Greg Smalley: 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.
Jim Daly: Why?
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?
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Dr. Greg Smalley is back with us again today on Focus on the Family, along with his wife, Erin. And they’re describing better ways husbands and wives can work through expectations and disappointments, and experience the kind of marriage that God designed for us. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us today. I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, we had a wonderful conversation last time with the Smalleys, and if you missed that, get a CD or download. Or get the app for your smartphone. It’s really easy to do. This is good stuff that every marriage really needs not only to survive, but to thrive as a couple.
And I want to challenge those of us who claim the name of Christ. In a culture where marriage is constantly being redefined and often degraded, we need to show the world something better. We don’t have to be perfect but better is a good goal. We have to live out God’s Word in how we love and serve our spouse, and when you do that, you’ll experience a more fulfilling relationship.
Greg and Erin are experts in this field - they devoted their lives to bettering not only their own marriage but everyone else around them as well. They head up our marriage ministry team here at Focus. And I really appreciate their insights, their humor is just like Greg’s dad, Gary - so rich - and their vulnerability about the challenges that they’ve faced in their own marriage. That I think is what attracts people to them - they’re very open about their shortcomings. And I’m looking forward to part 2 of our discussion.
John: And the Smalleys have written a wonderful book. It’s called The Wholehearted Wife: 10 Keys to a More Loving Relationship. And incidentally, that book was co-written with Greg’s dad, the late Gary Smalley, who was a great friend and one of our most popular broadcast guests. Now you can get the book at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 800-232-6459. And here’s how we began the second part of our conversation with Greg and Erin on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Uh, let’s talk about that value again of nourishing your marriage. We talked last time at the beginning about statistics that show that about 80 percent of women um, are feeling lonely in their marriages. That’s a big number, 80 percent. Erin, you’re concerned about that, aren’t you? Because a Christian marriage particularly should have a lot more hope in it, correct?
Erin Smalley: And as a wife, I know and I’m sure there’s many out there listening that really, we desire more than that. We want a great marriage. We want a great relationship. No, we can’t control our spouse, our - our husband. We can’t change him. But we sure have the power to influence.
And so I love Ephesians 6:7; it says, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not man.” And so, really, when I show up as a wife, I want to serve - I want to serve the Lord. I want to serve wholeheartedly. I’m all in. I want to do everything I can that I can control and that’s me in this marriage relationship to influence and to impact this relationship.
Jim: And - and we left last time, talking about the choices that we make, our attitude. And you know, I feel that with Jean and me. I’m sure John, you and Dena...
Jim: ...have this. But sometimes just out of your own experience - your background - your nature comes out. And you default to that setting and something frustrates you or makes you angry and that’s where the evening goes. And now it - you gotta talk it through. What do you mean in the book about choosing a better path? How - how do we really choose to react to our spouse in a better way?
Erin: And really because often we’re not even aware of what we’re doing, of how we’re viewing our spouse, how we’re treating our spouse. And so, really it’s taking a step back and instead of focusing on him, which again, last time I said it’s really a lot more fun to focus on him, um, you know, to really take a look at yourself and just becoming aware of how am I seeing him? And how am I viewing him?
So, when we’ve been hurt, when we’ve been disappointed, we forget how valuable they are. And the bottom line, God - Scripture says how valuable he is that he’s made in His image. His value does not change because God says so. And so when we’re grounded, when we’re spending time with the Lord, when we’re filled up, when our eyes on are on Him, on the Lord, then it’s easier to remember just what a precious individual you’ve married.
Jim: Let’s talk a minute about what we bring into marriage. I touched on that. It - it tends to form our opinions and - and the way we react under crisis, or maybe just generally. And I see that. I can be really sharp with my tongue and my thoughts. I’m fairly quick, maybe not that quick in terms of responding to something. And - and I think for Jean and I, that’s where I - I’ve gotta be careful and mindful that I don’t use either the - kind of the sharp wit to cut down. And I - I do that far too often. And - and she’s very much a Golden Retriever.
Jim: And a very loving person, very kind person.
Greg: Sensitive relationally, yeah.
Jim: And so, my cute little darts that I give myself such credit for, actually are just crushing her.
Jim: And I’ve - I think I’ve got my hands on that far better than when I was younger and more immature in our marriage. I guess Jean will have to let me know which she will tonight when I get home. But - but that’s what I’m talking about. What - Erin, what did you bring in to your relationship with Greg? What family of origin things? What did you have to work through?
Erin: I had - I mentioned this yesterday, that I had a lot of um, I was lacking a lot of knowledge and skills with relationships. And so, I learned a lot from Greg’s dad and from other - from Bible studies from other women and - and really set off on a journey of learning and growing. And really I - communication wasn’t a strong point for me. Conflict, how to deal with conflict in a healthy way wasn’t a big strength for me. And then also anger was something that - I was raised in a home where my dad, he’s the - the most gentle spirit, but boy when he got upset, it was, it, you know...
Jim: It exploded.
Erin: It was an explosion. And so, often in our family, when we would work through something as a family unit, it was very explosive and very volatile. Versus Greg came from a family where that was not the case at all.
Greg: Oh, we - we avoided conflict. We would never raise our voices. And so, as Erin and I would get into a disagreement and the energy would go up and her voice would go up. I mean, it just - I didn’t know what to do.
Jim: So, you’re comin’ from really two opposite extremes.
Greg: Oh, very much so. Yeah.
Jim: Uh, how did you reconcile that? How did you learn that we’re both kind of in a not-so-good spot? Where’s good middle ground?
Greg: Yeah, I mean that was - part of our problem is that how we handle conflict ultimately is what we call, we’re both fighters. Like we’re gonna pursue. We’re gonna engage. And we want to battle this thing through. We want to talk it through. We want to argue it through. And oftentimes in a marriage you see one that’s more of a fighter. The other is a “flighter,” more of a withdrawer. But for us, oh, we were gonna toe to toe in the sense of we’re gonna engage and pursue one another and you know. And that’s what was so challenging, you know, for us.
It’s hard and it’s somethin’ that we still have to - to work on. I know just the other day, I was driving in the parking lot of our school, dropping the kids off. And it was - there was a lot - this was a while ago. There’s snow and - and we were late and I was frustrated with Erin, goin’, you know, I was needing to leave on time and whatever was goin’ on, you know, they - we couldn’t leave on time, so I was late. And literally, I wasn’t payin’ attention and I smashed into the back of this woman’s van.
Jim: Oh, my!
Greg: So, now, talk about being really late. So she gets out and so, we’re talkin’. And it was cold, so I brought her into my car, giving her my information. And so, she’s writing down my information of my license. And the radio was on. And so, all of a sudden a commercial came on. It was talkin’ about this - this father-daughter dance that was coming up in the Colorado Springs area. And all of a sudden it said, “And featuring special guest speaker, Dr. Greg Smalley.” And she’s looking at the license. She went, “That’s you.” And I went, “Yes, please don’t tell anybody about what I - what I’ve done.” I was so - I was just so - through all of that, I was just frustrated. I mean I - you know, I smashed her car, smashed my car. Now there’s all this damage I gotta pay.
And I remember calling her and just didn’t handle it right. And you know, I was frustrated and versus, you know, more than anything I think what I’ve learned and - and this is the whole point of the book is that, it’s not about how can I have a better marriage? It’s how can I be a better spouse? What do I need to learn? What I’ve learned is that I need a little bit of time before I call her, before I respond to her or it’s not gonna go well.
I need some time to pull back and especially to go to the Lord and try to get some perspective. And more than anything that I’ve learned about conflict, that’s what’s helped me, is that um, if I can just get a little bit of distance and then go to the Lord. And usually, it’s like, you know, okay, “Your daughter, You created her. What in the world - what is she doin’? You tell -” You know, but finally, in the midst of my prayer, I finally sink into, “God, what do I need to do? What are You - how are You gonna use this to reveal something about me that I need to - to work on?” And what I’ve found is that, when I focus on me in those moments to get my heart back open, then I’m able to come back and re-engage. And then we have a better conversation. The thing that messes me up is when I’m hurt, and frustrated and mad, if I go to her off the bat, it’s never gonna work ’cause I’m shut down.
Jim: And - and Greg, that really is the thing about setting patterns. That’s where you get into a habit and a pattern and then you don’t communicate and he just watches news, weather and sports and she’s doing other things. And you’re not having relationship. And then it snowballs, doesn’t it?
What do we need to as husbands? We said we’re gonna pick on husbands a bit. Let’s pick on ourselves. What do we need to do to better understand how to help our wives become wholehearted? Because we have a role in it.
Greg: Yeah. We are - I - I always like to think that part of my job is not to make Erin become more like Christ. Tried to do that.
Jim: Yeah, that’s not a good thing!
Greg: And it really doesn’t. Don’t say that out loud, by the way, but really I am also her helpmate. In other words, I’m helping her on this journey that she’s on with the Lord to become more like Him. So how can I help her? And - and I just - I always go back to Ephesians 5. I mean, when you think of that whole passage of Scripture, Ephesians 5:25 through 33, here’s what stands out to me for the man. Okay, Paul uses approximately 216 words in that section.
Greg: Approximately, okay.
Okay. Sixty-two of them are addressed to the wife; 154 of those words...
Jim: And most women right now...
Greg: ...are directed to the husband.
Jim: ...are saying, “See, it proves my point.”
Greg: Okay, that’s 71 percent of what Paul is saying is directed to the man. That’s a big deal. There’s something there that I really need to understand. So then...
Jim: And give us the nutshell of what he’s saying to us.
Greg: Yeah, I think what it comes down to, one, and again, we all know this, but you know, my job is to love her sacrificially. So, Christ gave up His life for the church. I am to love her that way, giving up what I want, serving her. I mean, we talked about this before. What would it be like in a marriage if every single day, that I woke up trying to out-serve her? I can’t - I - I would love it if she tried to do that. But again, I can’t control that. But what if that was my goal, is I’m gonna love her like Christ loved the church. I’m gonna sacrifice. I’m gonna give up my stuff.
And again, Paul says it over and over. I’m to love my wife as I love my own body. And then he says, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it. Guys, that’s it. I mean, if you did nothing else but focused on those two words to cherish her, to recognize her value, to really truly get - this is an amazing person. This woman that I married is just so valuable. King Solomon says in Proverbs that - that a wife is a man’s greatest treasure. I mean, think about that - she is so valuable, even if I don’t see it, even if I’m still mad her that I don’t get it, it doesn’t change.
So from that spot of - of cherishing her, then I’m motivated into serve her, to nourish her. So then it becomes, guys, just a matter of goin’, so what does Erin like? What does she need from me? What helps her to feel loved? When I do whatever. If I went on a quest to go, “Erin, just answer the statement, ‘I feel loved when you…’” You know, guys, write that down. You have been given a formula. There it is. And I think if we do those things, to cherish her, to nourish her, that’s it! I mean, that should be our focus, not on what she’s doing or not doing.
Jim: It’s hard to do as a human being...
Greg: It is.
Jim: ...but it’s the right thing to do. Erin, let me ask you though, because I think some of this healing needs to occur, where uh, you know, you deal with the past to kind of ask the Lord to get into that perhaps the dark closet of our life. And - and it’s not always the big things, you know, uh, pornography or something like that. These can be relational things. For example, you and your dad, uh, you felt like you had a breakthrough and a healing moment when it came to this dynamic that you learned as a daughter and the way that he would rage and how that would impact you. Talk about that. I think it would touch a lot of women.
Erin: You know, so often when you come from a home with a dad that rages or has anger, it’s something that is handed down. And it’s not something that we want. Because as a young mom, I swore - I was like, I will never take this into my marriage, into - I’m not gonna pass this on to my kids. But then all of a sudden, you’re frustrated. You’re hurt. You’ve got kids running everywhere, chaos. And suddenly, you find yourself snapping.
Erin: And you go back to what you were raised with.
Jim: What you experienced.
Erin: What we experienced. And really by making that vow, I’m not gonna do this, really what we’re doing is tying ourself to it. And if you are experiencing anger as a woman, more than likely - and as a man - more than likely someone in your family of origin also dealt with it and it’s something that’s been passed on.
And I decided, I was like, “Lord, I do not want to carry this legacy. This is not what I want to pass on to my kids.” And so, I - I started praying. And I don’t even know if Greg knew um, what was going on for me personally, spiritually, that it really was the prayer of my heart, “Lord, help me break this pattern. I do not want it.” And every time I would lose it, I would just feel horrible. I didn’t feel good about who I was, because that’s not who I wanted to be.
And so I would go to the Lord again and say, “Lord, please, take this away.” Well, I’m - this may not be how it happens for you, but this is how it happened for me. There was one day where I went to yell at one of my kids, poor soul, and I couldn’t yell. I started coughing. And to this day, when I’m standing at a soccer game and trying to cheer my kids on, I literally, I’ll scream and it will be this scratchiness in my throat. And it’s just a reminder to say, this is what God did. He healed me from that anger. He and I together broke that pattern.
Jim: How did that happen? What...
Erin: You know what?
Jim: ...happened in your life that it really worked?
Erin: Well, as I begin to understand anger, there’s so much underneath anger. Really, when you show up raging or angry and frustrated, there’s other emotions that are going on. Really anger is a smoke signal, is what we call it, that there’s something more going on. There’s something brewing underneath - fear, hurt, frustration, disappointment. Something is going on that’s leading you to this place of anger. So as I started to understand and like Greg talked about what I needed to do in those moments. As I started to feel my heart rate increasing and things intensifying, you really have to take a break and step back and to become aware. Because again, so often what we do, we are not aware of what’s driving it or even that we’re doing it. And so, to step back and really get in touch with what’s goin’ on right now for me. And you know, and to name it, to say, you know what? I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. Busyness can do this to us, when we go from one thing to the next, our heart closes. Our heart shuts down, to step back and go, okay, right now my heart is closed. And when our heart is - is closed, that’s the time that we’re gonna do - we’re gonna say things that are not reflective of who we want to be.
Jim: Did you have that moment with your dad where you were able to talk with him?
Erin: Yes and really, the great news is, that working through it, you know, I - I went to counseling. Greg and I spent numerous hours talking about this, that really I had released it to where I really went through a season of forgiveness of just a process of forgiving him and really landing at a place of, you know, I’m probably never gonna hear an “I’m sorry.” I’m not gonna hear a, you know, “This is what I did wrong.” And I really got to the place that I really didn’t need to hear that. I met him at Mimi’s, a restaurant and we were just sitting there talking. And typically, conversations with him would end up escalating, especially if it was about something in our relationship. And so, we - I sat down and he looked at me and he said, “I have a question to ask you.” And I literally went, here we go. This is how it always goes. And so, it’s gonna end up tense and I’m gonna have to really try to control this. And he looked at me and he said, “Erin,” he said, “zero to 10, how was I as a dad?”
Erin: And I almost fell over. I literally was dumbfounded. I didn’t know how to respond to that. And he said, “You haven’t answered.” And I said, “Dad, I gotta take some time to think about this.” And so, I did what any grown woman would do. I grabbed my cell phone and I ran into the bathroom and I called Greg.
Jim: Oh, wow.
Greg: I told her to rate him a 9.3...
Jim: Yeah, is that one of you - yeah...
Greg: ...because I wanted it to go well for me when I did that...
Jim: You did that long ago. It sounds familiar. But yeah, so, I mean, you’re partly in panic.
Erin: Yes. I...
Jim: How did you...
Jim: ...when you came out of the ladies’ room and sat down at the table...
Erin: I sat down and I - I - really, I had - Greg calmed me and he said, “You know, ask him why he’s asking you that?” So, I came back. I said, “Dad, why now? What are you looking for?” And he said, “You know what? When you get to the end of your life, you look back and there are things that you regret. And one of the things I regret is the anger that I brought into our house, how I treated your mom, how I treated you at times.” And tears started flowing down his face. And really honestly, never in a million years thought I would - would get to this place. And as he was talking, I said, “You know what, Dad. I want to be a great mom. Anger is something that I’ve had to deal with, as well.” I said, “You know, I’ve worked and worked to do things the right way but there are things I’m gonna have to go back and own and apologize for, things that I didn’t mean, things that I said, things that, you know, I impacted my girls - or my - our son, that I didn’t really mean.” And as I was talking, the Holy Spirit was telling me, “Tell him you’ve already forgiven him.” And I - I was like, uh, I’m not gonna - I can’t say that. And so, I started in. I said, “You know what, Dad? The things that you did great,” - he was a hair stylist. He always did my hair. He introduced me to some really high-quality hair products early on in life. And I said...
Greg: Yeah, thank you, Pat!
Erin: ...you know what, Dad? Yeah, I said, “Thanks a lot, Dad. You didn’t tell me these were so expensive. Greg didn’t like that.” You know we got married and...
Jim: Well, your hair looks great.
Erin: ...they were - they were no longer free. And I - you know, and I - I said, “But Dad, but the hardest thing was the anger.” And he said, “I know; I know.” And then I said, “You know what, Dad? The good news is that I’ve already forgiven you.” I said, “It’s done.” And the unreal thing is that in The Wholehearted Wife, in the dedication portion of it, I wrote it to three men: to my dad, to my father-in-law and to my husband. And again, the Holy Spirit said, “Show him.” And I - so, I pulled it up on my phone. I had a - an e-mail with it in it and so, I handed it to him. And as he was reading it, just the utter pain and pleasure. I mean it was all...
Erin: ...in one. It was just a restoration of the relationship, something I never, ever dreamt I would have this side of heaven.
Erin: And sweet Annie was actually with me through this whole conversation and she’s patting my face going, “Mommy, it’s wet; it’s wet.” And I’m like, “Yes, it’s - they’re happy tears, Annie, happy tears.” And walking out of that restaurant that day, our relationship will never be the same.
Jim: Well, a couple of things from that observation. One, for everybody, do what you can to heal the relationships now. Why wait? Um, why go to your grave not healing the most important relationships in your life? And if you even want to talk that through, if you don’t have Greg on the other end of the phone...
Erin: I know, your own personal counselor.
Jim: ...call us here - yeah, I’d say, call us here at Focus. Let us help you walk through that. What’s a good thing to ask? What’s a good thing to say?
Greg: You know, Jim, the thing, too, that I’d add in there is that what I’ve watched my wife do, so in spite of how I’ve treated her at times, in spite of what her dad has done, what I will say is, that some time ago she did make a decision that - that she had a choice in this. And either she could remain resentful, um, hurt, disconnect in that relationship, or she could figure out how to forgive and pursue her dad. And that’s what I’ve watched. She invited him to that father-daughter date night that I was speaking at. So he flew out. We flew him out and he got to be there. And I think that’s the point, is that even if we’re not gonna have a dad to pursue us, to say, “You know what? I was wrong and I love you” and bless us, give us that blessing, is that, the point of the book is that we can choose to do things that will impact a relationship. And she would never say this, but I know that God has used that persistence in her life and the fact that she got her heart back open to her dad...
Greg: ...and that paved the way. And I love that He - I hate to say “rewarded,” and I don’t think...
Greg: ...that’s what happened, but you know, I mean, it turned out great, but it may not for you. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is, that we respond and we make choices and we can influence and impact relationships just by doing some things differently. And that’s really what we were trying to - to help a woman. But I mean, it’s good advice for a guy, as well, is that - is it doesn’t matter what my wife is doing, that I can choose to show up differently. And those are the things that I want to do. That’s the kind of man I want to be. I think that’s what we’re called to do.
Jim: Well, and I think the key thing there, Erin, as I’m hearing you, is this idea that there are things again, in your past that will hold you back or spring you forward um, in your relationship with your husband. And that’s a profound thing. I was just thinking of you as a little girl with your dad in that moment and those things that you learned. I mean, in so many ways, we as fathers, are preparing our children, in this case, our daughters, and we’re failing in some ways as father, preparing daughters to be the wives that they should be.
And again, it’s amazing how it all ties together in God’s plan, when a daughter feels the right things and learns the right things from her dad. Um, she knows how to be treated. She knows uh, what it means to be manly in that power, that anger is not godly if it’s outside those boundaries of what the Bible talks about. You learn those things as a little girl. And you see them in your dad and you bring them into the relationship. How did that help you forgive Greg? How did forgiveness - how was that learned now as this relationship with your father is improving, how did you bring that into your relationship with Greg?
Greg: How did I get dragged back into this?
Jim: Well, to better understand who...
Jim: ...he was as a man.
Erin: And you know, really, forgiveness is a choice. And we are faced with multiple opportunities, pretty much every single day to forgive someone and to offer that. And it’s not something that’s always easy. It’s not something that is gonna - you know, we can choose forgiveness but the relationship may not be restored.
But like Greg was saying, it goes back to us and who do we want to be? In that journey that I went on of deciding that you know what? This is my father and I’m called to honor him and I’m called to respect him. It’s also in my marriage; I’m called to honor and respect my husband. And my heart has to be open and my heart is my responsibility, regardless of what I was raised with, regardless of what I learned.
As women, we can make choices to go on the journey of healing our hearts and doing some work to allow our hearts to be open and vibrant. John 10:10 says, “He came to give us life and give it to the full.” And part of having a full life is having an open, vibrant heart.
Jim: A vulnerable heart to risk.
Jim: That’s what we’re talkin’ about.
Jim: I think the Lord loves it when we risk, especially in this area of forgiveness. Go out on a limb. It’s amazing how God will show up for you.
Dr. Greg Smalley, his wonderful wife, wholehearted wife, Erin Smalley, you’ve written this book, The Wholehearted Wife and thank you so much for being vulnerable and being with us today. Thanks.
Greg andErin: Thank you.
John: And that’s how Jim Daly and I concluded our conversation with the Smalleys on this episode of Focus on the Family. And we hope were encouraged by their insights about marriage and family during these past couple of days. Of course, we’ve got that content available for you to listen to again. You can stream it from our site, get a CD or download or listen on the app. And then, we’ll have details about their book, The Wholehearted Wife, at our website. In fact, if you’d like a complimentary copy of the book, make a financial gift of any amount today and we’ll send that to you as our way of saying thank you for equipping and empowering other couples who need help with their marriages. Donate, get the book and the audio at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800-232-6459. 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And when you get in touch, we can tell you more about Hope Restored where we provide intensive counseling for those couples who are facing the end of a marriage relationship, or so it seems. Now we’ve heard from so many couples who have attended this 4-day intensive in Branson, Missouri. They had divorce papers in hand, but then God did a miracle, and today, the majority of them are together and they’re happier than ever in their marriage. So if you’re struggling, but you believe God can do something, call us about Hope Restored. Details at focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call.
Now next time on this broadcast, we’ll have advice for parents about helping your young child succeed in school.
Ellen Schuknecht: You need to let your child go and let them grow and have the initiative to try things out, to approach their teachers, to walk into the school alone.
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