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Practical Advice for Those Getting Ready to Wed (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 05/04/2015

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Authors Greg and Erin Smalley offer engaged couples practical advice in a discussion based on their new book, Ready to Wed: 12 Ways to Start a Marriage You'll Love. (Part 1 of 2)

Episode Transcript


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Jim Daly: Greg, the marriage team here at Focus on the Family reports that 93 percent of Americans say having a happy marriage is one of their most important objectives in life—93 percent! That's a big number. But a significant percentage of marriages, they will end in divorce and about half of all divorces will occur within the first seven years of marriage. Why?

Greg Smalley: You know, Jesus really gave the answer 2,000 years ago. I mean, listen to what He said. So He's giving us the why.

Jim: Okay.

Greg: He says that Moses permitted you to divorce because of the hardness of your heart, but that wasn't the way in the beginning. In other words, what He's saying there is, that when we get married our hearts aren't hardened to each other. We're open; we're alive. And yet, there are some things that happen along the way that if couples really understood what can happen, that they create ultimately a hardened heart, if they understood what this is, I tell you, people wouldn't have to divorce.

End of Teaser:

John Fuller: Well, some food for thought on today's "Focus on the Family." And we'll examine how to prepare for marriage and start that important relationship on solid footing and we'll also look at some false beliefs that can get in the way of a good relationship. I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim: What we're presenting today is one of our best of programs from this year. That means the response from you has been really high and we're coming back to reair it in December, which is what we've done, John, over the past few years. This is a conversation with our very own Greg and Erin Smalley about what it takes to have a successful, healthy and godly marriage and this is a great topic for single adults who may be thinking about that and dreaming about their future spouse, but it's also good information for us as parents. John, you have several young adults who are in the process of leaving your home.

John: In various stages, yes.

Jim: (Laughing) That's right and I've got two teenage boys who are gonna be ready in the next four or five years. These are the kinds of things we need to be talking about and I want to give them a picture of what it means to prepare for that marriage future and how to think about marriage in a healthy and godly way.

I really do appreciate how Greg and Erin have brought good leadership to our marriage ministry here at Focus on the Family. They've provided kinda that practical content and resources that help strengthen and save marriages day in and day out right here at Focus. Plus they're helping single adults think about family formation, as we call it. What do I have to do to be ready to marry well.

John: One of the resources that Greg and Erin have written is a book called Ready to Wed: 12 Ways to Start a Marriage You Will Love. And it features insights from a number of marriage experts. Learn more about that resource and other ways we can help you at or when you call 800-A-FAMILY.

And now, here's how we began this important best of conversation with Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin on today's "Focus on the Family."


Jim: Greg and Erin, let's take a look at the stat we just used, the 93 percent want a happy marriage. Interestingly enough, and I said this before John, MTV viewers—now these are younger kids, 14 to 24—they also said, interesting[ly], 93 percent of them said, "I hope that I can marry my one-time spouse and live with that person for the rest of my life." I think it was 70 percent of them felt it was unattainable.

John: Hm.

Jim: So, it's interesting. It's almost like God's imprint is there in the human heart, the desire to achieve it. It seems like it's in the 90's no matter who you are, that I want to meet my mate. I want to committed to that person for the rest of my life, but a large majority of people don't feel they can attain it. Why this disconnect?

Greg: Well, I love how you even said that. It's almost like God's imprint is there. I love one of my very favorite verses on marriage, [it] is Malachi 2:15 and out of The Message version of the Bible, it says, "God, not you, made marriage. So, His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. So, guard the spirit of marriage within you." That's significant. That's a great reminder that marriage is not man-made. You're right, that God's very DNA has been placed within us to be married. I mean, that's the—

Jim: Yeah.

Greg: --that's the first relationship He formed. You think about throughout the Scriptures, how many times marriage is used as an analogy between Christ and the Church and God and Israel and it starts the Bible. The Bible ends in a marriage. I mean, it's a part of His plan, His DNA. Of course, we know this.

Jim: You know, I was talking to a theologian just the other day and he said something to me that really grabbed my attention. He said, "If you think about it, Satan hates marriage. He hates what God created, because it was to reflect His image and that he hates God for doing it, because He chose to manifest His divine nature in human beings, through male and female, rather than through him and the angels." And that's what set him off. That was the rivalry that went forward. I've never heard it expressed that way, but it shows you why marriage is up against the ropes. Satan hates it, doesn't he, because it reflects the very image of God in humanity?

Erin Smalley: And I think, too, Satan knows the power of a marriage. I mean, it's two individuals becoming one. And if they're serving God and His Holy Spirit is part of that, that I mean, that's a powerful force. And the enemy knows what we are capable of when we are in healthy, sustaining marriages, that he's afraid of that.

Jim: Let's talk about how we get there. That's the focus of the program today, is family formation, marital formation and we want to help the singles. And so, if you're single, listen. And if you're mom and dad with a teenager or a 20-something, 30-something, this is for you, too, and this might be something you can pass along in the right way. That can be dangerous, but we want to put tools in your hands to have a good discussion about marriage. Let's talk about the idea of the soul mate. So many websites talk about, you know, do this test. And you know that probably has a positive aspect to it, but is there really only one person in this world for me?

Greg: No, there's no biblical evidence to support that God is a matchmaker. Of course, He has a will. I want to understand that. I want to be plugged in, connected, really walking in step with Him as I'm making decisions. But the hallmark of humanity is He's given us a free will. Why would He then reverse that and say, "Although I've formed you with a free will to choose Me or not, but I'm gonna choose your spouse for you." There is no biblical evidence to support that.

Jim: Now some people are going, oh, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. My husband and I, we feel like we were meant for each other. Just address them. I mean, that's a good thing. You want to be in love that way, but the idea that if you took a test and you came up as compatible, somehow that's the only way it can happen.

Greg: I think the problem is this. If I subscribe to this idea that Erin is my quote-unquote "soul mate;" in other words, God chose her from the very beginning of time to just be for me and it was … we had to figure that out and find one another, the problem is, is that what happens then when we encounter problems? When we encounter difficulties that will happen? If my belief is, whoa, God's ordained this; we shouldn't have problems. What's wrong? What's wrong with you? Oh, my goodness, maybe I missed it. Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe she is really not my soul mate.

See, the problem is, if I believe that it was all God's doing, then I can just kinda sit back and either God's gonna take care of it, so I don't really have to do much or if there's problems, then I'll say, "Ooh, I missed it."

Jim: Yeah, that's really interesting. The way I would like to say it is, that soul mates are developed or created. And that one person out there, it's not gonna happen just by accident. You invest in each other. And you talk about, think of this. You talk about arranged marriages, which happen still in the Middle East--

Greg: Uh-hm, absolutely.

Jim: --happens in Africa. And I've talked to those couples as I've traveled. The divorce rate in those couples is very low ironically and I asked a few of those couples. I said, "Why is that?" And they said, "Well, we learned to love each other." Isn't that interesting? They have an appetite to learn how to love each other. That's really a soul mate approach, isn't it? You learn to love another person.

Erin: Uh-hm and you get plenty of opportunity in marriage to learn to love the other person through the good times, the difficult times, you know, the joys, the challenges and it's a decision and it's a commitment. And so often these young couples are getting married and they're confused about why they're even getting married. They think it's because they've met their soul mate. Well, I often hear couples say, you know, they're married and they're off somewhere and they meet someone and they say, "Well, they were my soul mate. I feel it." And yet, that's not it. That's not why we should be getting married because we think we've met our soul mate.

Really when you look at the true purpose of marriage it's very different from a biblical standpoint. You think about, in marriage, Christ does many things in us as individuals through this relationship that we actually get the opportunity, as all of us who are married know, to learn more about who we are and who Christ is in us and that we have the opportunity to grow, to look more like Him through the challenges, because those challenges are there.

John: Erin, along those lines, what's wrong with wanting to get married to be happy? I mean, I got married to be happy. We all go through that, don't we?

Erin: Uh-hm, you know, there are many times that you're going to feel happy in this relationship, but what happens when you don't? If you're getting married to simply feel happy, we all know as married couples, that you know, you're not always gonna feel that. Feelings change. There's gonna be those challenges and so then, that's when you don't feel happy. If you're married to feel happy, you're really gonna questioning and doubting, is this really the right one? Is this my soul mate? Is this, you know, what God had intended for me? The intention in marriage wasn't to make you happy. The intention in marriage from God is to make you more like Him.

Jim: Hm, let me say, is it fair to say it this way, that once you say, "I do," 'cause of course, the Scripture's clear that God hates divorce, once you make that commitment, He's expecting you to fulfill the covenant promise that you've made. So, even if you're in that spot, I'm not saying if you're in an abusive marriage or something like that, where it's biblical to seek safety and all those things, but in the kind of the normal things of life, you're gonna encounter difficulties in your relationship, Christians and non-Christians.

Greg: Absolutely.

Jim: It's just the aspect of human nature that's real, but would you agree with that "I do" side, that once you say "I do," you gotta be all in.

Greg: Yeah, I love the word "commitment," meaning to decide. The root word of "decide" meant "to cut." In other words, we are cutting off any other option that would go against this decision that we've made. I remember the old explorer, Cortez. He was out for the Aztec gold. When he got there, all his crew wants to leave and return. And I love what he said. He goes, "No, we're not goin' back. We're gonna burn the ships. Our only option is to go forward." And I love that idea for our marriage, that whatever individual ships that Erin and I arrived in to our marriage, we've burned those a long time ago. There is no option. There is no going back.

Jim: So, you can't leave the harbor.

Greg: Right, divorce isn't an option. That word does not exist in our vocabulary, which Jim, I think it's significant, because it forces us to then deal with our stuff and to deal with our marriage and relationship stuff. If there's no other option, we're forced then to deal with that and that's a good thing.

Jim: Yeah and in hindsight or looking at it from God's perspective, I'm sure that's the formula for Him. He brings two people together. He hopefully gets them to commit to each other. Then you begin to work on those very selfish things that is, you know, intrinsic in human behavior. In fact, there's a difference between and you make that distinction, between selfish and selfless love.

Jim: And I really appreciate this, because I think it's the reason God has set marriage up the way He has, 'cause you have to learn to give unconditionally to the other person. And that is really hard for us as human beings. (Laughter) It cuts against our nature.

Erin: (Laughter) it sure does. And you know, and so many times couples will say, "We're getting married because we want to be loved and we want to find that one fulfilling relationship." And therefore, they're looking at it as what they're gonna get from this relationship, versus what they're gonna give. And you think about how Christ loved us. He gives us love. Therefore, in His model, we should be looking and learning, how do we selflessly love this person who's not perfect, who's not gonna always meet our needs, is not always gonna know what we're thinking? You know, but it …

Greg: I'm doin' my best!

Jim: But these are triggers, too, aren't they? I mean, those things that irritate you, there's reasons those things irritate you.

Erin: Absolutely and we all bring 'em right into this marriage relationship, especially early on, we become very aware.

Jim: Let's talk for a minute, because of the perfect one, the soul mate concept again, this idea of infatuation. I mean, when you meet, there is a certain level of infatuation.

Greg: Absolutely. Erin thought I was such a "hottie."

Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)

Greg: I mean, it's so embarrassing to say that.

Erin: And that changed.

Jim: Well, I would ask, you know, I'm not gonna speak on behalf of Erin—

Greg: Oh.

Jim: --but (Laughter)—

Greg: Sorry.

Jim: --but the point is, that something draws you together. It usually is physical at first. You're seeing somebody that you're attracted to. And then hopefully, it will develop into emotional intimacy, that kind of thing and then in the right course of time with marriage, physical intimacy and the great love story that God has for you.

But in that context, it has to start somewhere. Are we stunting our growth as human beings when we get stuck in the infatuation phase? And is that why marriages stall out? 'Cause you know what? After a couple years, I'm not infatuated with you anymore in your baggy socks and your dirty underwear. (Laughter)

Greg: Why are you lookin' at me? (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah.

Greg: Did Erin say that? (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah, she told me.

Greg: It's so true. If that is the basis of our relationship, this infatuation, that's great and see we need the feeling part. We need the passion. We need the infatuation. That's all good.

Jim: So, God put it there for a purpose.

Greg: Absolutely!

Jim: That's to draw you together.

Greg: Read Song of Solomon.

Jim: Yeah.

Greg: I mean, that's the whole book, is you get that feeling like, "Wow! That's what I want." But at some point, it has to move to this decision that I'm making that this is the person I want to spend my life with. I'll never forget John Trent, Dr. John Trent. He wrote a lot of books with my father, Gary Smalley. John was a mentor of mine, so when I was dating Erin and I really was thinking, wow, I think she's the one that I want to marry. I came to him and I just said, "John, how do you know? How did you know Cindy was the one you wanted to marry?"

I'll never forget what he said to me. He says, "Greg," he goes, "here's the bottom line." He goes, "There are a lot of girls out there that you could marry and you could have an amazing life with. It's the way God designed it. We can relate and there's lots of women out there that you could build a great life with. The question is, when you think about Erin, does it cause you tremendous pain to imagine a life lived without her?" And that was the moment for me that I really sat there and went, "You know what? That's it. When I think about Erin and I think about 50 years from now and we're sittin' on a porch, rocking," that's who I want—

Jim: Hopefully.

Greg: --yeah (Laughter). That's true. She might be helping rock me.

Jim: 'Cause you're gonna be about 90 at that point.

Greg: Exactly. (Laughter) You know, but that was the image that I went, you know what? That is. I love her and I want to spend a lifetime with her and that's my choice. And I think that, that's the beauty. Hey, in 1 Corinthians, Paul is saying to a widow, once she becomes a widow, she's free to choose whomever she wants to marry.

Jim: That's good evidence for that then. Let me ask you this. You said something that caught my attention. You said that living together, cohabiting has become the new engagement. Let me just give some context to that. We're preparing a film on the idea of dating and family formation and it's very difficult to find Christian couples who are not already physically engaged, just to get them on film to talk about their relationship. That right there is saying, the Christian culture is breaking down in this regard. Speak to that. Why is it happening? Why is living together or having physical relationship before marriage becoming much more common, even in the church?

Greg: Yes, it's becoming more and more accepted, the more we hear about it and people talk about it. I think the big reason is kids are afraid. These first-time, never-been-married kids are afraid. Maybe they saw their parents not make it. They see the divorce rate. They hear all this stuff, negative stuff about marriage.

And so, I think in their mind, let's try this out and let's make sure. So, I think actually, their heart's in the right place. They're going, I want to marry once, like you were saying at the beginning of the show, but I'm just not sure if we can do this, but if we live together first, then we can sorta try this out and make sure that we're compatible.

Erin and I, without judging that, here's what I would say to a couple doing that, thinking about doing that. Is that first and foremost, think about the message that you are sending to your relationship by making that choice. What you're saying is that I'm really not willing to go all in with you at this point. I kinda want to try this out. I think what you're doing is that you're infusing doubt into the very DNA of your relationship.

Jim: Right from the beginning.

Greg: And that's not a good thing.

Jim: Hm.

Erin: Well, you think about, when you're making your wedding vows, this goes back to what we were talking just previously, is that there's a commitment made. In front of the Lord, in front of your family and you're saying, "I'm in this for a lifetime." When you're cohabitating, you're bypassing that and you're not sending the message, "I'm in this for a lifetime." Really, I'm tryin' it out. I'm test driving. We'll see what happens. We'll see how it plays out. So, it is sending this message that, I don't know that you might be the one or you might not be, but when you stand before the Lord and you make that vow, that commitment, so often, we don't talk about that, that commitment's a big deal. We're laying the foundation of our relationship on a lifetime commitment.

Program Note:

John: Hm, well, that's Erin Smalley and Erin and her husband, Greg Smalley are with us on today's "Focus on the Family." We're talking about their brand-new book, Ready to Wed: 12 Ways to Start a Marriage You'll Love and we've got details about it and a little list there of some things that you can keep in mind as you progress in your relationship, hopefully toward marriage. You'll find those at

End of Program Note

Jim: Erin, let me push you a bit on what you just said, 'cause I think it's important and you can come and defend her there, Greg. (Laughter) But when you look at—

Erin: Helpful.

Greg: You're very strong, so (Laughter) I don't know what I could do.

Jim: --yeah, when you look at social critics, they'll claim that marriage is outdated. It's a human institution, which you know, all of us don't believe. I'm playing the opposite position here. And so, they'll say it's all a construct of humanity. I mean, for kids to be able to live together and try it out, and maybe I'm hopefully, putting a tool into the hands of parents, even Christian parents, that their 25-, 23-year-olds are giving them, saying, "You know, mom and dad, it's okay. We just want to try this. A lot of our friends have been divorced. We don't want to be in that boat. We think this is better." Talk to me as if I'm the one you're trying to convince as to why these aren't social constructs. This is not a human invention; it's how we honor God.

Erin: Uh-hm, you know, you look at Scripture and it says, God made marriage, not man. But then, this is what I would say to them. Why then does the research show whether it's, you know, from a Christian perspective or non-Christian perspective, that really couples who cohabitate have a much higher rate of divorce?

Jim: That's a very good point.

Erin: The research isn't based on a biblical construct. It's just straight research.

Jim: And why is that? Why is there a higher rate of divorce in cohabiting couples than couples that save themselves for marriage?

Greg: You are infusing doubt into the very fabric of your relationship. It's there. It'll always be there.

Jim: So, trust is not being built.

Greg: It rattles it. It damages it. It makes it very hard to feel safe and completely trusting and when you're infusing something like that into your relationship. I think it also sends a message that we are willing to make major compromises for some short-term gain.

Jim: Hm.

Greg: And that'll ultimately that's a pattern formation. In other words, what happens when you encounter other choices that you have to make? If you've been willing to compromise here, you might be more willing to compromise around some finances in your marriage, infidelity in your marriage.

Jim: Why is that so devalued today? I mean, Jean and I, that was our courtship. I mean, I remember our first date, I shook her hand. I think she thought I was weird, but I really wanted to make a commitment to the Lord, that I was gonna do this well. And you know, I think eventually, two or three weeks later after four dates, I think I kissed her on the cheek and then we were writing each other notes about could you be the one? You know, it kinda went the right way.

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: Now by God's grace. but I am I guess saddened that so many young couples today don't see the value, the gift that you're bringing into that relationship. Even if you were sexually active before, to recommit your past to the Lord and to say, "I want to do this part right, Lord. Help me to do that." Why is that devaluing occurring?

Greg: Sitting here listening to you, one thought that hits me is that I don't think that couples in our day and age have a different answer to how then do we prepare for marriage? I mean, very few couples end up getting good quality premarital counseling.

Jim: Hm.

Greg: So, if very few are doing that, I want to prepare, I want to stay married for a lifetime, but now in our culture, the only way to do that is to live together. I think that's a part of what we're trying to shift and say, actually there is another way, that one, maintains the integrity of your relationship, maintains the commitment part of your marriage. You don't have to make these kinds of compromises and you can be fully prepared. Eighty percent of couples who get quality premarital training, stay together.

John: Hm.

Jim: Wow.

Greg: There's no other way.


John: A hopeful word from Dr. Greg Smalley on this Best of 2015 edition of "Focus on the Family." And we so appreciate the expertise and heart that Greg and his wife have shared with us today and we're looking forward to hearing more from them next time.

Jim: John, I don't think we can stress enough the importance of this message and what Greg and Erin are getting across to us, especially in a culture where marriage is being redefined and not valued in the ways that God has intended. And far too many couples enter into a marriage commitment without good preparation or training for those years ahead.

And we hear about the aftermath right here at Focus all the time. They're calling for counseling and for help and we want to get ahead of that and to help couples with communication issues and financial stress and all the things that most marriages will encounter.

And that's why Focus on the Family is here and why we're covering topics like this one today. We want to provide you the preventative help to singles and engaged couples who want to build their relationship on a solid godly foundation that will last for a lifetime, not just a few years. And we need your help to do that. Producing programs like this one, resources like Greg and Erin's book, our websites and counseling team and other tools, you know, it costs money to do that.

And we depend upon your financial investment with us to keep the family ministry going strong. And I'm hopeful you'll agree with me the results are there. Last year alone through our research, about 130,000 marriages were saved and I believe and I'm hoping you do, too, that is a work that is worthy of all of our support. And I hope you'll join us today.

In fact, we have some special friends to Focus on the Family who would like to match your gift here at the year-end, dollar for dollar. So, if you are able to give us a gift of $75, they'll turn that into $150 and I'm grateful to them for the f un of that challenge to help us meet the budget and to you, for stepping up and putting the challenge back to them. So, together we're really simply trying to touch as many people as possible in the name of Christ. And I hope you will take them up on this opportunity.

John: And you can do that by calling 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or at . And please, let us say thank you for your generous donation of any amount by sending a copy of Greg and Erin's book, Ready to Wed. It might be that you're an engaged couple or you know a couple who could benefit from this great resource. Again, you can donate at .

And when you're there, you'll see a free list of 12 ways that you can start out a marriage relationship on solid footing. We've got that and details about our Best of 2015 collection of programs, encouragement to raise boys to be godly young men and tips on navigating your daughters through the romance and dating and how strength can be both a good thing and a bad thing in your marriage. And those are just some of the things that we address in these 14 top programs from the past year.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller inviting you back tomorrow for more marriage insights from Greg and Erin Smalley.


Greg: Sometimes couples sort of guard their relationship from the big things, but often what kills a marriage in terms of ultimately the hardening of the heart are these little small things, like when Erin does something that hurts me or I hurt her and we just ignore it. So, we just move on.

End of Excerpt

John: That's next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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More Episode Resources


Greg Smalley

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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 Smalley

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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.