Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin, offer advice and encouragement to wives in a discussion based on their new book, The Wholehearted Wife: 10 Keys to a More Loving Relationship. (Part 1 of 2)
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Wife #1: He isn’t the man I married. He had such potential; we had potential, but we’ve gotten stuck in a rut and I’m miserable.
Wife #2: My husband and I fight a lot and we never seem to resolve anything. I wish things were different.
Wife #3: My marriage is kind of okay. We made a lifetime commitment and I think we still love each other. Maybe this is as good as it gets?
John Fuller: Well, I wonder if you resonate with any of those comments. Maybe your marriage is less satisfying than you expected, but you’d really like to improve it and just don’t know how. We have some practical help and hope for you today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, those comments reflect the heart of so many husbands and wives - whether they’re Christians or not. Just because you’re trying to follow the Lord and live a godly life doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a perfect marriage. And in fact, I remember a statistic we heard some time ago from Dr. David Clarke. He’s a psychologist who’s been on the program, who said that 4 out of 5 women - that’s 80% - feel lonely in their marriages. Think about that for a minute. I mean 4 out of 5. Another study revealed that only 3 out of 5 women feel “happy” about their relationship with their husbands. Those are very troubling numbers. And unfortunately, we don’t always see a lot of distinction between Christian and non-Christian marriages. That’s not the way things should be. Especially in today’s culture, where the world is looking at our Christian families and wondering, “Is God real? Do we see it in their lives or not?”
John: And that’s why Focus on the Family is here, to answer those hard questions when we can and to offer help and resources. You’ve said this many many times before, Jim, that we’re here to help strengthen marriages and even rescue couples who feel like their marriage is not going to survive.
Jim: That’s right. And that’s why we have our team of Christian counselors, here at Focus on the Family, who are available to talk with you and pray with you and refer you to long-term consultation if that’s what you need. We also have Hope Restored, where we offer intensive counseling for those couples who are on the brink of divorce maybe even signed the papers. Many who come are in that spot.
I want to urge you to contact us. We’re here for you. We want to give you the best tools you need for building a strong and healthy marriage!
John: And we are a phone call away. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459 or visit focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Today we’re gonna hear from two of our colleagues, Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin. They head up our marriage ministry team here at Focus, and they help us develop resources that husbands and wives need to thrive together in their marriage. One of those resources is a book they’ve written called. And this book was co-written by Greg’s dad, the late Gary Smalley, who was a great friend of the ministry and a guest many times on Focus on the Family.
John: Yeah we love having Greg and Erin here with us in the studio. And here’s how we began that conversation with them on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Yeah, Erin, let’s start with you. I’d like to hear your response to those comments that we heard at the top. Does that really reflect the heart of a lot of women?
Erin Smalley: You know, unfortunately I think it does. We plan these perfect weddings. And you know, we have these almost idealistic um, views of what our marriage relationship is gonna be like. And then quickly we realize we married another human being that’s imperfect.
Greg Smalley: I’d like to think I’m more than that though.
Jim: Less than a human being - oh, there you go.
John: Hey, welcome Greg to the show!
Erin: Yes! And you know, then you know, with these expectations, we end up disappointed and just dissatisfied. And that’s not the case always, but often because the expectations are so high, we end up feeling disappointed. And then the relationship goes down one of those three paths of the clips we heard.
Jim: Ah, let me ask you about the expectations, because especially again, um, when you’re spiritually connected in a healthy way in a relationship with Christ and you’re courting each other, talking about the M word; do you want to get married? And then it happens and then the weeks and the months go by. Why do expectations play such a critical role in the early development of our relationship in that way?
Greg: Well, you know, we all have ‘em. I mean, all of us have certain hopes, desires, dreams, wants, needs that we expect that our spouse is going to meet. Now we’ve found this person who’s going to provide all these things that we hope. Part of the problem is that a lot of these are unknown. We’re not even aware of them.
You know, we - we have these things that at some level we expect and assume are gonna happen. When they don’t, it’s like, okay, wait. What just - why isn’t this happening? I thought this would. Doesn’t she love me? Wait. Did I marry the right person? I mean, you - you almost see this buyer’s remorse, going what is going on?
Jim: Well, what’s changed in that time span, whatever it might be, weeks or months or a couple of years? What’s going on? What is changing from the courtship to the marriage?
Greg: I think what happens is that when we have these unknown kind of, we’re not even aware of some of these expectations and they don’t happen over time, it’s hurtful. We get frustrated. That can easily though turn into almost this resentment. Our beliefs, our view of our spouse can become so negative, that once our view becomes negative of our spouse, they really can’t do much to change that. Whatever I believe about Erin, I will see the evidence in everything that she does. So, if all these expectations have gone unmet, see now I see her in such a negative light. And then that becomes such a self-fulfilling prophecy and the sad part is she can’t change any of that. Whatever I believe is what I’m going to see. I will overlook all the positive and that’s a part of - of how we just get set on this course, this trajectory that’s just not good in our marriage.
Jim: Okay, now, it sounds like you two are talking from experience so talk about...
Kaboom, is that the big rock?
Greg: Is it that obvious? Really? Oh, boy.
Jim: It’s not so much your Ph.D. work that’s coming in here. But uh, what happened Day One for you? You wake up the next day and what did you find? Bliss or conflict?
Erin: Well, we went into conflict pretty quickly um, into our marriage. I mean, literally several days into the honeymoon we were fighting. And we didn’t expect that, that’s for sure.
Jim: Over little things or big things?
Erin: Little things, I mean, what we realized is, well, A, we didn’t do great premarital counseling and that’s something that we now stand firm on with - for couples getting married, you have to get great premarital training, counseling, education, whatever with a mentor. You have to do that. We didn’t.
Jim: Did you have that attitude, kinda like, you knew it all?
Greg: Yeah. You know the old saying that the faith is not inherited. So, just because my parents are Christians, doesn’t mean that I’m now a Christian. And the same way that if whatever the state of our parent’s marriage - so, good or bad - so I came from this great legacy, but that, in and of itself, doesn’t translate that, oh, then of course, I’ll inherit that. I’ll have this great marriage. You do have to work at it. There were some problems that we didn’t really understand that became a big deal once we got married.
Erin: We had good times. We had times that we laughed a lot. But when it came to dealing with our differences and there were quite a few of them, we didn’t know how to work through ‘em.
Greg: And I think that, I - a lot of people, husbands and wives, they’ll reach this point of despair. Or - or they just settle. Like we heard the clips in the beginning that you know this mediocre marriage, that is not what God had in mind! You said it. The Author of Marriage did not design a marriage that’s supposed to be, you know, I guess I can just live with him for the rest of my life.
This is a God who said that these two people, this man and woman, who are so different, as they come together and become one, this is a good thing. This is an amazing thing. There is such synergy when Erin and I are operating within that power that God provides, you know, and our hearts are open to each other, there is such enormous strength in that, to the point that Satan knows that. And Satan is afraid of what our marriage can be like. And that’s why it’s never - let’s not settle. This is not about, well, let’s just be roommates. Let - let’s have the Promised Land kind of marriage that really God created and designed. That was His intent.
Jim: Now let me ask you this question in terms of that pace. Life is life. We’re in a broken world. Things will happen. I don’t want some, particularly some wives to hear this right now and go, “Ah-ha, we gotta live at this level.” Things will happen and you need to roll with that and seek the Lord for solutions and trouble will be there. The Lord was very specific about that. Talk about what seems to be healthy balance.
Greg: You know, balance for me is being aware of the fact, as you were sayin’, that there are gonna be trials and problems and we’re two humans. We’re imperfect. We have sin nature. Every once in a while, I’m selfish. Is that fair to say?
Erin: That would be fair to say.
Greg: Just - just once in a while.
Jim: Just - just to spice things up.
Erin: Just occasionally.
Greg: And so, I think the balance is recognizing that - that therefore, we’ve gotta keep working. And it’s never about settling, realizing that along the way, we are changing. Our marriage is changing. If we just put the marriage on cruise control, send it down the road and don’t really do anything with our relationship, that is a recipe, a formula for disaster. Instead, it’s recognizing, you know, we are human, but let’s keep growing. Let’s keep learning.
I think ideally a - a - God designed us to become more like Him, right, as it talks about in Romans, that - that we want to become more like Christ. That’s the true opportunity within a marriage is that all of this stuff as two humans that go on and the problems and all that, that God is gonna use those things to grow us more like Him. I think that’s the journey that we’re on together.
Erin: And you know, for me, personally as a wife, I - I came into marriage and I came from a family, we didn’t do a lot of relationship training or education like Greg’s family. And so, for me, I was on this journey of really wanting to understand what I could do personally. How could I show up in this relationship? ‘Cause as we started to have problems, I - no one wants that. I didn’t want that as a wife. I wanted to be a good wife. I wanted to be a great wife.
And so I set off on a journey of learning and growing and - and seeking the Lord, growing in my faith, but then also getting some skills. And ironically, I learned a lot of it from Greg’s dad.
Jim: And - but the obvious point there is, you again, assumed that Greg had this all down, right?
Erin: I thought so.
Jim: Didn’t you listen to your father?
Erin: I know.
Jim: Did you ever - did that word utter through your...?
Greg: Well, you know, I mean, it’s - here’s the reality. So you can know the knowledge. You can have seen a good model, but until you really know how to translate all that into specific action within your relationship based upon the uniquenesses that you both offer, that’s I think part of what my problem was. I knew it sorta; I just didn’t know how to apply that. And that’s really what we are tryin’ to do with this book.
Jim: In fact, you talk about 10 keys of a more loving relationship. Let’s post these, John, on the website.
Jim: But quickly go over them and then let’s concentrate on a couple of ‘em.
Erin: You know, really if you think back to the ‘90s, Greg’s dad had a video series. It was on VHS back then. Now it’s on DVD.
Jim: Oh, now you’re hurtin’ me!
Greg: What’s that?
Erin: Yeah, no kidding.
Greg: Kids don’t know that. Just rewind. Rewind.
Erin: He - he sold this video series on TV called Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships. It was an infomercial. And I’m telling you, those tapes were so impacting in my life. And so, really, we based this series of topics, this book is based off the topics from that series.
And really, so what they are, there’s honoring your spouse, nourishing your spouse, really and that’s putting honor into action, um, accepting personality and other differences, which we needed some help with that. And connecting spiritually, thoughts and communication, connecting sexually, learning to resolve conflict, diffusing anger. Anger is an issue that often we don’t talk about. Forgiving each other and transforming life’s trials into blessings or treasure hunting.
So, it’s all stuff that his dad, really was the - just the guru back in the ‘90s. And that’s why we - I wanted to use those topics in this book, because a lot of people today, women today have never even heard ofvideo series. And it’s powerful basic truths that can impact our lives.
Jim: Let’s talk about a couple of these that jump out, like the first one you mentioned - honoring, which is, I - I think you’d describe it as learning to value your spouse. That to me, seems to be probably the greatest threat to marriage today is we just don’t do it. Um, it’s more critical in terms of spirit. You don’t measure up to the expectations we just talked about. And you start to lose your love for your spouse. Is that describing it well?
Greg: I think what’s - what’s fair about that is couples are dating, they’re engaged. They have such a clear sense of this person and how valuable they are. They really truly recognize that. And so, then what can happen then is inside of a marriage, when your expectations go unfulfilled, as conflict sets in, as other problems begin to happen. We get busy. I think it’s easy to lose sight of someone’s value. When I’m mad, when I’m frustrated, when I’m hurt, I forget how valuable Erin is.
One of my very favorite verses talking about marriage in the Bible is Ephesians 5:29. Several times throughout that passage in Ephesians 5, um, Paul was saying that husbands you need to love your - your wife as you love your own body. So, he says that numerous times. And so, finally I’m like, okay, what does that mean? And then in 5:29 he gives the answer and he says that, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”
And it’s that word “cherish” that’s honor. Cherish means that when I see Erin, that I recognize her incredible value even when I’m mad at her and I might not be willing to acknowledge that she’s a valuable person, it doesn’t change the fact that she’s incredibly valuable.
I saw this quote that says, “Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.” What’s true about Erin is that she’s incredibly valuable. God said she’s made in His image. She’s fearfully and wonderfully created. He says that she’s His treasured possession. Jesus says that she’s His glorious inheritance. I mean, there’s so many truths in the Bible about how valuable she is.
So that’s what’s true about her - my goal then is a mind-set, it’s an attitude. It’s a conviction that really says that she is valuable. And when that’s a foundation within a marriage, that’s - what you value in Luke 12:34, it says, “What you value, there will your heart be also.” It’s one of the most powerful things we can do in a marriage is to grab hold of the truth of how valuable we are, because what I value and treasure, see, that’s what I’m drawn to. That’s why I think Paul is saying, boy, you want to do this right, you begin by cherishing your spouse.
Erin: And as a wife, it’s - you know so often we think that we’re basically, you know, that this is in the marriage, it is what it is, you know, there - it’s not gonna get any better, but what the basis of this book is is really that we as a wife have the power of influence.
We can influence the overall environment of our marriage and with honor that is a huge impact that we can have on our relationship by how we view our spouse because so often when we close down, like Greg was saying, we start seeing negative things. We have a choice to step back and really look and remember who he is, what God says is true about him. And that can influence and make a great change in this marriage relationship because the system shifts. When my behavior shifts, it impacts the overall system. It doesn’t mean that I control him. It doesn’t mean that I can - I mean, believe me, I’ve tried to control and change him.
Greg: I’m a handful. Let’s just be honest.
Erin: And - and that - that doesn’t work.
Jim: That’s normal.
John: It doesn’t work, does it?
Jim: Yeah, it’s normal for a couple that that’s a dynamic that a lot of spouses will try.
Erin: Yeah, often we want to focus on what they’re doing, what their behavior is, because believe me, it’s more fun to focus on what he’s doing versus what I’m doing. And so, in this - the paradigm shift is that, how do I show up in this relationship and how can I impact my marriage?
Jim: Well, I thought in looking at the book,, something that caught my attention was something you called the “no-win marriage.” And it said something like this: if a woman’s identity isn’t rooted in Christ, she may try to draw her worth from her imperfect husband who cannot meet all her needs. Wow! That is a powerful statement. Um, A: the truth of that I think is powerful. And B: um, where does she need to be rooted in order to have a healthier relationship with her imperfect husband?
Erin: Because so often as women we get our value based on the quality of our relationships. Often that is how we define ourselves. And so, we marry this imperfect man and you know, we’re all...
Jim: She said that with some emphasis.
Greg: She - she says this numerous times.
Jim: Hey, we’re all in the hot seat, buddy!
John: I think if Dena and Jean were here, they’d...
Jim: I know.
John: ...say the same thing.
Jim: Yeah, we’re feeling for you, Greg, but you’re doin’ well!
Erin: Okay, we marry this imperfect man. I mean, we all have imperfections.
Jim: Let’s say that again!
John: How about one more time?
Erin: I married this imperfect man.
Jim: How many times would you like to say that, Erin?
Erin: But see, would you like me to say that again?
Jim: No, go ahead.
Erin: So as women, we marry an imperfect man and we expect that he is gonna meet all these needs in us. But really, he was never created to meet those needs within us. Those needs are only meant to be met by the Lord.
Jim: Erin, what you just said is so critical and I think is one of the “ah-ha” moments here, that women would have that expectation that all their needs can be met by their imperfect men. Um, that’s not healthy, is it?
Erin: You know what? It’s not only not healthy; it’s not how it was created to be. We were created to be rooted in the Lord. We - there’s a need in us for that, for him to define our value, to give us our worth. He is the one who says all through Scripture, how amazing He created us in His image, that we are His treasured possession. We’re daughters of the most High King. Our husbands can come alongside of us, but we can’t look to them to fulfill those needs. They were not created - that’s not what God had in mind. We come together as teammates, as - I’m his helpmate. It’s not that I come to him to fill all of those needs.
Greg: You know, for me, I think one of the - the best questions that we can ever ask in a marriage is not how do we have a better marriage? I think that actually - that is the worst question.
Greg: Well, because I can’t control Erin and it takes two of us to have a great marriage. I think the best question that we can ask in our marriage is how can I be a better spouse? And that was really what we were trying to do...
Jim: So, look - look to yourself first for improvement.
Greg: It’s based off the greatest commandment. So people are goin’, “I’m not sure this is even in the Bible.” You know, the greatest commandment says, that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And then we are to love others how? As we love our self. And that’s why for this book really what we were trying to do was to say how do we take a concept like honor, so cherishing one another, how do I apply it to myself first? Because if I don’t value me, then there - I’m gonna have such a hard time valuing my wife. And then, how do I value my marriage? So, that’s what - what was unique about this book, is that every one of these concepts first is applied to how does a woman put that into her life? How does she make that happen because again, the idea is that - that as an individual, I cannot just influence my marriage, I can change my marriage. And I think that’s the misnomer. The myth is, well, I mean, I really can’t do it - maybe I can influence. No, I’m tellin’ ya. We can change. Think if, Jim, if you and I are playing ping pong, all right?
Jim: I’d beat ya!
Greg: Well, you would beat me. I don’t - so, I wouldn’t even try to play ping pong.
But let’s just pretend that you were allowing me to participate, you know, feel good about myself. If you and I for all the years, we just play ping pong year after year the same way, hit the ball the same exact way, hold the paddle in the same way, all I have to do to change things is to put a little bit of spin on that ball. And even if you try to hit the ball the same way as you’ve always done, it’s gonna come off your racket a little bit different because I have done something different.
That is true for marriage. Our marriage is a system and any time one of us does something different, it will change. I’m not saying that it’s gonna change for the positive. I’m not gonna...
Jim: It goes both ways.
Greg: It can go both ways and it might not get you everything you’re wanting but the fact is, that - that that’s the power that we have as individuals, is that when we do something different, “So how can I be a better husband?” “How can I be a better wife?” When we focus on that, that’s really where true change can begin to happen.
So, for all the - the women who are so discouraged right now, saying, “You know, yeah, this is such a mediocre marriage. You know, I’m so frustrated and he’s just not doing this or not doing that.”
I get that. I mean that - I hate that for you, but I’ll tell you what, that God’s given you the strength and the ability to make some changes and that will impact your marriage. And that’s really was the design of this book. What can you do as an individual? And then how can you come alongside your husband? And then what can you ultimately do for your marriage?
Jim: Erin, we’re comin’ in for a landing. I need a practical application. I think there’s so much, we need to come back next time and we’ll do that. But you talk about something in the book called the “bewitching hour.” Now as Christians, “What? What are you talkin’ about?” But you’re just talking about a predictable chaotic time in your home and how that impacts the environment and how it sets it up for disaster. What did you mean by that in your book?
Erin: You know any mom out there knows that the 5 o’clock hour is the hour of chaos, the bewitching hour. If you have a colicky baby, they’re screaming. You’re trying to make dinner. You’re helping with homework. Kids are trying to rush out the door to practice.
Jim: Colicky teenager!
Erin: AWANAs - yes. Everything - it’s the meltdown hour. And yet, typically Greg is walking through the door right during that time. And so...
Greg: You’re welcome!
I love ya.
Erin: And so, you know, there’s a choice that we have in that chaos and it’s so critical and it’s something so simple. It’s how then do we reunite with our spouse? It’s a choice that we have to simply set things down, amidst all the chaos, amidst the crying, the temper tantrums, you know, either from a toddler or a teenager. And you know, to simply greet our spouse and honor them, value them as they’re coming back into your presence.
Jim: You know what? I think that is a great place to pick up next time, is how do you choose differently? Because I think we fall into patterns that are comfortable and we don’t even feel that we’re making a poor choice. It’s just coming naturally. So, let’s pick the conversation up next time to talk about how we can choose to reflect God’s heart, yes, even in our marriages. Can you stick with us?
Erin: Yes, that sounds great.
John: Well that’s part one of a great conversation we had with Greg and Erin Smalley, talking about their book,.
Jim: I really appreciate the insights that Greg and Erin provide through broadcasts like this one, their books, and the conferences where they are speaking for Focus on the Family. Not only are they experts about how to have a good and godly marriage, they’re also vulnerable about their own mistakes - that’s probably what makes them so attractive to all of us is they talk about those mistakes. And they’ve also talked about what they’ve learned together as a couple which is the positive side of all of it.
Marriage can be a wonderful thing, but it takes a lot of work and sacrifice and that doesn’t come naturally to us human beings. We can’t just coast along, hoping everything works out. Because the reality is we often hear from husbands and wives who have a litany of complaints. And it’s all too easy to identify what your spouse is doing wrong. I’m guilty of it! But a key message from the Smalleys is this: how do we get to a better place as a marital team? Where do we go for help? And how do I work on my own issues, instead of blaming my spouse for all the problems? Well, here at Focus on the Family, we want to help you with all of that. We’re here for you. We’ve got the resources you need to build a solid foundation for your family based upon the principles found in God’s Word.
John: And the good news is God is doing incredible things through this ministry - impacting families in remarkable ways!
Jim: And I hope everybody that supports the ministry that that puts a smile on your face - it does me. We together are being used by the Lord to really impact people, and that is what it’s all about.
We recently heard from a woman who expressed that very sentiment. She sent us this comment: “From your marriage resources to Adventures in Odyssey, Focus on the Family was a constant influence in our household as my sisters and I grew up. And when my husband and I were ready to become engaged, he contacted your ministry; you directed him to materials that helped our marriage get off to a good start. We consider you a very valuable resource. My husband and I hope to start a family soon, and I want my children to be blessed by your ministry as I have been. Thank you!”
Man, I am so grateful that we can be a part - together, all of us - helping marriages thrive like that. And I wanna invite you to join us in this great work. Your financial gifts help us to produce broadcasts like this one, buy the airtime, and provide the tools and resources like our Counseling team or even the marriage intensives, Hope Restored, and so much more!
And if you’re able to give a gift of any amount today, I wanna say thank you by sending you a complimentary copy of the Smalley’s book,. Together, we can have a profound impact on marriages today and for generations to come! So please, contact us today.
John: Give us a call. Our number is 800-232-6459 - 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY - or stop by focusonthefamily.com/radio to donate and get a hold of the resources that you need.
Those resources would include a CD or download of our conversation, and we’ll include today and tomorrow in that MP3. Also a full list of the 10 ways that you can experience a more loving relationship in your marriage.
And coming up next on Focus on the Family, you’ll hear more from Greg and Erin about rediscovering the value of your spouse.
Erin Smalley: So when we’re grounded, when we’re spending time with the Lord, when our eyes on are on Him, then it’s easier to remember just what a precious individual you’ve married.
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Greg SmalleyView Bio
Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the National Institute of Marriage. He is the author of 12 books including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage, Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage and The DNA of Relationships.
Erin SmalleyView Bio
Erin Smalley serves as the Marriage Strategic Spokesperson for Focus on the Family's marriage ministry and develops content for the marriage department. In addition to her work at Focus, Smalley is a conference speaker. She presents with her husband, Dr. Greg Smalley, at marriage enrichment seminars where they guide husbands and wives in taking steps toward enjoying deeply satisfying marriages. She also speaks to women on faith, family and the importance of healthy friendships.