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

Original Air Date 05/05/2015

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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 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


Year-End Fund Giving Promotion:

Jim Daly: Marilyn is still healing from the hurts of the past, but today her husband has once again, become the man she first married. Hi, I'm Jim Daly and because of faithful friends like you, we were able to give the gift of family to this hurting couple, offering them counseling and Bible-based hope for their broken relationship. Help us save and strengthen more marriages today. Please call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Your gift today will be doubled thanks to a matching grant. Thanks in advance for your support.

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John Fuller: This is John Fuller and on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, we're coming back to a best of program that we aired earlier this year on the topic of preparing for marriage and what it takes to have a successful thriving relationship as a husband and wife. Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin were our guests and last time, Greg shared this important observation.


Greg Smalley: 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.

End of Recap

Jim: This program was so encouraging, not only for single adults who are thinking about a future marriage, but for us parents who are raising teens and young adults who'll be getting married and starting families of their own. I often think about that with Trent and Troy. Who will they marry and will they be ready to be good husbands?

I appreciated the insights that Greg and Erin shared with us and it's no wonder they made it to the Best of 2015 collection of CDs and downloads this year. In case you're wondering, the set features Arlene Pellicane and how to build a dream marriage while raising children. That sounds like a challenge. Cynthia Tobias, talking about how to navigate the middle-school years. That was, I thought, one of the best programs. Of course, I'm living in that space right now.

John: Yeah. (Laughing)

Jim: And a powerful program about human trafficking, where a victim told us her amazing story and how she escaped from that slavery. And these are just a few of the programs in the collection and I want to encourage you to contact us about getting a copy of the set for yourself or maybe a family you know that would benefit from it.

John: Yeah, we have it on CD or a download, as you said and the number to call for details [is] 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or stop by to learn more. Let's go ahead and continue the conversation with Greg and Erin Smalley about the content in their book, Ready to Wed: 12 Ways to Start a Marriage You Will Love. Here's more from that best of "Focus on the Family" broadcast.


Jim: Greg and Erin, the conversation last time was fascinating. We talked about God's design for marriage and the need for commitment and that always brings up the question of divorce. In Matthew, Jesus explains that divorce is the result of our hard hearts. That's tough, but that's what He said. You guys often talk about that and your book gives specific reasons why that happens. Why do people's hearts grow harder toward each other?

Greg: It's a fascinating verse, Matthew 19:8, where Jesus is saying, in the beginning of your relationship, you were open. Your hearts were wide open. You had love towards each other. But then something happens that ultimately creates a hardness of the heart. And when we work with premarital couples, there are two things specifically that we're trying to help them to understand. First of all is that couples allow small little relationship germs to invade their marriage. That's first and foremost. There are some things that start happening, very small [things].

Jim: Well, give an example of what that can be.

Greg: Yeah out of Song of Solomon 2:15, I love this verse where it says, "Catch all the foxes (those little foxes) before they ruin the vineyard of love." These little small, little foxes are things like you talked about selfishness, poorly managed conflict, unrealistic expectations, in-laws--

Jim: Verbal attacks.

Greg: --can be a large fox (Laughing) at times.

Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)

Greg: But in other words, sometimes couples sort of guard their relationship from the big things, but often what kills a marriage in terms of ultimate hardening the heart are these little small things. Like when Erin does something that hurts me, I hurt her and we just ignore it; we just move on. Or I'm not serving her and I'm not sacrificing for her like you talked about in the beginning. It's these small little things that tend to really destroy marriages, because it hardens hearts over time.

Jim: Right, so for a young couple who is looking to get married, how do you teach them to think of the little foxes, to be mindful of these little things?

Greg: Yeah, I think first of all, we need to teach our young couples that love is not self-sustaining. That is such a huge myth.

Jim: But at that age, it's almost unbelievable. You say that and it bounces off of me like I've got a love shield around me. (Laughter) Ping!

Greg: Well …

Jim: 'Cause it doesn't make sense. I'm—

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: --so infatuated. I'm so in love with my fiancée or my—

John: You don't know how deep—

Jim: --girlfriend.

John: --our love is.

Jim: Yeah, they just don't have a good relationship like we have--

Greg: Yeah.

Erin Smalley: Uh-hm.

Jim: --even though they're 40 and we're 20.

Greg: And that's one of those myths and fallacies out there about marriage that somehow we can just be together and feel in love and then do all these other things—life and work and kids and church and the list goes on and on. And then somewhere along the line, we all of a sudden start drifting apart and there's a slow fade. And all of a sudden our love grows cold and our hearts harden and that's the death of a marriage.

Jim: Greg and Erin, you talk in your book, Ready to Wed, about 12 ways to have a great marriage. So, these are great tools for young people who again, are engaged or thinking about it. Let's hit some of those 12. We're not gonna cover 'em all. Let's post it on the website, John, so people—

John: Sure.

Jim: --can get a look at 'em, but this is what you're delving into the book. Why don't you go ahead and give us the ones that you feel are most important?

Greg: And what's cool about the book, how we divided it out it's very intentional. The two big broad messages that, one, you need to invest in your marriage proactively every day, but then you have to know how to work through problems when they come, either through conflict or externally from something else. So, those are the two big things, if you've learn nothing else.

Jim: How to invest and how to resolve conflict.

Greg: Exactly in terms of the investing part.

Erin: You know, one of the things in this book that's different than a lot of other premarital books is, that we really focused on what does "leaving and cleaving" really mean? You know, what does that mean to leave our former life and then to cleave to our new spouse? And it comes across in the book in a very unique, very fresh …

Jim: How is it?

Erin: I knew you were gonna say that. (Laughter) You know, that we look at it in a very different way that when you're leaving your former life, that means that you're leaving your singleness. You're leaving this adolescent, you know, kind of state. Our friend, Ted Cunningham talks about that. So often young people that they'll get stuck in this state of adolescence, but we're leaving that behind, when we're stepping into a marriage relationship; we're taking a step into adulthood--

Jim: Hm.

Erin: --and that we're gonna be adults in this marriage relationship.

Jim: So, you have to prepare that young person to make that step, though.

Erin: Absolutely, there's so much that can be done before you actually say, "I do" to prepare to have a healthy relationship. So many different ways of looking at how are we gonna do this? We're planning how this relationship is gonna play out in the months to come.

Jim: In that regard, is the leaving and cleaving, attacking or going after that selfish aspect? I'm thinking of people I know that are in their 20s or even 30s, that have been married eight, 10 years and he's still caught up in videogames. He's still acting like, you know, a 16-year-old and it's driving mostly wives crazy, because it's like the argument is you're not growing up. Grow up!

Erin: Yeah.

Jim: Help me here.

Erin: I can remember our first year of marriage living at Denver Seminary, literally taking Greg's Nintendo and hiding it in the laundry basket underneath the laundry.

Greg: She hid it from me. (Laughter)

Jim: Did he find it?

Erin: He did! (Laughter) He's like, "What's this doing in there?"

Jim: Oh, he was happy.

Erin: I'm like, "I don't know."

Jim: Now it's a hunt. (Laughter)

Greg: It was a small apartment, so inevitably (Laughter) I was gonna find it. (Laughter)

Erin: Yeah, there wasn't many places.

Jim: But you can relate to that; that's—

Erin: Yeah.

Jim: --my point and it is something you have to do with some forethought, with, you know, thinking it through. What am I really stepping out of and into?

Greg: You know, for me, here's what rocked my world when I read this study, because I wish that I had known this before we got married and when we were newly married. The studies say that it takes at least nine to 14 years for two individuals to stop thinking about themselves as individuals and to start thinking about themselves as one. Think about that.

Jim: Huh.

Greg: That is almost a decade and a half, nine to 14 years to go from me, me, me, single lifestyle, thinking about me. Plus you add in for young couples, I mean, as a guy, I always tell women who are getting married that man, you've gotta give him a lot of grace. I think for a guy, it takes us into our 30s--

Jim: (Laughter) We're a little slower.

Greg: --before we really start to grow and mature in a way that is best for our relationship. It just takes a long time. That needs to be our expectation going in. This whole "leave and cleave" thing as God talks about leaving mom and dad, cleaving to our spouse, so that we become one, just understand, that takes about a decade.

Jim: Hm.

Greg: You're gonna have to give each other a whole lot of grace and—

Jim: Let's …

Greg: --a whole lot of time to do that.

Jim: Yeah and it's very reasonable and I think it's a good place to start. That's the beginning point. When you look down the list I want to grab one, which is "honoring each other." 'Cause I think in those early years when, you know, difficulties come, you know, he's squeezing the toothpaste in the wrong spot. (Laughter) I mean, it sounds so silly. Why does (Laughter) it even matter? But Jean and I habve been married 28 years!

John: Still happens in our--

Jim: For some—

John: --household--

Jim: --reason she—

John: --too.

Jim: --she doesn't put the cap on the toothpaste. I'm the one hunting down the cap on the counter.

Erin: Well, that's why you gotta get the one that's it's attached. (Laughter) You just flip it down. (Laughter)

Greg: You—

Erin: I mean--

Greg: --both—

Erin: --could—

Greg: --get your—

Erin: --solve it all.

Greg: --own toothpaste. That's how—

Jim: But—

Greg: --we solved it.

Erin: That's how we did it, yeah.

John: There's no argument--

Jim: --you know—

John: --now?

Jim: --it's not gonna lead to a family crisis other than a little irritation, but it's those kinds of things that you—

Greg: Small foxes--

Jim: --you gotta—

Greg: --little foxes.

Jim: --think about and you gotta be talking through it. And I don't mean to, you know, diminish serious issues, but honoring each other. Talk about how we do that.

Erin: You know, so often, especially as wives, we come into marriage thinking, you know, we can just change just this little thing about him and you know, influence him in this way.

Jim: He's a project.

Erin: That's right. But you know what, unfortunately, it really doesn't work, because as soon as he starts feeling that, what is he gonna do? He's gonna resist that because how many of us like to say, you know, "Oh, if he just did just like this instead," you know and often it's not spoken. It's these, you know, these little things that we do to manipulate the relationship.

But what about how God made him? I'm not saying that, you know, you can just go, "Oh, this is just how God made me," but really recognizing that we're both bringing differences into this relationship and that they're gifts to this relationship and seeing that it brings a beautiful balance.

Greg: I love how God, when He created man and woman stepped back and said, "This is good." I mean, the way that God made us so different in personality and gender differences, that's a good thing. And yet, when we get frustrated like by how we do the toothpaste or the toilet paper or the list goes on and on, remember those differences are the gift. That's a good thing. And we need to value those things. Now we need to learn, how do we talk through those when they're creating challenges for us.

But I think it always has to start from, I want to honor my wife. I want to cherish those differences. I want to value who she is. And the best way that I've learned to do this literally is, I have a list of all these things that I love about Erin. These are my favorite things about Erin. And I look at that periodically just to be reminded. You know, yeah, she's pretty amazing. Now she frustrates me at times. She drives me nuts other times. It's just life. (Laughter) I mean—

Jim: Erin's making—

Greg: --let's be real.

Jim: --a good face right now!

Greg: I made the list. So, do I; I drive her crazy.

Erin: Would you like to share some of those right now, Greg? (Laughter)

Greg: No. (Laughter) I …

Jim: Oh, please do!

Erin: Yeah. (Laughter)

Greg: But I mean, that's life, that we will irritate each other. But don't ever let those differences become things you see as negative.

Program Note:

John: Well, some great reminders to honor each other in the relationship. And if you're getting Ready to Wed, which is the title of the book that Greg and Erin Smalley have written, and by the way, there are contributors—Ted Cunningham, Joe White, Dr. Scott Stanley, Bill and Pam Farrel, Scott and Bethany Palmer, a number of folks who have been here on this broadcast. We've got details about the book, Ready to Wed and we'll post this entire list of 12 ways to have a great marriage that you'll love, at

End of Program Note

John: And you know, as we're talking, Jim, yesterday I mentioned that we have four young adults in my family. And one of them has a relationship going and I'm thinking, I know that you're able to spend time talking right now. And this is one of the 12 is "communication." I know that you can do that right now, but when you get married, stuff happens and you can't quite spend hours thinking about and talking with your spouse. How do you foster good communication with a couple that is perhaps working and then maybe even kids come along?

Greg: You know, one of the things that I saw the other day that again, blew my mind is that the average couple spends maybe an hour a week, kind of in these kind of proactive talking, spending time together. But the average couple who's involved in an affair, spends 15 hours a week in those kinds of activities.

John: Hm.

Greg: As much as it's easy to say, "Oh, we're just so busy and don't have the time," man, couples are findin' the time. I want to pursue her in that same way and never go, "Well, I just don't have time" or "It's so busy," that the best thing that I can do as far as communication, my attitude is, that I want to know her and I want to be known by her. I want her to know me. So, I want to spend time askin' her questions, getting to know her and keep updated and current. But I also need to be willing to be known, to share what's going on in my life.

Jim: Greg, when I hear that, it sounds really good (Laughter), but it sounds exhausting to a lot of men to ask those kind of questions. Are we just bein' lazy?

Greg: We're not being lazy. I just think we get so busy. There's so many other things that are taking our time. And I think that so many people buy into that love is self-sustaining, that I don't really have to do much for us to be okay, that we can put the marriage on autopilot, cruise control. It's just [that] that's—

Jim: It's a good "man answer."

Greg: --not a good answer.

Jim: Let me ask Erin. Erin, are we bein' lazy?

Erin: You know what? It's not lazy. (Laughter) I agree, I agree with Greg on that, that it's not being lazy. It's that often we just assume that everything's gonna be okay. You know--

Jim: That's true.

Erin: --I've gotta take care of the kids because they have these needs that are, you know, raging right in front of me. They're hungry. They're thirsty. You know, they've gotta go to practice. But it's really, you know. (Laughing)

Greg: Need a diaper changed, whatever.

Jim: Well, and let me say this with all seriousness. Right now the divorces that are occurring are catching a lot of husbands by surprise. They're kind of in the autopilot mode, you know. Of course, this was forever. I told you I loved you at the altar. Yes, we've got kids. I've got my work. I thought we loved each other. What are you doin'? Is that a fair statement? I mean, women are really starving and husbands aren't seeing it or getting it.

Erin: Uh-hm, because as women, we want to connect at that heart level. We want to connect through conversation, through emotional connection and when there's not the intentional mind-set that we have to take care of this relationship from both spouses, because Greg can have that attitude that, I told you I loved you. You know, we're committed for a lifetime. I don't need to do anything else, but as women, also prioritizing this relationship above the kids, above girlfriends, above all these other things that steal our time, you know.

Greg: Yeah, I'm watchin' cell phones just in this day and age, just how readily available the texting, you know, the Facebook, the whatever. I mean, I'm watching that happen for a lot of women who are investing a tremendous amount of time in that. I think guys, we can compartmentalize our life and so, we can get involved in work and just providing. And yet, I think for both, that we need to step back and realize that marriage will never be sustained off of a few minutes here and there--

Jim: Well--

Greg: --but meaningful interaction.

Jim: --and to John's point about developing positive communication, one of your 12 ways to have a great marriage, if you were talkin' to little Jimmy when I was 24 ½ and Jean and I had met and you were doing our premarital counseling, how would you teach a rather self-absorbed young man who doesn't understand women at all, to really do a better job at that?

Greg: I would point out what you're doing right now that she loves and I guarantee you that little Jimmy is spending a whole lot of time asking questions, pursuing Jean, finding out about what she loves, likes, dislikes, as you're building a new relationship and I would beg you to never lose that.

Jim: Hm.

Greg: I think curiosity is one of the best sustainers of love. When I have an attitude that one lifetime isn't long enough for me to really get to know her, that I want to stay current and updated, then I would show you exactly how to do that. And that's literally by just get great at asking questions, as you are married. Take moments when you're driving in the car, take moments when you're out on a date and just say, "Hey, update me. What's goin' on in your life? Keep me current." We both are always changing and if we invest in our relationship with that attitude of going, "Jim, look what you're doing right now. You were doing everything you can to know her. Don't ever lose that and—

Jim: Well, and—

Greg: --here's why.

Jim: --the other thing is just that effort. I can remember when we were dating, I lived in San Diego. She was in Orange County. It was about a 90-minute drive. She was working at a vet clinic and would work the late-night shift and so, occasionally, I'd drive up there and deliver dinner to her.

Greg: Wow.

Jim: So, when you—

Greg: See.

Jim: --when you look at what you would do in courtship to prove I'm interested, I mean, driving 90 miles to bring your girlfriend dinner and then you get married and you're goin', "Ah, I don't want to pick up those clothes." (Laughter) I mean, it's really different, isn't it? What happened to that 90-mile drive? (Laughing)

Erin: You know, so often what we don't address then is that what's goin' on with our heart? When he starts frustrating me, when he starts disappointing me, 'cause he's not, you know, making the effort he used to make, then you know, I'm less likely to do that, as well and our hearts start to close off. And it goes back to, you know, when our heart starts closing off, we're not willing to make that extra effort and go the extra mile. And it impacts the relationship.

Jim: But let me ask you this as we're wrapping up. There's two things I want to touch on. One is the importance of premarital counseling. You've done research. You've looked at research that suggests the powerful importance of premarital counseling. Talk a bit about that.

Erin: You know, it is so clear. Again, it's research that is very statistically found that 80 percent of couples who receive premarital counseling stay together.

Jim: Eighty percent.

Erin: Eighty percent.

Jim: Talk about what kind of premarital counseling that is. Is that an hour? Is that 10 hours? Is it--

Erin: You know, what—

Jim: --100 hours?

Erin: --what we really say is, eight to 10 quality hours of really delving into all the, you know, the 12 different areas in Ready to Wed, you know, delving into all of those and really looking at what are we bringing? What is our plan? How are we gonna do this? What do we want it to even look like? You know, and discussing all the issues and the challenges that we might face.

Jim: Hm.

Erin: And it's an exciting time to really connect with one another, maybe with a therapist, a pastor, with a mentor couple who can walk with you as you engage in this, such an exciting time of life.

Jim: Yeah, Jean and I did that, where there probably, I'm thinking back, there were probably eight or nine couples in this class that we did. It was called Becoming On by Jerry and Donna Lawson in San Diego. And what was really fascinating is like three of the couples got up after the first or second session and walked [out]. (Laughing) And Jean and I are looking at each other like, "Oh, my goodness."

John: And they just walked out?

Jim: But well, walked out in a sense that they're not ready to be married.

Greg: Wow.

Jim: They gave the explanation.

Greg: That's success.

Jim: That is.

Erin: Yes.

Jim: And the point of it, it was success. It scared us a little bit like uh-oh; are we hiding anything? But six of the nine couples continued on, but I think three of the couples actually decided it wasn't time and that's a good decision, isn't it?

Erin: Yeah, absolutely. If you know, why would you enter into this marriage relationship that's for a lifetime if really you're not ready? And it's okay to not be ready. You want to evaluate is this the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with?

Jim: The second point I want to make, let's end on the stresses and the crises that come in marriage and hopefully, you're equipped to take care of that. Talk about that. What's the normal stuff that can really bring a marriage down?

Greg: There's two main things. There's going to internal stressors, and we just say, that's the conflict. That's the dealing with each other and figuring out who's doing what and how do we blend our differences. So, there's the internal parts. But then there's also external things that are gonna hit a marriage. We have a couple friend that right as they were about to get married, his father died. So, they walked into their brand-new marriage--the story's in the book--they walked into their brand-new marriage having to deal with the death of his dad and comforting his mom and they actually ended up moving into the mom's basement just to be there to care for her.

Jim: Huh.

Greg: We know couples; [at] one of our seminars, a couple, engaged couple came up and they're just glowing and typical, you know, idealistic and this is so amazing. But he said that, "I have been given a diagnosis of an untreatable type of cancer. So, we are going to get married and my life will be over very shortly."

Jim: Oh, my goodness.

Greg: And external stressors, all these things.

Jim: Yeah.

Greg: And that can tear at this brand-new relationship because we're not formed yet. Remember 9 to 14 years are really settled into who we are and to have that strength. And so, what we're trying to do is to share with a couple, there are gonna be both things internally, you're gonna have to deal with conflict, but also things are gonna come at you, loss of job, financial difficulty.

Jim: Life--

Greg: Life.

Erin: Yeah.

Jim: --will come at you.

Greg: It's how you then do that together that's the point.

John: And that's how we ended our Best of 2015 conversation with Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin on today's "Focus on the Family."

Jim: This is such good information for single adults and as we said last time, it's also helpful for parents who are trying to shepherd teenagers and young adults forward to that day when they'll be married and hopefully, have families of their own.

We have received a lot of positive feedback from many of you who really connected with this content, but I wanted to share a comment from a listener that I thought really illustrates what we're tryin' to do when we bring you programs like this. The listener said, "Focus on the Family helped me when I was single, dating, married and a parent. I'm so encouraged by this ministry. I grew up in a single-parent home with my disabled mom. I really needed the support you have offered me through daily programs and what to look for in a mate, how to honor him in marriage, how to raise my children to love the Lord. And the list goes on and on. I will continue to listen as my girls reach the teenage years. I pray your ministry will continue to be here for all families until Jesus returns." Wow, I mean, that is quite a testimony and what a privilege it is that we have in shaping the lives of families and helping them to thrive in Christ.

And I want to say thanks to the generosity of so many of you who have made it possible for us to reach into the lives of listeners like her and to touch her life so deeply and profoundly for the same of Christ. Thank you for standing with us. There are many more families we still need to touch though. I mean, there are so many needs in this world, especially around family.

And we're inviting you to give the gift of family this month and to support Focus on the Family with your donation, so we can strengthen more marriages and empower more parents and present God's Good News message to a dying and needy world.

And let me say thanks to some special friends who have made a matching grant opportunity possible. And that means, when you give a gift today, they're gonna match it and it's a great way for us to double the impact and to help twice as many families. So, join Jean and me and let's support Focus and have that gift doubled right now.


John: And you can do that when you call 800- A -FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or online, donate at . And as you're able to donate today, we'll say thank you by sending a complimentary copy of Greg and Erin's book, Ready to Wed.

And at the website, we're gonna have information about our Best of 2015 program collection. This was part of that, 14 top programs from the past year about marriage, parenting and faith. And I highly recommend you get the CDs or downloads. We also have that free list of How to Start Strong and Have a Loving Marriage, as we talked about today. These resources and ways to donate at .

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend with your family and inviting you back on Monday for some tips on reviving the passion in your marriage once you hit those parenting years.


Mrs. Arlene Pellicane: You know, when you're busy, you forget to do that five-second kiss, 10-second kiss, 30-second kiss that is that passion and usually, we do those things when we feel a certain way. But instead to say, I'm gonna do that behavior and then wow, the feeling will follow.

End of Excerpt

John: That's next time, as we once again, help 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 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 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.