Jim Daly: Greg, the marriage team here at Focus on the Family reports that 93 percent of Americans say having a happy marriage is one of their most important objectives in life – 93 percent! That’s a big number. But a significant percentage of marriages, they will end in divorce and about half of all divorces will occur within the first seven years of marriage. Why?
Greg Smalley: You know, Jesus really gave the answer 2,000 years ago. I mean, listen to what He said. So He’s giving us the why.
Greg: He says that Moses permitted you to divorce because of the hardness of your hearts, but that wasn’t the way in the beginning. In other words, what He’s saying there is that when we get married, our hearts aren’t hardened to each other. We’re open; we’re alive. And yet, there are some things that happen along the way that if couples really understood what can happen, that they create ultimately a hardened heart, if they understood what this is, I tell you, people wouldn’t have to divorce.
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John Fuller: Hm, well, if that’s piqued your curiosity please, stay with us today, because we’ll be hearing more about how younger couples can better prepare for a strong, healthy marriage. This is Focus on the Family with Focus President and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, God designed marriage to be a great thing! And we have a responsibility in the Christian community to promote and celebrate this wonderful gift to us. And of course, we need to help those couples who may be struggling or are suffering from the consequences of a broken relationship. We should also acknowledge that, you know, the Scripture allows for that singleness, too. We don’t want to make marriage an idol. There are more single adults today who may feel like God’s calling on their life is to remain single. And we get that. But the majority of men and women today will get married. And I’m sure many of our listeners are parents like you and me, John, who have young adults in our families who are thinking about marriage now and what their next steps are gonna be. So we need to help them prepare well for that future commitment. That’s why we’re returning to a very special broadcast, featuring our own colleagues Greg and Erin Smalley, who head up our marriage ministry here at Focus. And I am eager to share their wisdom and insights today.
John: We heard Dr. Smalley in that exchange with you at the beginning of the program. And Greg and his wife, Erin, have been writing and speaking on marriage for many, many years now. Uh, a while back we recorded a conversation with them about their book, Ready to Wed: 12 Ways to Start a Marriage You’ll Love. And Jim, here’s how you began that conversation with the Smalleys on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Let me say to both of you, welcome back to the microphones.
Greg: It’s always good to be here. Thank you.
Erin Smalley: Yep, thanks for havin’ us.
Jim: Uh, it is great to see what you’re doing. You know, Greg, for those that don’t know the story, you came in to Focus on the Family a few years ago and I really felt that it would be good for somebody coming into Focus to be thinking marriage every day and you have done that and you’ve done a great job at that and you’ve brought together strategically, the thinking that we needed in terms of family formation, what we’re gonna talk about today, along with kind of the steady diet of keeping your marriage in a good place, which is the broadcast and all the other tools we have. Let me read through some of the stats, ‘cause I’m encouraged by this. In the past 12 months, our research indicates that about 130,000 singles have said that Focus on the Family helped them prepare for marriage. That is great news, isn’t it?
Greg: It’s amazing. I love (Laughter) just hearing that, I mean, just the excitement and the hope.
Jim: Greg and Erin, let’s take a look at the stat we just used, that 93 percent want a happy marriage. Interestingly enough, and I said this before John, MTV viewers – now these are younger kids, 14 to 24 – they also said, interesting, 93 percent of them said, “I hope that I can marry my one-time spouse and live with that person for the rest of my life.” I think it was 70 percent of them felt it was unattainable.
Jim: So, it’s interesting. It’s almost like God’s imprint is there in the human heart, the desire to achieve it. It seems like it’s in the 90s no matter who you are, that I want to meet my mate. I want to committed to that person for the rest of my life, but a large majority of people don’t feel they can attain it. Why this disconnect?
Greg: Well, I love how you even said that. It’s almost like God’s imprint is there. I love – one of my very favorite verses on marriage is Malachi 2:15 and out of The Message version of the Bible, it says, “God, not you, made marriage. So His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. So guard the spirit of marriage within you.” That’s significant. That’s a great reminder that this is – marriage is not man-made. You’re right, that God’s very DNA has been placed within us to be married. I mean, that’s the…
Greg: …that’s the first relationship He formed. You think about throughout the Scriptures, how many times marriage is used as an analogy between Christ and the Church and God and Israel and a marriage starts the Bible. The Bible ends in a marriage. I mean, it’s a part of His plan, His DNA. Of course, we know this.
Jim: You know, I was talking to a theologian just the other day and he said something to me that really grabbed my attention. He said, “If you think about it, Satan hates marriage. He hates what God created, because it was to reflect His image and that he hates God for doing it, because He chose to manifest His divine nature in human beings, through male and female, rather than through him and the angels.” And that’s what set him off. That was the rivalry that went forward. I’ve never heard it expressed that way, but it shows you why marriage is up against the ropes. Satan hates it, doesn’t he, because it reflects the very image of God in humanity?
Erin: And I think, too, Satan knows the power of a marriage. I mean, it’s two individuals becoming one. And if they’re serving God and His Holy Spirit is part of that, that I mean, that’s a powerful force. And the enemy knows what we are capable of when we are in healthy, sustaining marriages, that he’s afraid of that.
Jim: Let’s talk about the idea of the soul mate. So many websites talk about, you know, do this test. And you know that probably has a positive aspect to it, but is there really only one person in this world for me?
Greg: No, there’s no biblical evidence to support that God is a matchmaker. Of course, He has a will. I want to understand that. I want to be plugged in, connected, really walking in step with Him as I’m making decisions. But the hallmark of humanity is He’s given us a free will. Why would He then reverse that and say, “Although I’ve formed you with a free will to choose Me or not, but I’m gonna choose your spouse for you.” There is no biblical evidence to support that.
Jim: Now some people are going, “Oh, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. My husband and I, we feel like we were meant for each other.” Just address them. I mean, that’s a good thing. You want to be in love that way, but the idea that if you took a test and you came up as compatible, somehow that’s the only way it can happen.
Greg: I think the problem is this. If I subscribe to this idea that Erin is my quote-unquote “soul mate” – in other words, God chose her from the very beginning of time to just be for me and we had to figure that out and find one another. The problem is – is that what happens then when we encounter problems? When we encounter difficulties that will happen? If my belief is, “Whoa, God’s ordained this; we shouldn’t have problems. What’s wrong? What’s wrong with you? Oh, my goodness, maybe I missed it. Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe she is really not my soul mate.” See, the problem is, if I believe that it was all God’s doing, then I can just kinda sit back and either God’s gonna take care of it, so I don’t really have to do much or if there’s problems, then I’ll say, “Ooh, I missed it.”
Jim: Yeah, that’s really interesting. The way I would like to say it is, that soul mates are developed or created. And that one person out there, it’s not gonna happen just by accident. You invest in each other. And you talk about, think of this. You talk about arranged marriages, which happen still in the Middle East…
Jim: …happens in Africa. And I’ve talked to those couples as I’ve traveled. The divorce rate in those couples is very low ironically, ‘cause – and I asked a few of those couples. I said, “Why is that?” And they said, “Well, we learned to love each other.” Isn’t that interesting? They have an appetite to learn how to love each other. That’s really a soul mate approach, isn’t it? You learn to love another person.
Erin: Mmhmm and you get plenty of opportunity in marriage to learn to love the other person through the good times, the difficult times, you know, the joys, the challenges and it’s a decision and it’s a commitment. And so often these young couples are getting married and they’re confused about why they’re even getting married. They think it’s because they’ve met their soul mate. Really when you look at the true purpose of marriage it’s very different from a biblical standpoint. You think about, in marriage, Christ does many things in us as individuals through this relationship that we actually get the opportunity, as all of us who are married know, to learn more about who we are and who Christ is in us and that we have the opportunity to grow, to look more like Him through the challenges, because those challenges are there.
Jim: Let me say, is it fair to say it this way, that once you say, “I do” – ‘cause of course, the Scripture’s clear that God hates divorce – once you make that commitment, He’s expecting you to fulfill the covenant promise that you’ve made. So, even if you’re in that spot – I’m not saying if you’re in an abusive marriage or something like that, where it’s biblical to seek safety and all those things – but in the kind of the normal things of life, you’re gonna encounter difficulties in your relationship, Christians and non-Christians.
Jim: It’s just the aspect of human nature that’s real, but would you agree with that “I do” side, that once you say “I do,” you gotta be all in.
Greg: Yeah, I love the word “commitment,” meaning to decide. The root word of “decide” meant “to cut.” In other words, we are cutting off any other option that would go against this decision that we’ve made. I remember the old explorer, Cortez. He was out for the Aztec gold. When he got there, all his crew wants to leave and return. And I love what he said. He goes, “No, we’re not goin’ back. We’re gonna burn the ships. Our only option is to go forward.” And I love that idea for our marriage, that whatever individual ships that Erin and I arrived in to our marriage, we’ve burned those a long time ago. There is no option. There is no going back.
Jim: So you can’t leave the harbor?
Greg: Right, divorce isn’t an option. That word does not exist in our vocabulary, which Jim, I think it’s significant, because it forces us to then deal with our stuff and to deal with our marriage and relationship stuff. If there’s no other option, we’re forced then to deal with that and that’s a good thing.
Jim: Yeah and hindsight, or looking at it from God’s perspective, I’m sure that’s the formula for Him. He brings two people together. He hopefully gets them to commit to each other. Then you begin to work on those very selfish things that is, you know, intrinsic in human behavior. In fact, there’s a difference between – and you make that distinction – between selfish and selfless love. And I really appreciate this because I think it’s the reason God has set marriage up the way He has, ‘cause you have to learn to give unconditionally to the other person. And that is really hard for us as human beings. (Laughter) It cuts against our nature.
Erin: (Laughter) it sure does. And you know, and so many times couples will say, “We’re getting married because we want to be loved and we want to find that one fulfilling relationship.” And therefore, they’re looking at it as what they’re gonna get from this relationship, versus what they’re gonna give. And you think about how Christ loves us. He gives us love. Therefore, in His model, we should be looking and learning, how do we selflessly love this person who’s not perfect, who’s not gonna always meet our needs, is not always gonna know what we’re thinking?
Greg: I’m doin’ my best!
Jim: But these are triggers, too, aren’t they? I mean, those things that irritate you, there’s reasons those things irritate you.
Erin: Absolutely and we all bring ‘em right into this marriage relationship, especially early on, we become very aware of it.
Jim: Let’s talk for a minute, because of the perfect one, the soul mate concept again, this idea of infatuation. I mean, when you meet, there is a certain level of infatuation.
Jim: You’re attracted to…
Greg: Erin thought I was such a “hottie.”
Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)
Greg: I mean, it’s so embarrassing to say that, but…
Erin: And that changed.
Jim: Well, I would ask, you know, I’m not gonna speak on behalf of Erin…
Jim: …but the point is that something draws you together. It usually is physical at first. You’re seeing somebody that you’re attracted to. And then hopefully, it will develop into emotional intimacy, that kind of thing and then in the right course of time with marriage, physical intimacy and the great love story that God has for you.
But in that context, it has to start somewhere. Are we stunting our growth as human beings when we get stuck in the infatuation phase? And is that why marriages stall out? ‘Cause you know what? After a couple year, I’m not infatuated with you anymore in your baggy socks and your dirty underwear. (Laughter)
Greg: Why are you lookin’ at me? (Laughter)
Greg: Did Erin say that? (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, she told me.
Greg: It’s so true. If that is the basis of our relationship, this infatuation, that’s great and we need the feeling part. We need the passion. We need the infatuation. That’s all good.
Jim: So God put it there for a purpose?
Jim: That’s to draw you together?
Greg: Read Song of Solomon.
Greg: I mean, that’s the whole book, is you get that feeling like, “Wow! That’s what I want.” But at some point, it has to move to this decision that I’m making that this is the person I want to spend my life with. I’ll never forget John Trent – Dr. John Trent. He wrote a lot of books with my father, Gary Smalley. John was a mentor of mine, so when I was dating Erin and I really was thinking, wow, I think she’s the one that I want to marry. I came to him and I just said, “John, how do you know? How did you know Cindy was the one you wanted to marry?” I’ll never forget what he said to me. He says, “Greg,” he goes, “here’s the bottom line.” He goes, “There are a lot of girls out there that you could marry and you could have an amazing life with. It’s the way God designed it. We can relate and there’s lots of women out there that you could build a great life with. The question is, when you think about Erin, does it cause you tremendous pain to imagine a life lived without her?” And that was the moment for me that I really sat there and went, “You know what? That’s it. When I think about Erin and I think about 50 years from now and we’re sittin’ on a porch, rocking,” that’s who I want.
Greg: Yeah (laughter). That’s true. She might be helping rock me.
Jim: ‘Cause you’re gonna be about 90 at that point.
Greg: Exactly. (Laughter) You know, but that was the image that I went, you know what? That is. I love her and I want to spend a lifetime with her and that’s my choice. And I think that, that’s the beauty. Hey, in 1 Corinthians, Paul is saying to a widow, once she becomes a widow, she’s free to choose whomever she wants to marry.
Jim: That’s good evidence for that then. Let me ask you this. You said something that caught my attention. You said that living together – cohabiting has become the new engagement. Speak to that. Why is it happening? Why is living together or having physical relationship before marriage becoming much more common, even in the church?
Greg: Yes, it’s becoming more and more accepted, the more we hear about it and people talk about it. I think the big reason is kids are afraid. These first-time, never-been-married kids are afraid. Maybe they saw their parents not make it. They see the divorce rates. They hear all this stuff, negative stuff about marriage. And so, I think in their mind, “Let’s try this out.” Without judging that, here’s what I would say to a couple doing that, thinking about doing that. Is that first and foremost, think about the message that you are sending to your relationship by making that choice. What you’re saying is that I’m really not willing to go all in with you at this point. I kinda want to try this out. I think what you’re doing is that you’re infusing doubt into the very DNA of your relationship.
Jim: Right from the beginning.
Greg: And that’s not a good thing.
Erin: Well, you think about, when you’re making your wedding vows, this goes back to what we were talking just previously, is that there’s a commitment made. In front of the Lord, in front of your family and you’re saying, “I’m in this for a lifetime.” When you’re cohabitating, you’re bypassing that and you’re not sending the message, “I’m in this for a lifetime.” Really, I’m tryin’ it out. I’m test driving. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see how it plays out. So, it is sending this message that, I don’t know that you might be the one or you might not be, but when you stand before the Lord and you make that vow, that commitment, so often, we don’t talk about that, that commitment’s a big deal. We’re laying the foundation of our relationship on a lifetime commitment.
John: Hm, well, that’s Erin Smalley and Erin and her husband, Greg Smalley are with us on today’s Focus on the Family. We’re talking about their brand-new book, Ready to Wed: 12 Ways to Start a Marriage You’ll Love, and we’ve got details about it and a little list there of some things that you can keep in mind as you progress in your relationship, hopefully toward marriage. You’ll find those at www.focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Erin, let me push you a bit on what you just said, ‘cause I think it’s important and you can come and defend her there, Greg. (Laughter) But when you look at…
Greg: You’re very strong, so (Laughter) I don’t know what I could do.
Jim: Yeah, when you look at social critics, they’ll claim that marriage is outdated. It’s a human institution, which you know, all of us don’t believe. I’m playing the opposite position here. And so, they’ll say that it’s all a construct of humanity. I mean, for kids to be able to live together and try it out – talk to me as if I’m the one you’re trying to convince as to why these aren’t social constructs. This is not a human invention; it’s how we honor God.
Erin: Mmhmm, you know, you look at Scripture and it says, God made marriage, not man. But then, this is what I would say to them. Why then does the research show whether it’s, you know, from a Christian perspective or non-Christian perspective, that really couples who cohabitate have a much higher rate of divorce?
Jim: That’s a very good point.
Erin: You know, it’s not based on a biblical construct. It’s just straight research.
Jim: And why is that? Why is there a higher rate of divorce in cohabiting couples than couples that save themselves for marriage?
Greg: You are infusing doubt into the very fabric of your relationship. It’s there. It’ll always be there.
Jim: So, trust is not being built?
Greg: It rattles it. It damages it. It makes it very hard to feel safe and completely trusting and when you’re infusing something like that into your relationship. I think it also sends a message that we are willing to make major compromises for some short-term gain.
Greg: And that’ll ultimately hurt; that’s a pattern formation. In other words, what happens when you encounter other choices that you have to make? If you’ve been willing to compromise here, you might be more willing to compromise around some finances in your marriage, infidelity in your marriage.
Jim: Why is that so devalued today? I mean, Jean and I, that was our courtship. I mean, I remember our first date, I shook her hand. I think she thought I was weird, but I really wanted to make a commitment to the Lord, that I was gonna do this well. And you know, I think eventually, two or three weeks later after four dates, I think I kissed her on the cheek and then we were writing each other notes about could you be the one? You know, it kinda went the right way.
Jim: Now by God’s grace. But I am I guess saddened that so many young couples today don’t see the value, the gift that you’re bringing into that relationship. Even if you were sexually active before, to recommit your past to the Lord and to say, “I want to do this part right, Lord. Help me to do that.” Why is that devaluing occurring?
Greg: Sitting here listening to you, one thought that hits me is that I don’t think that couples in our day and age have a different answer to how then do we prepare for marriage? I mean, very few couples end up getting good quality premarital counseling.
Greg: So, if very few are doing that, I want to prepare, I want to stay married for a lifetime, but now in our culture, the only way to do that is to live together. I think that’s a part of what we’re trying to shift and say, actually there is another way. You don’t have to make these kinds of compromises and you can be fully prepared. Eighty percent of couples who get quality premarital training, stay together.
Greg: There’s no other way.
Jim: Yeah, there is and we want to come back next time because we don’t have time to go through that list right now, but talk about premarital counseling. Talk about the actual kind of practical tools that we can provide young people to begin to prepare for their marriages and to prepare very wholeheartedly for their marriage once they’re engaged. Let’s come back next time and talk about your 12 ways to have a great marriage, to whet the appetite, leaving and cleaving, lifelong commitment, honoring each other, spiritual intimacy, once you’re married, physical intimacy, positive communication. Let’s touch on those next time and put tools in the hands of folks to use ‘em. Can we do that?
Jim: All right.
Erin: Yes, that’d be great.
John: Well, what an encouraging conversation with Greg and Erin Smalley on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. And we look forward to hearing more of their Bible-based advice and encouragement next time.
Jim: John, we originally aired this broadcast with the Smalleys a few years ago, and I thought it would be a great idea to invite Greg back into the studio, really for a quick update about the Ready to Wed resources. Greg, it’s always good to have you with us!
Greg: Thank you for having me.
Jim: So for those who don’t know, Ready to Wed is more than just a book. There’s a video curriculum. I mean it’s quite substantial what you’ve pulled together here. Tell us a bit more about it.
Greg: Yeah, one of the most encouraging marriage statistics that I’ve ever heard is that for couples who get 8 to 10 hours of premarital education, 80 percent of those couples stay together for a lifetime.
Jim: Why do you think that is? I mean, what’s the secret sauce there?
Greg: Because instead of thinking just about the wedding day, they’ve put a lot of time and thought into going, “We need to make sure that we’re walking into our marriage well-prepared.” So within the – the video curriculum, which by the way, gives you that 10 hours of education – but what we did is that we utilized not just experts, but a bunch of couples who were newly married.
Jim: So the real deal?
Greg: The real deal (laughter). Asking them, “Well hey, now that you’re married, what would you do differently? What stands out? What do you wish you would’ve prepared?” So they’re giving these engaged couples some amazing advice.
Jim: So it’s real stuff. I mean, you’re hearing from young couples, just married, who are giving their insights in a candid way. Who are some of the experts that you used to film this?
Greg: We have an all-star lineup. We have Dr. Tony Evans, Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, got Ted Cunningham – one of the funniest people you’re ever gonna hear…
Jim: Oh good.
Greg: …and then our own Dr. Bob Paul, who heads up our marriage intensive program. So he’s coming from the standpoint of going, “Okay, here’s why couples 10, 15, 20 years later end up in our Hope Restored – our marriage intensive programs. So here’s what you can do differently.”
Jim: Yeah. Greg, this has to be, from what I’ve seen out there, one of the best, if not the best, resource for people thinking about marriage. Is that a fair statement?
Greg: Absolutely. Because not only have we gotten good feedback from couples who’ve used it, but my own daughter – she and her, now husband, went through that with a mentor couple.
Jim: I was gonna say, “With you?”
Greg: Yeah, we did not take credit for that.
Jim: That would’ve been tough.
Greg: As a matter of fact, I – I not only was the father of the bride, but I also got to officiate the wedding, which was very nerve-wracking. But I’m telling you, my favorite part of the entire wedding was when my 11-year-old daughter, who was a little junior bridesmaid, in the middle of the wedding ceremony – I’m asking for the rings, this is an important part – she’s waving at me, trying to get my attention. So I’m looking at her like, “Seriously, now?” And then she mouths the words, “I’m bored.” So…
Jim: She’s a very honest young lady.
Greg: Yeah. I can promise you, Ready to Wed is not boring.
John: There you go.
Greg: Maybe my parts. But we’ve assembled experts and young, newly married couples that will help you get the 8 to 10 hours that you will need to help you create a lifelong marriage.
Jim: Yeah, and I so appreciate the update. Um, obviously, we’re going to recommend our listeners get a copy of Greg and Erin’s book, along with these other great resources. Maybe you know an engaged couple or single adult who is considering marriage in the near future. Or you want to provide your church with these resources for their library.
John: That’s a great idea. Get this and have it available for the couples in your church who need to um, have that foundation formed. Uh, we’ve got details about Ready to Wed and also audio copies of our conversation today at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or you can call 800, the letter A and word FAMILY – 800-232-6459.
Jim: Also, when you get in touch with us, can I ask you to consider helping us financially? Focus on the Family depends upon partners like you who provide the “fuel” that we need to produce broadcasts like this one and distribute them throughout the U.S. and Canada. Not to mention creating something like Ready to Wed as a curriculum. All of that takes that fuel I’m talking about. Together, we can strengthen families in the name of Christ. We can encourage single adults to think about marriage and be better prepared for it, and give engaged couples the tools they need to build strong and healthy marriages. Please become a monthly partner with us so we can count on your ongoing support – or a one-time gift. That works too. Everything helps. And let me say thank you in advance for supporting the ministry.
John: And when you make a pledge or a gift of any amount, we’ll gladly send a complimentary copy of Greg and Erin’s book. So please, donate today at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Well coming up tomorrow, you’ll hear more from the Smalleys about keeping your marriage strong and healthy for a lifetime.
Greg: Sometimes couples sort of uh, guard their relationship from the big things, but often what kills a marriage, in terms of ultimate hardening the heart, are these little small things. Like when Erin does something that hurts me, or I hurt her and we just ignore it; so we just move on.
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