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Fighting for a Stronger Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 11/15/2012

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Dr. Greg and Mrs. Erin Smalley offer couples practical advice in a discussion based on Greg's book Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage: How Healthy Conflict Can Take You to Deeper Levels of Intimacy. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


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Dr. Greg Smalley: Of all the things that we've learned that have really made such a huge difference, we loved the Lord; we went to church and we did all those things. We just really struggled with learning how to manage our conflict. But I'm tellin' you, of all the things we've learned, this has revolutionized our marriage.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Well, it sounds counterintuitive, but learning how to manage disagreements in your marriage in a healthy way can bring long-term rewards. This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and today we're looking at the dynamics of a fight in a marriage and how you can use those moments to actually strengthen your relationship.


Jim Daly: John, I know there are people in the audience that think as Christians and as Christian couples, we shouldn't fight and maybe that's true idealistically. But you know, the reality is, two human beings, when they're gathered, there's going to be differences, strong differences sometimes. And so, for those people that never fight in their marriage, you know, perhaps you're not gonna learn much today. Perhaps you will though, because it's healthy to have those disagreements and to learn from each other. And sometimes that comes in the way of conflict. We've invited our own Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, who's gonna keep him accountable (Laughter), Erin Smalley to talk about their book, Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage and I love the graphics on this book, John--two boxing gloves (Chuckling), which hopefully, we're not talkin' about that, are we, Greg?

Greg: No. (Laughter) They make up a heart though. Do you see?

John: Oh, I hadn't seen that.

Jim: Oh, they do make a heart.

John: Look at that.

Erin Smalley: See, he didn't even notice it.

Jim: Yeah.

Greg: I know. Can we get a ooh, aah?

Jim: Aah! That had to be Erin's touch--

Erin: No.

Jim: --I'm sure. No, Greg came up with that.

Erin: It was Greg.

Greg: Yeah, to bring my wife in to talk about conflict, I'm afraid that this is like an intervention on me. (Laughter)

John: Well, we weren't gonna say anything.

Jim: Well, I want to ask you, because you guys, congratulations. You just celebrated 20 years of marriage, so you're speaking from experience. You're not new to this--

Greg: Many--

Jim: --called "marriage."

Greg: --many, many experiences. (Laughter)

Erin: Yes.

Jim: And so obviously, you've got this all wired and you've lived in bliss for these 20 years. Or does this book come out of your own experience?

Greg: Oh, it comes out of our own experience, because again, two people in a relationship, there's no way that you're always gonna agree on everything, think the same way. If you did, one of you is not necessary (Chuckling) to the relationship. So, you know, I understand if there are people that will say, you know, we never fight. Okay. I mean, I don't want to debate it, argue about it, but you know, in some ways, I wonder though sometimes for those couples, is it because they're totally conflict avoiders, afraid to rock the boat? Is it that one is being stifled and really doesn't have a voice in the relationship? I mean, it's concerning.

Jim: I think it leans in that direction. I mean, the times that people have contacted Focus on the Family, you have a person that's very compliant--

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: --and maybe eats it for a long period of time. And they're thinking that they're in this zone where they don't have conflict. Therefore, their marriage is great. But in reality, they haven't dealt with some issues. And that stuffing it into the bottle all of a sudden erupts.

Erin: Uh-hm.

Greg: (Sound of explosion)

Jim: And now you've got a crisis.

Greg: Yeah.

Erin: It sure does.

Jim: So, well, let's talk about it. Why do we as human beings, I mean, why did God make us in such a way that conflict is so hard for us?

Erin: Well, I think in essence, we were made to be in relationship and made to be united as one in marriage. And so, therefore, when the conflicts erupt, who likes it? It's not fun. We become disconnected. And that just doesn't sit real well.

Greg: Yeah, I mean, so many people grew up in homes to where there was a lot of conflict that probably wasn't handled well.

John: Hm.

Greg: And so, on one hand, if my vision and experience of watching my parents do this or maybe what I went through, if that didn't go well, then I want to avoid that like the plague. You know, I grew up [in] Gary Smalley's household, you know and my parents and yet, I went out of my way in every way shape and form to avoid conflict. I hated conflict. It didn't seem to work. When we would experience conflict early in our marriage, I hated rocking the boat. I wanted her to be happy. I wanted there to be peace. And what's so sad is that every time I chose to do that, to stuff it, to avoid it, it cost my relationship something dear.

Jim: Give us an example of where that happened in your marriage and how you turned that conflict into something positive.

Erin: Okay. We were living in Denver at Denver Seminary. Greg was in seminary. I was working as a labor and delivery nurse.

Jim: And you'd been married how long at this point?

Erin: Probably six months.

Jim: Ooh, early on.

Erin: So, early on, so many years back and I was working as a labor and delivery nurse, worked the 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift.

Jim: Oh, wow.

Erin: So, I pull into the parking lot, you know, 4:30 in the morning. Came into the apartment and was tryin' to be real quiet, 'cause I think you had an exam the next morning. And so, I was tryin' to be sensitive. We were newlyweds still and you know, being kind and so, I didn't turn any lights on.

Greg: She loved me.

Jim: Yeah, that was nice.

Erin: So, literally you know, got ready for bed pretty much in the dark. Got to the bedroom door and was ready to launch my way into the bedroom and take that well-worn path to the bed. You know what I mean?

John: Uh-hm.

Erin: You know, when you kind of feel your way into your bed, you can find your way in the dark. Well, things had changed apparently, while I was at work that night, because some creative mind had taken over the bedroom.

Greg: That's the first time she framed it that I was creative--

Jim: Yeah. It didn't used to be--

Greg: --in this story.

Jim: --framed that way.

Greg: No (Laughter). I mean (Laughter), I was totally bored, so she's gone; she's workin', seminary campus, nothing going on.

Jim: You didn't want to study for your test anymore.

Greg: No, way. No, I mean (Laughter), I knew it well enough. That's what you do early in the morning, you know, an hour before the test. Nothin' on sports, you know, just nothin'. And so, I'm so bored. I walk back into our little master bedroom area. And as I walked in, I thought, "Whoo," somethin' about the way that Erin had put it all together, decorated it, arranged furniture just didn't seem right to me. I couldn't tell you what was wrong with it, but I could just see that something needed to change. And I thought, I'm bored anyway. I'm gonna rearrange our bedroom [and] surprise Erin. She'll come home. Who knows what'll happen, you know. So, I take the whole thing apart, put the bed on a different wall, furniture, shelves, [I] move it all. And I just stood back and went, "Yeah! This looks great," you know.

John: This will show her my love.

Greg: Exactly, thank you, John. See, John gets it.

Erin: Uh-hm.

Greg: And so, I turn off the lights and went to bed. So, she gets home (Chuckling) and like what was it, like 3, 4 in the morning.

Erin: Four in the morning--

Greg: And so--

Erin: --there I am.

Greg: --about to take that, you know, she knew the path to get to her bed.

Jim: Yeah.

Greg: She just didn't know I completely changed that a little bit. So, the first thing she hit when she walked in was this little table that I had rearranged that had a lamp on it.

Jim: Right at knee level--

John: Oh!

Erin: Yeah.

Jim: --perfectly.

Greg: So, she smashes--

Erin: Perfect wood table.

Greg: --into that, the lamp falls over, breaks. The table kind of turns over and then she gets caught up in the legs. And so, one of the wooden legs of this little table just scrapes up her shin--

John: Oh, no.

Greg: --just takes layers of skin. (Laughter) So, she screams out, you know, bloody murder, stumbled forward. And I'm not makin' any of this up. Erin, you're here.

Erin: No, you are not making it up.

Greg: She smashes into the wall--

John: Oh.

Greg: --you know, bangs into the wall and hits this big pair of antique wooden skis that someone gave us. They're like decorative things. And they fall over. On the way down, it hit the shelf that I'd repositioned that contained every one of her Precious Moment figurines that she collected her whole life.

Jim: And that went down to the ground and some broke.

Greg: They don't do well--

Erin: Yeah, one--

Greg: --from height.

Erin: --by one--

Greg: Let me just say that.

Erin: --nursing school, college graduation, the little bride and groom's gone.

Greg: Okay. (Laughter) Yes--

Erin: Gone.

Greg: --they all [fell,]

Jim: So, how did you manage this conflict (Laughter)?

Greg: So, the skis fell next to the bed, so I wake up to all this loud screaming, crashing of glass and things bangin'. I think we're bein' robbed. So, I just go to run in another room. I forget I changed out bed (Laughter). And I go (Sound of poof), right into the wall and instantly the light pops on and I see Erin and I'm like, "Oh, thank goodness. I thought it was an intruder." And so, I'm like, you know, "Honey, welcome home."

Jim: What do you think? (Laughter)

Greg: And she took one look and screamed out, "Where am I? What have you done?"

Jim: Uh.

Greg: So, needless to say, we stayed up--

Jim andErin: Yeah.

Erin: Yeah.

Greg: --40 minutes discussing my creative [effort].

Erin: Honestly, that one did not go so well. I mean, 20 years later we can talk about it and see--

Greg: What we should've done differently.

Erin: --what we should've done differently, many things we could've done differently.

Greg: There is such a way out. We just didn't understand it back then. Of all the things that we've learned that have really made such a huge difference, we love the Lord, we went to church. I mean, we did all those things. We just really struggled with learning how to manage our conflict. But I'm tellin' you, of all the things we've learned, this has revolutionized our marriage.

John: So, I mean, what are some of the problems that you encountered or that most of us would encounter in that kind of a situation?

Greg: Yeah, you know, I think for us, the first thing that we had to understand and what was really driving every conflict that we ever had, we just didn't know. I mean, we thought it was about the bedroom. We thought it was about the finances, about the kids, about whatever.

Erin: About my Precious Moment figurines falling--

Greg: All right.

Erin: --down.

Jim: Well, it kind of was about that, wasn't it? I would imagine--

Greg: You (Laughter)--

Jim: --that was part of it.

Erin: Yeah (Laughter)

Greg: --you know what I told her that night, it was like 40 minutes into our "discussion," I said, "Hey, I don't know why you're so mad. I could glue all these things back together.

Jim: Oh, that made her feel better.

Greg: She made me do that and I filled like months gluing it. And I couldn't find enough of the pieces, so I just kind of created one really big (Laughter) like Picasso-lookin' Precious Moments. It's not very precious anymore. I mean--

Erin: Yeah, it's like this tall--

Greg: --it's just scary.

Erin: --and this big. It's like a monster.

Jim: You still have that one?

Erin: Yes, we do. We just keep it around as a gentle reminder--

John: As a reminder.

Erin: --not to--

Jim: The Super Glue version.

John: But the na ...

Erin: --redecorate rooms.

John: The natural tendency is to think it's about what it's about.

Greg: It's not though.

Erin: Right.

Greg: That's the point. This is probably the greatest thing we've learned is this about conflict.

Erin: Absolutely, that there's more going on underneath the surface, that buttons are being pushed. Buttons were there when we got married. They came with us into our relationship and we didn't know that. So, here that night, buttons got pushed for me. I know I felt enormously invalid and unimportant and disrespected because here my Precious Moment figurines were on the ground and he was over there defending himself. I mean, literally I couldn't figure out what in the world was goin' on.

Jim: Okay now, this is your opportunity to help all the husbands listening. What would've been the (Chuckling) best way for Greg to get out of that scenario?

Erin: Some--

Jim: What could he have said that would've even come close to making you feel better?

Erin: --some gentle compassion would have been wonderful, some you know, help me understand what that ... what does it feel like to see your little figurines gone? It would've been really helpful.

Jim: Rather than defensiveness.

Erin: Yes.

Greg: Okay, here's the problem, okay? And this is what we've learned. This is what this book is all about, is that I didn't know this either, that when we get into these things, my buttons get pushed, okay. Buttons are nothing more than just deeper emotions. Erin was saying she felt invalidated. You know, and the problem is, okay, I know that I should care, be compassionate, listen, understand her. The problem is, that when your buttons get pushed, your heart will close and then you instantly start to react to one another.

So, see, when she confronted me about, why did you change all this? Why didn't you call me and talk to me about this first? You know, why didn't you leave a light on? Whatever, see, that triggered a button in me. My ... the biggest button that I deal with is feeling like I failed--

Jim: Hm.

Greg: --feeling like a failure, that I made a mistake. I didn't do something right. And so, here she's hurt. Her things are all broken. All these buttons are gettin' stirred up in me that instantly shuts you down, so that you just start reacting. How I typically react first is, I try to defend myself. See, I'm tryin' to tell her, hey, come on. Who doesn't turn on the lights? And this wasn't my fault. And you know, I can fix these things. You know, we jump into those ...

Erin: It's not big of a deal. (Laughter)

Jim: Oh, that's not a good one.

Greg: I was gonna say, I agree with you, but I'm not sure that she meant that. (Laughing)

Jim: Now you talk about--

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: --the reactive cycle.

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: But just before we get there, where are these buttons formed? How are they formed in our lives? What are the origins of them?

Erin: Really, like I said earlier, you come into your relationship with them. They form; they're sensitive areas from previous experiences. Maybe a parent said something and it's all how you interpret it. It just leaves like a bruise on your heart, so then when something happens and it reminds you of that experience, it pushes that. It taps into it and we don't like it. So then we react like Greg was saying.

Greg: Yeah, we call these things "old wounds," "pet peeves," could be an "unfulfilled expectation," something that we really want and we're not getting that. I mean, when these things get triggered again, there's this ... sort of this just ... our heart shuts down. Then there's this instant reaction. That ... we just didn't know that. See, we thought it was the issue. This is what's really happening underneath conflict. You're getting your buttons pushed. I just didn't know.

Erin: Yeah and honestly, that night, it actually ... once we understood this, like Greg said, it was revolutionary in our relationship, because it helped me to know that he wasn't just being insensitive. His buttons were pushed--

Greg: I'm not just a jerk.

Greg: --that night. And it helps me to have compassion on him. Oh, okay, I know what that feels like. I have buttons and I say and do things that aren't great.

Jim: How ... talk again about the buttons. Are there a dozen core ones? Are there hundreds? Give us some dimension to the button discussion.

Greg: Yeah, you know, some of the common ones that we've seen are things like feeling like a failure, feeling devalued, worthless, unloved, disrespected. I'm never gonna measure up. You know, when ... before we got married, I mean, I never knew any of this, sort of don't measure up, never good enough was a button.

And so, I mean, we had so many arguments (Laughing) that really came from that one. I didn't know that I had this whole failure thing. No awareness of this whatso[ever].

Jim: So, you're thinkin', I'm pretty perfect actually.

Greg: Yes, thank you.

Jim: I'm a good guy. My dad is--

Greg: My fath ...

Jim: --Dr. Gary Smalley.

Erin: Oh, that ...

Greg: Did you hear him?

Erin: Yes, I did.

Greg: Thank you.

Jim: Well, I'm saying this--

Erin: And the hilarious--

Jim: --is a hypothetical ...

John: Oh.

Erin: --thing is that--

John: Oh.

Erin: --that's what I thought, too when we got married. I mean, I'm marrying Gary Smalley's son and it's gonna be this easy cake walk and--

Jim: 'Cause he knows it all.

Erin: --yeah. (Laughter) And I thought he knew it all and he thought he knew it all (Laughter), so it's ... you know--

Greg: Why are you laughing?

Erin: --it didn't really--

Greg: Jim?

Erin: --work so well.

Jim: Yeah, I think because you're saying something that if we as spouses, all of us, male and female, if we really got our hands around this--

Erin: Uh-hm.

Jim: --'cause I see that. And Jean, one of Jean's common blows to my ego will be, "You don't even see your weaknesses, Jim." (Laughing) And that probably is--

John: Uh-hm.

Greg: Are you blind?

Jim: Yes.

Greg: What's wrong with you?

Jim: I mean, that's probably 'cause--

Erin: If you were a guy, you'd ...

Jim: --you have this--

Erin: So that ...

Jim: --you have this impression that, you know, you're really livin' life so well--

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: --and almost perfect--

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: --and--

Greg: It's easier to see--

Jim: --I think we do--

Greg: --their faults.

Jim: --we do get blinded by that, don't we? We don't see our own problems, which is exactly what Scripture is saying.

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: You know, take the log out of your own eye before you (Chuckling) try to get the speck out of your spouse's--

John: Yeah.

Jim: --eye. Let's just put it in that context.

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: But you didn't see that in you.

Greg: I had no awareness of that and that's why I used to thus blame her for these conflicts. If you just wouldn't get so critical or you just wouldn't get so upset, if you just would be gentle and talk, you know, whatever, then I wouldn't get so upset. I mean, my focus was always on her. And when we realized, we've got this dance, this cycle--

John: Uh-hm.

Greg: --that my buttons get pushed. I react. That pushes your buttons. You react. What it did is, it's not about then blaming. Well, this is like 70 percent your fault, you know. What it does is, it just makes both realize, we've got buttons that are gonna get pushed. The greatest thing we can do is to learn how to deal with them then.

John: Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin are our guest today on "Focus on the Family," hosted by Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and can I take you back to that night and ask, okay, so I mean, it's obvious.

Greg: If you must.

John: Well, it--

Jim: Way to go, John.

John: --it's obvious just objectively that a lot of this was your doing, Greg (Laughter).

Erin: Thank you, John.

Greg: Who's side are you on?

John: Well, I'm (Laughter) just saying, so you--

Jim: Tread--

John: --you went--

Jim: --carefully, John.

John: --went--

Greg: It's true.

John: --you went and did something--

Greg: Yeah.

John: --and she literally stumbled into this situation.

Greg: Yeah, it would've been so easy for her to take sort of the innocent victim--

John: Yeah.

Greg: --role there. This is all about you. It's what you did, definitely.

John: So, if you were going back there today, how would you unpack that, Erin--

Erin: Uh-hm.

John: --or Greg? I mean, what would your starting point be?

Erin: Well, we have learned so much about these buttons and what to do specifically when your button gets pushed. My button got pushed that night, my responsibility [is] my heart. And Greg's button got pushed, his responsibility [is] his heart.

And what we've learned, there's three steps that you can actually take to manage when these buttons get pushed, 'cause they're gonna get pushed. It just happens.

Greg: And I'm tellin' you, it starts with the verse that he just quoted. That's actually the whole solution, so thanks a lot--

Jim: (Laughing) Oh, yeah, did I steal your thunder?

Greg: --for wrecking everything for us.

Greg: It's the Matthew 7 verse, that why do you look at your brother, the speck in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye. It says, "You hypocrite!" And I love where it goes next, because it says this. It says, "First take the log out of your ..." what?

Panel: Own eye.

Greg: Own eye.

John: Yeah.

Greg:Then you can see clearly. What I love about that is, it's saying first do this, so that then you can deal with whatever's goin' on. How we've translated that into this cycle is, that I really need to deal with me first. My buttons that have been pushed; my heart's been shut down. I need to figure out how to basically get my heart open back so that then we can have a good conversation.

Our biggest mistake is that we would, in the midst of conflict, we thought what we were supposed to do, you know, don't let the sun go down on your anger, that we're supposed to try to talk through these things. Worst piece of advice you could ever give anyone. I'm tellin' you--

John: Hm.

Greg: --is that when you get into an argument and your buttons have been pushed, the worst thing that you can ever do is try to talk that through. Think about it. Be honest. When's the last time you've been able to have a productive, Christ-centered conversation once you've been triggered, your buttons have been pushed. You're shut down. You're reacting. I mean, come on.

Jim: That's time to clean the garage usually.

Erin: Yeah. (Laughter)

John: I tried to do that, but she wouldn't open the door to let me in to talk to about it.(Laughter)

Erin: Was it locked, John?

John: Double bolted it, yeah.

Jim: Yeah, well.

Greg: [It's not] gonna happen.

Erin: Yeah, she actually changed the lock.

Jim: But we've gotta get the basis for what you call the "reactive cycle." Again, describe that so we have a handle of the model. We know the buttons, but fill it out for us.

Erin: So, we both have buttons. So, my button gets pushed. I react. It taps right into Greg's buttons. And then he reacts. And then, that reaction taps into my buttons. And so, you just get in this cycle of round and round and round and round.

Greg: So, the buttons, these deeper emotions, these sensitive areas like little scabs that you know, get pushed and instantly, it's like ow! And so, when that happens, see the next thing that instantly takes place is like, you know those little bugs, the little roly poly bugs. I don't know, you know, we got all kinds of names.

Erin: Yeah, roly poly, pill bugs, sow bugs, potato bugs., I mean a--

Jim: The ugly ones.

Erin: --million different names. Yes. And you know, what happens--

Greg: They have feelings, too.

Erin: --to them, what happens to them when you touch them, flick them, whatever you do, they go into a tight little ball.

Jim: Hm.

Erin: And it's a protective mode. It's exactly what our hearts do when our buttons get pushed, when we get emotionally flicked. Our hearts go into that tight little ball. And there's no trying to pry it open, because when you go into that tight ball, it's because you feel unsafe. And the only way it's gonna reopen is when the environment feels safe. But he can't do that. I control that.

Greg: And so, does that make sense? So, your buttons will get triggered, these sensitive emotions. Your heart then instantly closes like that little roly poly bug. So that all of a sudden, then you start reacting. Reacting basically, it's either gonna be a fight of a flight. So in other words, as a fighter, I'm engaging Erin to try to persuade her. So, my buttons have been pushed. I feel like a failure that night. So then, I'm trying to argue and debate and defend myself to persuade her to understand, I'm not this bad guy. I didn't mean it. I didn't know this was gonna happen. Why are you, you know, focusing in on me? So, that was our problem. We're both fighters. We engage each other. We pursue to explain, to defend, to get that other person to really listen and understand. But see, there's also "flighters."

Erin: Uh-hm.

Greg: These are the people that flee, that shut down, that avoid--

Jim: Go clean the garage.

Greg: --and stuff. Yeah, that go clean the garage, exactly, because their buttons get pushed and they just want to stuff it and avoid. And so, they're not really engaging. So, you can have two people who are flighters, that are married to each other and you would look at 'em and go, "Ha, they never fight." You know, because they're both stuffin' all that stuff.

John: Because the buttons get pushed and they run.

Greg and Erin: Right.

Greg: But the point is, their buttons still get pushed. That's what's universal.

John: Hm.

Jim: Now the interesting thing with the model is, how human this is. When you think about it, Greg, especially with your training, but Erin, you have a master's degree in clinical psychology.

Greg: She reminds me of that every day. (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah, every time--

Erin: Well, I had to--

Jim: you're wrong.

Erin: --had to get something to understand what was (Laughter) going on in my marriage.

Jim: That's one way to complete him.

Greg: It's expensive--

Jim: But--

Greg: --though. That's not the best way to go about this.

Jim: --but it's interesting really, when you look at life and as a Christian, you have to sit back and say, "Okay, Lord, why?" Why did You design us in such a way that we're gonna have pain in our childhood particularly, where our father will be absent or our mom will be harsh. And these buttons get created and we don't feel good about ourselves. Have you ever thought about how do we begin to cope with that? How do we first recognize, okay, we're created this way. We've gotta recognize that we're gonna have weaknesses. And then how do you go about developing that inventory in yourself to know what your buttons are?

Erin: Uh-hm. Actually there's a test that you can take in the book, Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage and you ... you just go through and take inventory and you think of a recent conflict that you've had with your spouse and you just go through and identify. Yeah, that one really resonates with me. I have felt invalidated.

And the great news is, you can trace it right back to your childhood, to having a critical mother or a harsh mother. You know, and you can trace it right back. So, taking that inventory really will bring insight and awareness into what is really there and what's going on.

Jim: That's a great example. Let me talk about self-esteem, because that can play into this. That should be probably one of the big buttons.

Greg: Well, do we feel devalued--

Erin: Devalued.

Greg: --worthless?

Jim: Devalued and I think a lot of women today for all kinds of reasons, feel inadequate. They don't measure up. They're always falling short. They're tryin' to do so much with maybe work and takin' care of the house and who can possibly do this? What's going on in her emotions?

Erin: Uh-hm. [It's] ironic that you would ask me, because I have that as a major core button, as well. And I can tie it back to literally junior year of high school. I played the bells, the xylophone. And [it was a] huge band, I mean, band was the great thing to do. Our ...

Greg: Did you have one of those tall hats? (Laughter)

Erin; Yeah in--

Greg: Furry things?

Erin: --in Arizona, 120 degree weather, polyester, plume hat, you know, the whole thing. Our band director brought in a German composer to literally create a piece just for our band. And he noticed that we had a bell player, a xylophone player, so he created a solo for this bell player, which happened to be me. So, we practiced, practiced, practiced. The night comes for the concert. Literally and he's directing and everything's going smoothly and he points right at me when it's time for my bell solo and I froze.

Jim: Oh.

Erin: Dead silence. And I'm back with the drummers in the drum section and they're goin', "Come on; come on. Go, Erin! Go!" And I was like literally nothing, nothing transpired.

Greg: She played "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," but I'm not sure that's what he had written.

Erin: Yeah, probably not. But what that did is, it left that lie--

Jim: Hm.

Erin: --on my heart. It wrote the lie on my heart, that you are not good enough. You are insignificant. And in learning that the lies are written on our heart and we don't even know they're there, but the evil one does. And he plays on that day after day after day. He allows you to interpret experiences, things that happen and that literally ends up keeping your heart shut down.

You know, fast forward to this last summer. I was just feeling just insignificant. Here I am. I'm at home with four kids and doin' laundry and I'm hearing about these people going to Africa and you know, witnessing to lepers and you know, on and on and I'm like, what am I doing? And again, the insignificance tied right back to that experience of, you are not good enough. And that's what women deal with, day in and day out. And really the only way out of that is to turn toward the Lord, toward His Word and to seek the truth about what He says about you and your value.

Jim: Well, in addition to that, we as husbands can really do some damage at that point--

Greg: Yeah.

Jim: --of vulnerability.

Greg: Yeah, never intentionally, but certainly just the way I even handle just her heart and those emotions. And I didn't know what I was doin'. And so, I was constantly tryin' to fix her, solve these things, tell her, that's crazy. I don't know why you feel that way. That's not true, completely devalued and invalidated how she felt, which only made it worse. I mean, it only stirred up kind of those buttons more and more.

Jim: Well, we have a lot more to talk about and I think this book that you've written, Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage, boxing gloves and all on the front cover that do form a little heart--that's a very nice touch, Greg--

Greg: Thank you.

Jim: --these are the tools that all marriages need to not only survive but to thrive. And let's come back. We've got more to cover and let's talk more about your experiences and your stories, not ours, John.

John: Oh, absolutely not mine.

Jim: And learn from what you have learned over the years. Can you come back?

Greg: Absolutely.

Erin: Absolutely.


John: In the meantime, get a copy of the Smalley's book and a CD or a download of this two-part conversation from us. You can order that when you call 800-232-6459 and also ask about the CD or online you'll find those and the mobile app and our download of the program, as well,

And we rely on your generous financial gifts to continue helping marriages. And so, please join our support team today and we'll send a copy of Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage as a thank-you gift. And by the way, Greg and Erin have just released a 6-part DVD curriculum for small groups to help you get to the real issues that are so often lurking beneath the surface when you have an argument with your spouse. Ask about Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage Curriculum when you call or order it now at

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time when Greg Smalley helps you discover a big key to better communication.


Dr. Greg Smalley: I think one of the greatest things that you can do is to call a time out, to hit the pause button, instead of continuing to try to talk and argue and debate or just stuff it and you know, whatever, is to just say, you know what? Right now this is not goin' well."

End of Excerpt

John: Well, that's next time, as we provide encouragement to help you and your spouse thrive.

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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.