Dr. Greg and Mrs. Erin Smalley examine the various types of intimacy in marriage – physical, emotional, relational and spiritual – and offer advice for how a husband and wife can cultivate closeness.
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Dr. Greg Smalley: And the worst question you can ever ask in a relationship, in a marriage is, "How can I have a better marriage?" I think the better question is, "What can I do to be a better husband, to be a better wife?"
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John Fuller: Dr. Greg Smalley, reflecting about intimacy in marriage and he and his wife, Erin join us today on "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Today we want to help couples understand the depth of intimacy in marriage and it's more than just the physical component and so quickly we tend to lean in that direction. But there are so many components that add to intimacy like emotional intimacy, relational and spiritual intimacy. All those things actually contribute to the full story.
Greg and Erin Smalley are experts on this topic. They travel all over the country speaking at marriage retreats and conferences. In fact, for Focus on the Family they'll be doing about 15 marriage conferences in the coming year.
Here at Focus, we see marriage as one of the pillars of the family, if not the pillar. And that's one reason we champion it the way we do. It can be tough. The culture isn't totally with us any longer, but it is time for us to redouble our efforts to make sure our marriages are in a good place. They're our witness to the world, folks and if you're struggling, Focus is here for you.
John: And we always enjoy having Greg and Erin in the studio, as you said, Jim. They're on staff here and so, we get the chance to have them with us with great frequency and they head up the marriage effort here at Focus and do such a great work. I'm really glad to have them behind that.
Jim: Now how many of us are comin' to you, Greg and Erin sayin, "Hey, could you help me with this little problem?" (Laughter) In the hallway chat here at Focus, does that happen?
Dr. Greg Smalley: That's why we can't get any of the work done—
Mrs. Erin Smalley: Yeah.
Greg: --'cause we are helping with enthusiasm our team
Jim: That's good though.
Erin: Yeah, I sat in the chapelteria yesterday and just had a line, you know, set up. (Laughter)
John: Reception line. (Laughter)
Erin: Yeah, hopefully helping.
Jim: Not like Lucy, five-cent advice (Laughter) here.
Erin: That's pretty much what it was.
Greg: Actually they only go to Erin (Laughter), come to think of it.
John: No, that's why you and I have lunch, Greg.
Greg: That's what it is, yeah.
Jim: You know what? Erin is really the nicer of the two of you, I gotta tell you.
Greg: I know. I'm just the trophy husband. (Laughter) I'm just here to look good.
Jim: Well, listen, it is great to have you back here at the microphones. I know you're walkin' in the door each and every day and we so appreciate it, your dedication to marriage. Greg, let me ask you that. Some Christians, married Christians are saying this is such a struggle. I feel like givin' up. Just hit us right now with that one. Why should we not give up as Christians in our marriages?
Greg: Because with God, through God, not only are all things possible, but there's always hope. I mean, what I love is that He is always rooting for our marriage. It was His idea. He has given that to us as a gift.
Greg: So, He's always there and Erin and I have been through hard seasons. We've been through dark times. There's been moments that I didn't know how it was gonna work out, if we could pull this off, stay married. And yet, God was always there. Just keep goin'. You can do this, providing, bringing people, bringing mentors, bringing shows like "Focus on the Family" just to help us stay strong.
Jim: Well, and I think that's what's great about how you approach it. You're real. You're authentic and you draw on those feelings and those difficulties that you've had. So it's not like you've lived a pristine life, even though many people would think, you know, you're the son of Gary Smalley. Ah! (Laughter) And you know.
Greg: That's what I tell Erin.
Jim: How could you have not have caught this? But you know, you even talk about how your dad and your mom didn't always get along.
Jim: I can remember one time Jean said to me, this is a few years ago thankfully, she said, "I love you; I just don't like you right now." (Laughter) Man, that's like ouch! Why would you not like me?" (Laughter)
Greg: It seems impossible, I know. I know the feeling.
Jim: Let me ask Erin, why would somebody say that? Have you ever said that to Greg?
Erin: Never. (Laughter) Never, but I was nodding my head with you said it.
Jim: Yeah, [I] resonate.
Erin: Yeah, but I mean, there [are] days that you're not gonna like each other and you know, I just think it's so important to surround yourself with community that's gonna help you, empathize and see the other person's point of view and validate you and just walk with you and push you, propel you forward in your marriage and not give you the advice to walk away.
Jim: Yeah and that's what we want to talk about today, is how do we develop this? You've written a great book and we've touched on it a couple times on the broadcast, Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage. And first of all, your sense of humor is terrific, although you need to channel it. I could tell you guys could tear each other apart with it, too. But one of the funniest stories I love about you two is when you're first married and Greg, you almost took your wife out with a bag of laundry. Just refresh my memory on how that story went, because it is so funny. Every guy would love to try this, but we would say don't do this at home.
Greg: Yeah, you're just tryin' to get me in trouble, 'cause it's reminiscing.
Jim: I'm goin' right for it. I'm watching Erin's face in sync.
Greg: Yeah, it hurts me.
Jim: What happened?
Greg: I think we had woken up [in] kinda this bad mood.
Erin: Yeah, we woke up just irritated with each other.
Jim: Married about a year or two.
Erin: No six months.
Jim: Oh, six months, good.
Erin: Six months.
Greg: It's even better.
Erin: This was early on and I had to go to work and we were just fighting back and forth, bickering like we often did that first year. And I finally set a limit with Greg and said, "Okay, no more talking. Stop, no more. This isn't goin' anywhere. I don't know what the problem is, but I'm gonna go to work. I'll be back and we'll figure this our when I get home."
So, I took one step outside the door and I pop my head back in and made one more smart comment. You know, I like the last word and off I went.
Jim: And where did you live? Describe the location.
Erin: Denver Seminary, the top floor, fourth floor.
Jim: Denver Seminary (Laughing).
Erin: So, I left and I went down, you know, four flights of stairs and was gone.
Greg: Yeah, so there I am all by myself. She gets the last word in. I had more that I wanted to share, but she's gone. So, I had promised that I'd get our laundry together, take it down to the first floor to the laundry room. And I'm gettin' it all ready and I kinda drag this bag, full bag of laundry out onto the little balcony and I was just gonna drop it so I could go down, first floor, pull it right in.
John: A matter of convenience.
Greg: Thank you, see, I thought it was a great idea. So, as I get the laundry bag out there, I mean, it's huge. I mean, it's stuffed, completely full. I'm about to let go when I notice Erin's walking on the first floor right towards me. And it's been about 10 minutes, so there she is. Well, I thought it would be funny if while she walked by, what if I accidentally dropped the laundry bag right next to her and then she'd look up and I would, you know, "Ha! Last word that!" So, I'd get the last word.
Jim: But the key is you were trying to go right next to her.
Jim: And how'd that go?
Greg: Well, I did let loose of the laundry bag (Laughing) and it actually hit her, hit her right on the side, like clipped on the side, but it launched her. She goes flying. Keys go flying. Her purse goes flying. She lands on her back looking up at me as I'm looking over, thinking, "Oh, man."
Jim: That's not good.
Greg: (Chuckling) I'm in trouble. Well, she shoots up, races up the stairs. She's coming right at me.
Greg: I mean, she's gonna throw me off the balcony. And so, I did what any real man would do. I ran back into the apartment and locked the door. (Laughter)
John: You locked the door.
Jim: You didn't run to her arms and say, "I'm sorry; I'm so sorry. I meant to hit close to you, but not on you."
Greg: She would've thrown me over. (Laughter) You don't run to your spouse in those moments. You run away.
Jim: Okay, so there you have it. I would say most intimacy, no matter what kind—emotional, spiritual, physical—was pretty much cut at that moment. (Laughter)
Jim: So, how do you begin to repair that? How do you come back around and (Laughing) start to say, "Okay, I want to connect with you?
Greg: You know, actually there's a great verse in Hosea 2:14, to where God is trying to win back His bride, the children of Israel. And He says, "Therefore, I will allure her. I will speak tenderly to her." And what I love about that verse is, He gives a great way to begin to really reconnect and to cultivate that intimacy.
The word "allure," I mean, think of like if you're fishing. You're throwing a "lure." You're trying to capture someone's attention. So, at that moment and really that season in our marriage, I mean, Erin was hurt, frustrated, disconnected, probably was turning away from me symbolically.
Greg: And so, to allure her means to capture her attention. Like how do I get someone who's mad at me to turn back towards me? And God gives such an amazing answer when He says, "I will speak tenderly to her."
Jim: Well, and I'm sure, Erin, at that point, you didn't have the perspective as a couple to really understand that. This is now years of development where you guys had to go through some hard stuff.
Jim: And you know, what would you say to that younger couple that you didn't have in the moment? How could they have that kind of disagreement or something else and begin to mend that fence tonight? How would you have done it differently in the first six months of your marriage if you had the knowledge you have today?
Erin: You know, back then, I mean, I can't imagine anyone else going through that scenario and if you have gone through that, I am so sorry. However, you know, I just encourage you to hang in there. Again, surround yourself with good community and seek the Lord with, you know, all your heart to just really ask Him what He would have you to do.
You know, really the thing that we didn't understand back then is the impact that this stuff was having on our heart. It was closing our hearts down, hardening our hearts toward each other. And then that impacts your relationship, because you can't get away from it. Everything they do, everything they say, you're gonna see it through a negative lens because of a closed heart. So, be aware of where your heart's at and turn toward the Lord.
Jim: I like that point you're making to hang in there, 'cause I think today too many young couples particularly, but some older couples, decide just to give it up, rather than to learn in the process how to treat each other better and then apply that in the years ahead and in the moment they're in. Instead we say, "You know what? It's not workin'. Let's just give up."
Jim: And that's not the right answer.
John: Well, and I'm still thinkin' about the laundry incident here. (Laughter)
Greg: Thank you, John.
Jim: Well, that kinda got you there.
John: Well, there are moments where you really don't like each other. How in the world do you take a step toward intimacy when everything in you is saying, I just could care less?
Erin: Well, thankfully for Greg, I was a nurse and so, I had a 12-hour shift to go and work. (Laughter) So it gave us a little time to get some perspective.
Jim: Feel sorry for your patients. (Laughter)
Greg: I'll get blood drawn from you! (Laughter)
Erin: Yeah. (Laughter)
Jim: What happened at home, man? You're being so mean. (Laughter)
Greg: Sorry, I think your perspective has to change. It's in those moments that I'm shut down, mad at her, who am I thinkin' about?
Greg: Well (Laughter), I'm thinkin' how hurt I am, but I'm really very aware of what she could do differently. And in my mind, I'm runnin' through a list. If she did this different, this different and the worst question you can ever ask in a relationship, in a marriage is, "How can I have a better marriage?"
Jim: 'Cause it'll always focus on the other person.
Greg: Exactly, it takes two people to have a great marriage. I think the better question is, "What can I do to be a better husband, to be a better wife?" And in those moments when we're hurting, if I can shift it to, what can I do? What can I choose to do? I go back to that Hosea verse. God shows us that He pursues His wife, the children of Israel. He didn't wait. He was hurt. He was justified, based on their infidelity towards Him. But what does He do? He humbles Himself. He pursues her and He starts by being tender. There's a formula right there.
Jim: Greg, another funny component here is, you describe Erin as your 10-cow wife.
Greg: Oh. (Laughter)
Erin: Here we go.
Greg: You guys are working me over today. (Laughter)
Jim: Your sense of humor is quite unique, how Erin might be described as a 10-cow wife. Okay.
John: There's context there.
Jim: Go ahead. Well, I need to hear it, 'cause I don't know what it is.
Erin: There is context and crazy enough, this happened when we were dating. (Laughter) So, I don't know how he quite allured me in and drew me in, but we were … I can remember it clear as day. We were sitting out by parents' pool. We were raised in Phoenix, Arizona, so sitting out by the pool one night.
And I just wasn't sure where the relationship was going. And so, as I am, you know, a little bit more on the assertive side, I asked him. I'm like, "Where is this going?" And he proceeded by telling me, "I know exactly how I feel about you. I see you as a 10-cow wife." (Laughter) And I literally sat there goin', "Are you kidding me?"
Jim: No, you weren't enamored by that?
Erin: No, not whatsoever. (Laughter)
Greg: Well, in defense of myself, I had literally just read this fictional story about a guy who lived in this island somewhere in the Pacific, where the custom was that to get the girl, that you had to give the dad so many cows. (Laughter) And so, like the one cow would buy, you know, a very plain, average, on up to like a five-cow is like the best woman in the island.
Jim: So, five cows is top notch.
Greg: It was top notch.
Jim: So, he was doubling down there, Erin.
Erin: He was.
Greg: He gives eight cows for this very plain woman, so everybody's laughin', thinking he's been taken by the father-in-law. His explanation moved me. He's like, "Imagine when the women talk about how many cows were given for them," he goes, "I didn't want my wife to say, "Well, you know, he only paid one cow." He goes, "I wanted her to know that she was the most valuable woman on the island." So, he goes, "I paid eight cows.
And I loved that, so I was just trying to convey, you were so valuable to me, that I would pay 10 cows for your hand in marriage. I value that much; I love you that much.
Jim: Now I know you're the counselor, but (Laughter) can I counsel you for a minute? Did you share this story with Erin before you told her she was a 10-cow wife?
Greg: I didn't.
Erin: No. (Laughter)
Jim: (Laughing) Just a bit of advice.
Greg: But it could've been better had I had done that first, but it got her attention though. And I'm telling you, it was--and I'm not making this up—it was two weeks after that, that I proposed to her.
Jim: So, you saw through that little problem.
Erin: I gave him the benefit of the doubt (Laughter), you know and believed that truly the story was about the 10-cow wife, not that I was a cow.
Greg: It was all about value. I mean, that was the point. I mean, it was how much I valued her.
John: So, if Jean doesn't hear this, Jim and you go home tonight and you could try to tell her that story.
Jim: I think I'll start (Laughter) the other direction and, "Hey, I heard this great story."
Greg: I've got better stories now.
John: You're a 15-cow wife.
Jim: That's one of several truths that you mention in your book, Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage. And that is the truth of honoring each other. Another one I wanted to touch on was that true love serves. This can be a delicate one, because you gotta negotiate that a bit, don't you? What does it look like in a healthy marriage to serve one another?
Erin: You know, there's such a concept that can change around this area, because really when you talk about serving each other, it is absolutely relevant that you have that attitude in your marriage, especially when it comes around the household chores and household duties and you know, just having the attitude and introducing the attitude that we are a team, that we're on each other's side, that we're in this marriage together.
Greg: For me, I love how often in the Bible God pairs the idea of love with sacrifice, with serving. "For God so loved the world that He what?" That He gave His only Son. No greater love than this, than when a man lays down his life for his friend. Jesus says that this is then how we know what love is, that Christ came to die for us, so we ought to lay down our life for others.
That has just radically transformed my idea of loving her, is really about [the fact that] the evidence will be my ability to serve, to sacrifice, to give up something that I value—my time, my resources.
Greg: But I mean, but imagine seriously though, if when we're faced with figuring out who's gonna do what or making decisions, what if we both started from a standpoint of, how could I out-serve you? How could I sacrifice for you?
I mean, imagine two servants trying to out-serve one another first and foremost. That's gonna solve every argument we get into or every battle over who does what. I tell you, it has radically transformed just how I approach making decisions with her. Is this something that I could sacrifice for her?
Greg: It's a great way to start.
Jim: I think there's a lot of friction around that issue of serving each other.
Jim: And it's a hard thing to do and I think in part, because we have to give of ourselves and that's what I think at the core is the issue of marriage. That's why God did it the way He did it so we could become more like Him. How is Christ? He's selfless.
Jim: And it's really hard for us human beings to do that.
Greg: He's the "Sacrificer."
Jim: Let me go back for a moment though to true love seeks God. Now again, these are the secrets of intimacy and this is listed as No. 2. But one of the things sometimes for me, I can especially (Laughing) during football season—you ready for this confession—you know, I get a little more lax about other spiritual intimacy things, like praying together and doing things together that lift up God in our home.
And it may be a little bit of an exaggeration about football season, but I think a lot of times men are distracted. We've got a lot goin' on at the office. We got all these things happening. And maybe Erin, you should address this as a wife. Where do men fail in that area of spiritual leadership, spiritual intimacy for a woman? How could we do it better?
Erin: You know, so often I believe that men feel like they're not doing it good enough, that they're not showing up the way their wife wants them to. And as a wife, as a young wife, I really was discouraged with Greg and how I believed that he should be showing up.
And the truth was, he was doing a lot, but I was choosing not to see that. And so, just to the … especially the young wives out there, you know, encourage your spouse. You know, we're called to encourage one another daily and so, do that. Watch for what he is doing versus what he's not doing.
Because as a young husband, Greg was growing and maturing and developing into a leader, a spiritual leader of our home. And it's taken some time. And he was doing things back then. (Laughter)
Jim: What a big smile on him. (Laughter)We're all about the laughter.
John: It's any day now.
Erin: And we're (Laughter) still waiting. The egg's about to hatch.
Greg: Twenty-five years later.
Jim: But no, we're all connecting with it because we're all guilty of it. We're not measuring up in so many ways.
Erin: Yeah, he's learning and growing and developing and 25 years later I can say that he's doing a whole lot. And I don't know if I was choosing not to see it all along, if my vision has changed, but I also see a man who is leading our family very well.
John: And there was something in your book that reinforces that. I think you wrote about be realistic; don't expect perfection.
John: And that's a really good distinction, because neither one of you is gonna do everything just the way the other spouse wants it done, right?
Greg: It comes down to being aware of what are my expectations of how we will have a spiritual relationship, 'cause it may actually look very different, but it doesn't mean that it's still not a good spiritual relationship.
I know for me, I feel the closest to God outdoors. There's something about being the mountains. I love being in Colorado. It can be on the stream, in the mountain[s]. We hike a lot and when I'm in those situations, I can't help but to talk about God.
Just the other day we went for a walk through our neighborhood. Found there's a new little road I hadn't seen before and then there was a tiny little mountain with a little rock outcrop and we climbed up just through our neighborhood, climbed up on this. Had this amazing view. We just sat there and I just took her hand and we started praying. We prayed probably 20 minutes.
Well, that's not normal. I wish it was, but I think a part of what I've learned is one way to lead her is to [say] let's be outdoors. Let's go for a hike. Let's go for a walk. I get inspired. I want to talk about spiritual things. And so, I think a part of it is learning, too where are places that your spouse really connects with God.
For Erin, she grew up in a more traditional spiritual home to where when she's in church and taking communion, for example, man, she is just is so connected to God. And for me, that's an opportunity to grab her hand and just participate with her in communion in a different way, 'cause I know how important it is for her.
Jim: I don't know if this is too general of a question, but when that intimacy is broken, whether it's spiritual, emotional or physical, what can a couple do or what can one person in the marriage do to begin to rekindle that? I know there [are] uniquenesses with each category, but is there kind of a general theme that I can apply tonight that might help mend some of that broken intimacy?
Greg: I think when people are frustrated with each other, when they're hurt, when it's a hard season, one of the first things that goes out of the relationship is a curiosity, is an interest to stay current in your spouse. And so, if Erin and I aren't connecting, man, we all change, different seasons. Our oldest daughter's getting married. Erin might need to be loved by me in a very different way.
And so, if I'm not feeling the connection, a very simple thing that I could do is to say, "Erin, what is something that I could do that would speak love to you? What do you need from me right now in this season to connect?
And usually she'll be able to go, "Oh, well, actually right now, man, just goin' on walks, you know. In this season, I just need to be out of the house, away from our other two kids and let's just walk and talk."
And so, I have to have an attitude that one lifetime isn't long enough to know her and therefore, I want to stay updated, current. Tell me what is one thing that I can be doing that would help you feel loved? And that usually gets me something that I can do.
Jim: Well, and this has been such a good conversation. I've actually got three or four additional questions and I think, John, we could move those to the website. These are the things related to physical intimacy. That'll be a good thing to do.
Greg: Just talk about that now. (Laughter) Come on.
Jim: Well, we'll run out of time. So, let's do that. So, if you want to hear more of this conversation specifically on that issue of physical intimacy, come to the website. We call it a web extra and you can listen there.
Here at Focus, we want to help you go deeper in all these facets of your marriage, of your parenting, of your family and what you're goin' through. So, if you're in a spot where this is a difficult conversation to listen to because you're hurting, call us here at Focus. We're here for you. We've got resources and tools, such as Greg and Erin's book, A Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage. We want to be able to provide that to you and I think, John, for a gift of any amount, I mean, whatever you can do to help cover the postage, perhaps do more so we can take care of others, we would appreciate that, because many people will call today saying, "I can't afford it, but I would like the book." One, call if you need it; two, support us so we can provide that resource.
John: And you can donate and request resources like that book and a CD or a download of this program at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioand while you're there, look for a free downloadable pdf that can help you with a list of ways to cherish your spouse and it'll give you some fun suggestions for easy memorable dates. And then as Jim mentioned, you'll find a link for that web extra, that video of our further conversation on physical intimacy.
Now if you'd like to talk to somebody here at Focus on the Family, our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Well, thanks for listening to "Focus on the Family." I'm John Fuller and tomorrow, you'll hear from former drug addict, Jacqui Strothoff as she explains how you can share your faith with people you encounter.
Mrs. Jacqui Strothoff: It makes you think when you see someone like that, you know, and you know you've got the goods and you know you've got what they need, you have to speak it. You have to tell them.
End of Clip
John: You'll hear how Jacqui heard the Good News from somebody that she met and it changed her life. That's next time on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Greg SmalleyView Bio
Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the vice president of Family Ministries 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.