the 12 core values that will help build a great marriage.

Jim: Yeah, that’s right, John. Some of those values are ideas like, stay true to your commitment, uh, rebuild trust after a breach, recognize the real enemy and it’s not your spouse, um, trust God, pray together, keep your hearts open, as Greg so often mentioned there. Follow a vision for your future together, um, fight negative beliefs and celebrate your differences. And I’d encourage you to get the book from us here Focus on the Family today, and uh, when you do, you’re helping us reach out to help hurting marriages, one marriage at a time. In fact, when Greg and Erin were here to talk about the book, we received this comment from a female listener. “I’ve been married for over 20 years, and really love Greg and Erin’s honesty about how hard marriage can be at times, but it’s so worth the fight. More young marriages need this kind of encouragement.”

John: Well, that is spot on and let me encourage listeners to donate to this ministry, which helps us provide resources like this book to young couples, regardless of their ability to support us at this time because, often times, they do need help, but they can’t afford to get it.

Jim: So true, and it’s a great idea, John. Um, we want to be there for every married couple who needs us, so please make a donation today and if you need it, ask uh, for a copy of Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage. We’ll send that to you for a donation of any amount as our way of saying thank you.

John: And call now. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or donate online and request your book at When you’re online, uh, be sure to look for our free marriage assessment, to evaluate the strengths and maybe a weakness or two in your relationship. But you will also discover some great articles to kind of shore up those weaker areas. Next time, a heartbreaking, yet encouraging story of a young couple who spent just 45 minutes with their newborn baby before she passed away.


Julie Reuschel: There were days, in that year after, where it wasn’t okay, and I wasn’t okay. And, four or five years later we see God in those moments, but in the moment and for those families going through it, th- it is okay to not be okay.

End of Preview

John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening today to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.


Today's Guests

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Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage: 12 Secrets for Lifelong Romance

Receive Greg and Erin's book Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage for your donation of any amount!

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