Erin Smalley: 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.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s a good perspective on marriage, isn’t it? That’s Erin Smalley and she and her husband, Greg, want to help young couples, particularly, become a powerful force for good in God’s kingdom today. Welcome to another edition of Focus on the Family. We’re featuring part two of a conversation with the Smalleys. And your host is Focus President and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, last time we heard some great advice and encouragement for young couples, particularly like you said, all of it based upon a wonderful book that Greg and Erin have written, called, Ready to Wed: 12 Ways to Start a Marriage You’ll Love. I like that title. If you missed the broadcast last time, contact us to get an audio copy of that or get our app so you can listen to the program when you want to. Let me just say, this message is also relevant for the parents of young adults, too. That’s where you and I are both living today, John. My boys are right on the precipice of adulthood and it won’t be long before they’re dating, and I’m sure we’re gonna get that Phone Call: “Mom, Dad, I’ve met the girl.” I can’t wait for that. Well, maybe a few years.
So this content from the Smalleys is so helpful for Jean and me, and I’m sure you’re having the same conversations in your house, John.
John: Well we are, and if you know a young, single adult who would benefit from this great advice by Greg and Erin, contact us about getting the book and an audio copy of our broadcast. We’ll include last time and today as well. Our number is 800-232-6459 – 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or online: focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And as we said last time, Greg and Erin Smalley head up the marriage department here at Focus on the Family. And here’s how we started part two of our conversation with them.
Jim: Greg and Erin, the conversation last time was really fascinating. We talked about God’s design for marriage and the need for commitment and that always brings up the question of divorce. In Matthew, Jesus explains that divorce is the result of our hard hearts. That’s tough, but that’s what He said. You guys often talk about that and your book gives specific reasons why that happens. Why do people’s hearts grow harder toward each other?
Greg Smalley: It’s such a fascinating verse, Matthew 19:8, where Jesus is saying, in the beginning of your relationship, you were open. Your hearts were wide open. You were lo – you had love towards each other. But then something happens that ultimately creates a hardness of the heart. And when we work with premarital couples, there are two things specifically that we’re trying to help them to understand. First of all is that couples allow small little relationship germs to invade their marriage. That’s first and foremost. There are some things that start happening, very small things.
Jim: Well, give an example of what that can be.
Greg: Yeah, and out of Song of Solomon 2:15, I love this verse where it says, “Catch all the foxes, those little foxes, before they ruin the vineyard of love.” These little small, little foxes are things like you talked about selfishness, poorly managed conflict, unrealistic expectations, in-laws…
Jim: Verbal attacks.
Greg: …can be a large fox (Laughing) at times.
But it’s – in other words, sometimes couples sort of 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; we just move on. Or I’m not serving her and I’m not sacrificing for her like you talked about in the beginning. It’s these small little things that tend to really destroy marriages, because it hardens hearts over time.
Jim: Right, so for a young couple who is looking to get married, how do you teach them to think of the little foxes, to be mindful of these little things?
Greg: Yeah, I think first of all, we need to teach our young couples that love is not self-sustaining. That is such a huge myth.
Jim: It – but at that age, it’s almost unbelievable. You say that and it bounces off of me like I’ve got a love shield around me. (Laughter) Ping!
Jim: ‘Cause it doesn’t make sense. I’m…
Jim: …so infatuated. I’m so in love with my fiancé or my…
John: “You don’t know how deep…”
John: “…our love is.”
Jim: Yeah, you – that – “They just don’t have a good relationship like we have.”
Jim: “Even though they’re 40 and we’re 20.”
Greg: But what a powerful message you talked about with your sons, and we do this with our kids of beginning to envision, “Hey, there’s someone out there right now. Imagine what they’re doing. Imagine what’s goin’ on in their life right now?” I think part of the message that we’re trying to teach our kids is that love is not self-sustaining and we have to constantly be investing every day. What have we done for our marriage today? We teach our kids that when we put you to bed at night at 8:30, whatever, that when you keep getting up and keep asking for drinks of water or keep asking for a hug, do you realize that you are taking away from mom and dad’s time to work on their relationship? That when we go out on a date and you call nine times because your brother keeps pestering you and irritating you, do you realize…
Erin: That never happens!
Jim: This sounds like experiential…
Greg: Yeah. Do you – but this is what I say though. I say on the phone, I’ll – they’ll call Erin, ‘cause they know when they call me what I’m gonna say. I’m – “Give me that phone.” I’m like, “Do you understand right now that you are taking away from our time of keeping our marriage strong?”
Jim: And by doing…
Greg: Is that really what you want?
Jim: …by doing that, what are you teaching them?
Greg: That marriage is not self-sustaining. We have to constantly be investing and doing things proactively to keep our marriage strong. You can’t put the marriage, like you can a car, on autopilot, on cruise control. There is none of that. And that’s one of those myths and fallacies out there about marriage that somehow we can just be together and feel in love and then do all these other things – life and work and kids and church and the list goes on and on. And then somewhere along the line, we all of a sudden start drifting apart and there’s a slow fade. And all of a sudden our love grows cold and our hearts harden and that’s the death of a marriage.
Jim: Hm, Greg and Erin, you talk in your book, Ready to Wed, about 12 ways to have a great marriage. So these are great tools for young people who again, are engaged or thinking about it. Let’s hit some of those 12. We’re not gonna cover ‘em all. Let’s post it on the website, John, so people…
Jim: …can get a look at ‘em, but this is what you’re delving into the book. Why don’t you go ahead and give us the ones that you feel are most important?
Greg: And what’s cool about the book – how we divided it out – it’s very intentional. We – the two big broad messages that one, you need to invest in your marriage proactively every day, but then you have to know how to work through problems when they come, either through conflict or externally from something else. So, those are the two big things, if you’ve learned nothing else.
Jim: How to invest and how to resolve conflict?
Greg: Exactly, in terms of the investing part.
Erin: You know, one of the things in this book that’s different than a lot of other premarital books is that we really focused on what does “leaving and cleaving” really mean? You know, what does that mean to leave our former life and then to cleave to our new spouse? And it comes across in the book in a very unique, very fresh…
Jim: How is it?
Erin: I knew you were gonna say that. (Laughter) You know, that we look at it in a very different way that when you’re leaving your former life, you’re – that means that you’re leaving your singleness. You’re leaving this adolescent, you know, kind of state. Our friend, Ted Cunningham talks about that. So often, young people that they’ll get stuck in this state of adolescence, but we’re leaving that behind when we’re stepping in to a marriage relationship; we’re taking a step into adulthood.
Erin: And that we’re gonna be adults in this marriage relationship.
Jim: So, you have to prepare that young person to make that step, though?
Erin: Absolutely, there’s so much that can be done before you actually say, “I do” to prepare to have a healthy relationship. So many different ways of looking at how are we gonna do this? We’re planning how this relationship is gonna play out in the months to come.
Jim: In that regard, is the leaving and cleaving, attacking or going after that selfish aspect? I’m thinking of people I know that are in their 20s or even 30s, that have been married 8, 10 years and he’s still caught up in video games. He’s still acting like, you know, a 16-year-old and it’s driving mostly wives crazy, because they’re not – it’s like the argument is you’re not growing up. Grow up!
Jim: Help me here.
Erin: I can remember our first year of marriage living at Denver Seminary, literally taking Greg’s Nintendo and hiding it in the laundry basket underneath the laundry.
Greg: She hid it from me. (Laughter)
Jim: Did he find it?
Erin: He did! (Laughter) He’s like, “What’s this doing in there?”
Jim: Oh, he was happy.
Erin: I’m like, “I don’t know.”
Jim: Now it’s hunt. (Laughter)
Greg: It was a small apartment, so inevitably (Laughter) I was gonna find it. (Laughter)
Erin: Yeah, there wasn’t many places.
Jim: But you can relate to that; that’s…
Jim: …my point and it is something you have to do with some forethought, with, you know, thinking it through. What am I really stepping out of and into?
Greg: You know, for me, here’s what rocked my world when I read this study, because I wish that I had known this before we got married and when we were newly married. The studies say that it takes at least 9 to 14 years for two individuals to stop thinking about themselves as individuals and to start thinking about themselves as one. Think about that.
Greg: That is almost a decade and a half, 9 to 14 years to go from me, me, me, single lifestyle, thinking about me. Plus you add in for young couples, I mean, as a guy, I always tell women who are getting married that man, you’ve gotta give him a lot of grace. I think for a guy, it takes us into our 30s…
Jim: (Laughter) We’re a little slower.
Greg: …before we really start to grow and mature in a way that is best for our relationship. It just takes a long time. That needs to be our expectation going in. This whole “leave and cleave” thing as God talks about leaving mom and dad, cleaving to our spouse, so that we become one, just understand, that takes about a decade.
Greg: You’re gonna have to give each other a whole lot of grace and…
Greg: …a whole lot of time to do that.
Jim: Yeah, and it’s very reasonable and I think it’s a good place to start. That’s the beginning point. When you look down the list I want to grab one, which is “honoring each other.” ‘Cause I think in those early years when, you know, difficulties come, you know, he’s squeezing the toothpaste in the wrong spot. (Laughter) I mean, it sounds so silly. Why does (Laughter) it even matter? But Jean and I have a constant – and we’ve been married 28 years!
John: Still happens in our…
Jim: For some…
Jim: …reason she…
Jim: …she doesn’t put the cap on the toothpaste. It drives – I’m the one hunting down the cap on the counter going…
Erin: Well, that’s why you gotta get the one that’s it’s attached. (Laughter) You just flip it down. (Laughter)
Greg: You both get your own toothpaste.
Erin: I mean – could solve it all.
Greg: That’s how…
Greg: …we solved it.
Erin: That’s how we did it, yeah.
John: There’s no argument…
Jim: But you know…
Jim: …it’s not gonna lead to a family crisis other than a little irritation, but it’s those kinds of things that…
Greg: Small foxes…
Jim: …you gotta…
Greg: …little foxes.
Jim: …think about and you gotta be talking through it. And I don’t mean to, you know, diminish serious issues, but honoring each other. Talk about how we do that.
Erin: You know, so often, especially as wives, we come into marriage thinking, you know, we can just change just this little thing about him and you know, influence him in this way.
Jim: He’s a project.
Erin: That’s right. But you know what, unfortunately, it really doesn’t work because as soon as he starts feeling that, what is he gonna do? He’s gonna resist that because how many of us like to say, you know, “Oh, if he just did just like this instead,” you know and often it’s not spoken. It’s these little things that we do to manipulate the relationship. But what about how God made him? I’m not saying that, you know, you can just go, “Oh, this is just how God made me,” but really recognizing that we’re both bringing differences into this relationship and that they’re gifts to this relationship and seeing that it brings a beautiful balance.
Greg: I love how God, when He created man and woman stepped back and said, “This is good.” I mean, the way that God made us so different in personality and gender differences, that’s a good thing. And yet, when we get frustrated like by how we do the toothpaste or the toilet paper or the list goes on and on, remember those differences are the gift. That’s a good thing. And we need to value those things. Now we need to learn, how do we talk through those when they’re creating challenges for us. But I think it always has to start from, I want to honor my wife. I want to cherish those differences. I want to – I want to value who she is. And the best way that I’ve learned to do this literally is I have a list of all these things that I love about Erin. These are my favorite things about Erin. And I look at that periodically just to be reminded. You know, yeah, she’s pretty amazing. Now she frustrates me at times. She drives me nuts other times. It’s just life. (Laughter) I mean…
Jim: Erin’s making…
Greg: …let’s be real.
Jim: …a good face right now!
Greg: I made the list. So, do I; I drive her crazy.
Erin: Would you like to share some of those right now, Greg? (Laughter)
Greg: No. (Laughter) I…
Jim: Oh, please do!
Erin: Yeah. (Laughter)
Greg: But I mean, that’s life, that we will irritate each other. But don’t ever let those differences become things you see as negative.
John: Mmhmm, well, some great reminders to honor each other in the relationship. And if you’re getting Ready to Wed, which is the title of the book that Greg and Erin Smalley have written, and by the way, there are contributors – Ted Cunningham, Joe White, Dr. Scott Stanley, Bill and Pam Farrel, Scott and Bethany Palmer, a number of folks who have been here on this broadcast. We’ve got details about the book, Ready to Wed, and we’ll post this entire list of 12 ways to have a great marriage that you’ll love, at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And you know, as we’re talking, Jim, yesterday I mentioned that we have four young adults in my family. And one of them has a relationship going and I’m thinking, “I know that you’re able to spend time talking right now.” And this is one of the 12 is “communication.” “I know that you can do that right now, but when you get married, stuff happens and you can’t quite spent hours thinking about and talking with your spouse.” How do you foster good communication with a couple that is perhaps working and then maybe even kids come along?
Greg: You know, one of the things that I saw the other day that again, blew my mind is that the average couple spends maybe an hour a week, kind of in these kind of proactive talking, spending time together. But the average couple who’s involved in an affair, spends 15 hours a week in those kinds of activities. As much as it’s easy to say, “Oh, we’re just so busy and don’t have the time,” man, couples are finding the time. I want to pursue her in that same way and never go, “Well, I just don’t have time,” or “It’s so busy.” The best thing that I can do, as far as communication, is to – my attitude is that I want to know her and I want to be known by her. I want her to know me. So I want to spend time askin’ her questions, getting to know her and keep updated and current. But I also need to be willing to be known, to share what’s going on in my life.
Jim: Greg, when I hear that, it sounds really good (Laughter), but it sounds exhausting to a lot of men to ask those kind of questions. Are we just bein’ lazy?
Greg: We’re not being lazy. I just think we get so busy. There’s so many other things that are taking our time. And I think that so many people buy into that love is self-sustaining, that I don’t really have to do much for us to be okay, that we can put the marriage on autopilot, cruise control. It’s just – that’s…
Jim: It’s a good “man answer.”
Greg: …not a good answer.
Jim: Let me ask Erin. Erin, are we bein’ lazy?
Erin: You know what? It’s not lazy. (Laughter) I agree, I agree with Greg on that, that it’s not being lazy. It’s that often we just assume that everything’s gonna be okay. You know, I, you know…
Jim: That’s true.
Erin: I’ve gotta take care of the kids because they have these needs that are, you know, raging right in front of me. They’re hungry. They’re thirsty. You know, they’ve gotta go to practice. But it’s really, you know. (Laughing)
Greg: Need a diaper changed, whatever.
Jim: Well, and let me say this with all seriousness. Right now the divorces that are occurring are catching a lot of husbands by surprise. They’re kind of in the autopilot mode, you know. Of course, this was forever. I told you I love you at the altar. Yes, we’ve got kids. I’ve got my work. I thought we loved each other. What are you doin’? Is that a fair statement? I mean, women are really starving and husbands aren’t seeing it or getting it.
Erin: Mmhmm, because as women, we want to connect at that heart level. We want to connect through conversation, through emotional connection and when there’s not the intentional mind-set that we have to take care of this relationship from both spouses, because Greg can have that attitude that, I told you I loved you. You know, we’re committed for a lifetime. I don’t need to do anything else, but as women, also prioritizing this relationship above the kids, above girlfriends, above all these other things that steal our time, you know.
Greg: Yeah, I’m watchin’ cell phones just in this day and age, just how readily available the texting, the emails, the Facebook, the whatever. I mean, I’m watching that happen for a lot of women who are investing a tremendous amount of time in that. I think guys, we can compartmentalize our life and so we can get involved in work and just providing. And yet, I think for both, that we need to step back and realize that marriage will never be sustained off of a few minutes here and there…
Greg: …without meaningful interaction.
Jim: …and to John’s point about developing positive communication, one of your 12 ways to have a great marriage, if you were talkin’ to little Jimmy when I was 24 and a half and Jean and I had met and you were doing our premarital counseling, how would you teach a rather self-absorbed young man, who doesn’t understand women at all, to really do a better job at that?
Greg: I would point out what you’re doing right now that she loves and I guarantee you that little Jimmy is spending a whole lot of time asking questions, pursuing Jean, finding out about what she loves, likes, dislikes, as you’re building a new relationship and I would beg you to never lose that.
Greg: I think curiosity is one of the best sustainers of love. When I have an attitude that one lifetime isn’t long enough for me to really get to know her, that I want to stay current and updated, then I would show you exactly how to do that. And that’s literally by just get great at asking questions as you are married. Take moments when you’re driving in the car, take moments when you’re out on a date and just say, “Hey, update me. What’s goin’ on in your life? Keep me current.” We both are always changing and if we invest in our relationship with that attitude of going, “Jim, look what you’re doing right now. You were doing everything you can to know her. Don’t ever lose that and…”
Greg: “…here’s why.”
Jim: …the other thing is just that effort. I can remember when we were dating, I lived in San Diego. She was in Orange County. It was about a 90-minute drive. She was working at a vet clinic and would work the late-night shift and so occasionally, I’d drive up there and deliver dinner to her.
Jim: So, when you…
Jim: …when you look at what you would do in courtship to prove I’m interested, I mean, driving 90 miles to bring your girlfriend dinner and then you get married and you’re goin’, “Ah, I don’t want to pick up those clothes.” (Laughter) I mean, it’s really different, isn’t it? What happened to that 90-mile drive? (Laughing)
Erin: You know, so often what we don’t address then is then what’s goin’ on with our heart? When he starts frustrating me, when he starts disappointing me, ‘cause he’s not, you know, making the effort he used to make, then you know, I’m less likely to do that, as well and our hearts start to close off. And it goes back to, you know, when our heart starts closing off, we’re not willing to make that extra effort and go the extra mile. And it impacts the relationship.
Jim: But let me ask you this as we’re wrapping up. There’s two things I want to touch on. One is the importance of premarital counseling. You’ve done research. You’ve looked at research that suggests the powerful importance of premarital counseling. Talk a bit about that.
Erin: You know, it is so clear. Again, it’s research that is very statistically found that 80 percent of couples who receive premarital counseling stay together.
Jim: Eighty percent?
Erin: Eighty percent.
Jim: Talk about what kind of premarital counseling that is. Is that an hour? Is that 10 hours? Is it…
Erin: You know, what…
Jim: …a hundred hours?
Erin: What we really say is 8 to 10 quality hours of really delving into all the, you know, the 12 different areas in Ready to Wed, you know, delving into all of those and really looking at what are we bringing? What is our plan? How are we gonna do this? What do we want it to even look like? You know, and discussing all the issues and the challenges that we might face.
Erin: And it’s an exciting time to really connect with one another, maybe with a therapist, a pastor, with a mentor couple who can walk with you as you engage in this, such an exciting time of life.
Jim: Yeah, Jean and I did that, where there probably, I’m thinking back, there were probably eight or nine couples in this class that we did. It was called Becoming One by Jerry and Donna Lawson in San Diego. And what was really fascinating is like three of the couples got up after the first or second session and walked out. (Laughing) And Jean and I are looking at each other like, “Oh, my goodness.”
John: And they just walked out?
Jim: But well, walked out in a sense that they’re not ready to be married.
Jim: They gave the explanation.
Greg: That’s success.
Jim: They said, after going – that is.
Jim: And the point of it, it was success. It scared us a little bit like, “Uh-oh, are we hiding anything? What do we need to?” But six of the nine couples continued on, but I think three of the couples actually decided it wasn’t time and that’s a good decision, isn’t it?
Erin: Yeah, absolutely. If you know, why would you enter into this marriage relationship that’s for a lifetime if really you’re not ready? And it’s okay to not be ready. You want to evaluate is this the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with?
Jim: Let’s uh, the second point I want to make, let’s end on the stresses and the crises that come in marriage and hopefully, you’re equipped to take care of that. Talk about that. What’s the normal stuff that can really bring a marriage down?
Greg: There’s two main things. There’s going to internal stressors, and we just say, that’s the conflict. That’s the dealing with each other and figuring out who’s doing what and how do we blend our differences? So there’s the internal part, but then there’s also external things that are gonna hit a marriage. We have a couple friend that right as they were about to get married, his father died. So, they walked into their brand-new marriage – the story’s in the book – they walked into their brand-new marriage having to deal with the death of his dad and comforting his mom and they actually ended up moving into the mom’s basement just to be there to care for her.
Greg: We know couples – one of our seminars, a couple, engaged couple came up and just glowing and typical, you know, idealistic and this is so amazing. But he said that, “I have been given a diagnosis of an untreatable type of cancer. So we’re – knowing, we are going to get married and my life will be over very shortly.”
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Greg: And external stressors, all these things.
Greg: And that can tear at this brand-new relationship because we’re not formed yet. Remember 9 to 14 years are really settled into who we are and to have that strength. And so, what we’re trying to do is to share with a couple, there are gonna be both things internally, you’re gonna have to deal with conflict, but also things are gonna come at you, loss of job, financial difficulty.
Jim: …will come at you.
Greg: It’s how you then do that together that’s the point.
Greg: And Erin and I dealt with – with a lot of these things and by God’s grace, we did these things together and we had to learn. And – and yet, the cool part is, is that God promises that when we face trials, that He will give us things. We get treasures from the trials that we face. We’re always trying to help a couple who’s going through a big trial in their marriage, that not only will stickin’ it out cause you to be stronger, ‘cause now you’re battle tested, but man, God is gonna give you some amazing things and you need to grab hold of those and do what we call “treasure hunting.” Find those things.
Jim: Well, and this is so important as we wrap up. You think about it. Our marriages are a witness to the world now. So often I’ve sat down with people who oppose the Christian worldview and one of the things they’ll say to me flat out is, “You haven’t done so well with marriage in the Christian community. Why not let us try?” And this is in conversation with homosexual activists. And you know what? All I can say in that environment is, “You’re right. I’m not gonna dodge it, but not living it well doesn’t mean that God’s Word is not true.”
Jim: And that’s the best way I can respond to that. We have got to live this better so that people actually look at us and say, “They live what they say they believe.” And I guess I do mean that as a helpful constructive criticism. We have got to do the job, and by doing the job it’s what we’ve talked about these last two days – premarital counseling for those young couples who are looking to get married. Make sure you get it