Tyndale House Publishers
In a time when marriage books are more prevalent than ever and the divorce rate continues to be unchanged, it’s fair to ask, “Why would another book make a difference?” Unlike most of today’s resources, the principles of this book were uncovered in a very successful marriage-counseling program. The Smalley Marriage Institute’s Couples Intensivesm program works with couples who are in crisis, and the program is delivering remarkable success. Even though the majority of couples who participate in the intensives are at or near divorce when they arrive, more than 90 percent stay together and report marked improvement in their marital satisfaction.
The Marriage You’ve Always Dreamed Of translates the principles from this life-changing program into simple and practical steps for you and your spouse. Don’t live another day feeling stuck, stale, or simply surviving in your marriage. Begin your own personal journey to the marriage you’ve always dreamed of today.
Here’s to a marriage revolution at your house!
Dr. Greg Smalley
THE WISEST PATIENTS always do a little investigating before they entrust their physical well-being to the care of a new doctor. They want to know something about this person—details about his or her educational background, work experience, style of practice, philosophy of medicine. They want some assurance that they’ve come to the right place.
I think those who seek help on how to nurse a sick marriage back to health (or guidance on how to strengthen a basically sound one) ought to have the same concern. They should know a little about the one to whom they come for counsel—especially if that doctor claims to equip his patients for a move toward something he calls “Promised Land marriage.”
Therefore, before we begin our journey toward a satisfying, healthy marriage, allow me to introduce myself. Permit me to describe a little of my own personal journey so you can feel “comfortable” with the guide and “confident” that he is the right one.
I grew up in the home of Dr. Gary and Norma Smalley, and as their son, I thought that I had this business of marriage all figured out.1 So when I married Erin in 1992, a year into my master’s degree program in counseling psychology at Denver Seminary, I thought my biggest struggles lay behind me.
Foolish kid!Consider just one example. In our second year of marriage, Erin and I got into a huge argument early one morning. At the time we were living in Denver Seminary’s on-campus apartments and as yet didn’t realize just how thin those walls were. Our disagreement made her late for work, so right before she slammed the door as she left, she offered one final, belittling comment.
It really ticked me off, not only that she got in the last word, but also that we hadn’t resolved the issue. And I wanted to do something to draw attention to my displeasure.
We used to stuff our dirty clothes into a gigantic mesh bag, then drop the bag, bombardier style, to the laundry room three stories directly below. I had planned to do the laundry that day, so as I noticed the enormous bag sitting on the floor, a spectacularly unwise plan began to form in my fevered brain. I decided to make my point by dropping our clothes as near as possible to Erin as she walked to her car. I didn’t want to hit her, just to startle her. Then I’d pretend, “Oh, I’m sorry. I was just dropping the laundry.”
A stupid plan? Of course. But remember, I had only seconds to think it through. As I saw my wife angrily rushing down the stairs and hurtling toward her car, I impulsively grabbed the bag, carefully gauged her speed, and let it go.
Unfortunately, my dumb bomb clipped her. It didn’t crush her neck or anything nearly so disastrous, but it did launch her off her feet and knock her to the ground. As she lay sprawled out on the turf, she looked up—and saw me still staring out the window.
At that instant it dawned on me: I’m in huge trouble.
While I knew my wife had run track in college, I never fully realized how fast she could climb stairs. I had only seconds to decide what to do. Erin’s tough, and I didn’t know whether she would pummel me or sling me out the window to join our laundry. I hastily retreated into our apartment and quickly turned the lock. Seconds later I heard her banging furiously on the door. I slinked back against the wall, careful not to make a sound, madly hoping that she might think I had left. I knew only one thing: whatever happened, I was not about to open that door.
Our worried neighbors heard the commotion and started streaming out of their apartments—and their curiosity saved me. Unnerved by all the watching eyes, Erin bounded down the stairs and drove off in a cloud of dust.
By the time she returned home that night, I had neatly folded all of the laundry and piled it in the living room so she would know I had done everything. I also strategically positioned four or five bouquets of flowers around our apartment.
We managed to smooth things over that evening, and I apologized for my angry behavior. Erin and I have grown since then, but it wasn’t until we began to employ some of the skills and techniques described in this book that we learned how to use conflict as a doorway to greater intimacy.
I had enrolled at Denver Seminary to earn a degree in marriage and family counseling, and we stayed on for a third year just to learn from Dr. Gary Oliver, a marriage expert whom I deeply respect. After Denver I decided to get a doctorate. I applied to and was accepted by Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University in Los Angeles, where I specialized in marriage and family issues. There I read innumerable books and completed exhaustive coursework, all in an effort to try to understand how I could best help couples.
And I grew increasingly frustrated.
The more I read and studied, the less confidence I felt. So many theories and ideas competed for my attention. Which ones actually worked? And how did all of this effectively come together?
When I finished at Rosemead, Erin and I returned home to Branson, Missouri, and there I continued my quest for understanding. What did I really believe about marriage? And how could I help married couples to get the most out of their relationships?
Doctoral grads who want a license to practice in the state of Missouri must complete a postdoctoral residency, which requires a specialization. My choice to specialize in marriage therapy meant further marriage counseling, reading, and research. Yet the more I read, the more frustrated I became.
During that period I worked personally with about twenty couples each week. My efforts appeared to be helping a few of them, but everything seemed to be so hit or miss. I just couldn’t put together a complete framework. I couldn’t say, “Here’s what you need to do to make your marriage stronger. This is why you need to do these things. And when you are done, this is what your marriage will look like.” So I continued my quest—asking all of the experts, reading, praying.
And early in the morning on two separate occasions, I believe I heard from the greatest Expert of all. God spoke to me in two vivid dreams that continue to inspire and shape my ministry. I’ll tell you more about them later, but for now, it’s enough to say that the first dream provided the general outline for this book, while the second supplied the motivation to do something about it.
As I meditated on and developed the ideas in this book, eventually I began to put them into practice. Under the leadership of Bob Paul and with the help of a team of talented colleagues, we started to offer two- and four-day “marriage intensives,” in which couples on the brink of divorce received concentrated help with their relationships.
One day a few summers ago a board member approached me and said, “Greg, I really need to talk to you about something. I can’t tell you what to do, but God has laid it on my heart to say something to you. I believe he’s saying that you’re supposed to help lead a marriage revival.”
“What?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“I don’t know,” he replied, shaking his head. “But that’s what’s on my heart. I just wanted you to know, for what it’s worth, what I feel God is leading me to say to you.”
I made no reply. What could I say? But I thought, Well, okay. Whatever.
A couple of weeks later, two business consultants came to Branson to help our board decide a future course for the Smalley Relationship Center. After meeting with the staff for a full day, the consultants returned the next morning and said to me privately, “We need to meet with you.”
When we were alone, both men said to me, “We spent some time praying last night, and then this morning we spent some quiet time alone. As we were driving over to this meeting, we started talking. God has laid it on our hearts to tell you that you’re supposed to help lead a marriage revival.”
“What?” I almost shouted.
“We know this is unusual,” they said, assuring me that they had arrived at the idea separately, without coordinated efforts. “But we both feel it. And we both thought we should tell you.”
“Wow,” I whispered. “A couple of weeks ago someone else said the very same thing to me.”
The whole idea really made me uneasy.
For the next several days, I kept asking the Lord, “God, are you trying to tell me something? Is this for real? Are people saying this, or are you saying this?” I didn’t know for sure, and neither did my wife.
A few days later, while helping to brainstorm about another project, a godly man unconnected to any of this said to me, “Hey, Greg, I want to meet with you before you leave.”
When we found a private spot, he cleared his voice and said, “Listen, we’ve been talking about marriage for the past several days. And you know what? I believe you’re supposed to do something. I feel a marriage revival is supposed to take place, and you’re supposed to help lead it.”
I cut him off. “All right,” I demanded, “who have you been talking to?”
He looked genuinely surprised. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Tell me that you’ve been talking to people,” I said.
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” he replied evenly, “but I believe that’s what I’m supposed to tell you.”
His words shook me, and I thought, All right, not one of these people knows the others. No one seems to be plotting anything. Could this really be God?
Shortly after that encounter I had the second dream, which I’ll describe in the next chapter. And finally I admitted what I already knew: All right, God. It appears as if you’re speaking to me. You seem to be saying that I’m supposed to help lead something. Still, I don’t understand. It’s way too intimidating.
And at last, on my knees, I said to the Lord, “All right. I submit.”
After I returned home, I said to my wife, “I think God is truly calling me to something unique. He wants a marriage revival, and to whatever degree and in whatever way he sees fit, he wants me to be a part of it. So that’s what I have to do. If I can stay here in Branson and do it, great. But if he wants me somewhere else, he’ll reveal that. Let’s just keep praying.”
God has continued to lead since then in astonishing ways. We established the Smalley Marriage Institute, where a sharp team of professionals helps at-risk couples who come for the marriage intensives. We can hardly keep up!
Today we find ourselves working with some of the world’s top experts on marriage and family issues. Regularly we draw on the expertise of bright university professors around the country all because we’re deeply committed to helping ignite a marriage revival, a Spirit-filled movement that God wants to cover the globe.
Why do I tell you the story of my journey? First, it’s always exciting to share how God works in our lives. Second, I want you to see that God is behind the beginnings of this marriage revival.
Third, I suspect that many of you share my concern for marriages. You may have friends or family members whose marriages are stuck, falling apart, or worse, have already disintegrated. Maybe the marriage falling apart is your own. The material in this book will give you not only hope but also some significant direction, perspectives, and tools that you can use in your own marriage.
I believe with all of my heart that God wants a marriage revival to rock this country. And I’m certain that he wants your own marriage to blossom and grow in the Promised Land. I hope that all of this background helps you to get to know me a little. Any good doctor wants patients to feel confident in his or her ability to furnish quality care, and I’m no exception.
I’m eager to help you get or stay on the road to marital health—and as your “doctor,” I promise that this road really does lead to the Promised Land.
Give honor to marriage, and remain
faithful to one another in marriage.
NOT LONG AGO I took my family on a vacation to Florida.
One evening my two young daughters and I were building a sand castle on a beautiful, powdery white beach. As we worked, I noticed a young boy, about nine years old, circling our growing fortress. He stayed about ten or fifteen yards away from us as he tossed a football to himself. No one seemed to be with him.
Eventually I asked the boy to throw me the ball. We played catch for about five minutes, and then I turned to the girls and asked if we should invite the boy to build with us.
“Sure!” they said.
“Hey, son,” I asked, “would you like to help us?”
“Oh, yeah!” he replied enthusiastically.
We all sat in the sand to continue our construction project. Soon I asked the boy, “What’s your name?”
“Zachary,” he said with pride.
“Nice to meet you, Zachary,” I replied. I then introduced my family.
“What are you doing out here?” I asked. “I haven’t seen you with anybody.”
“Well, I’ve been at my dad’s house,” he explained. “Now I’m here at my mom’s house.”
Immediately I assumed his parents had divorced, but to avoid presuming anything, I said, “Really? So your dad lives somewhere else?”
“Yeah, he lives in Alabama,” Zachary replied. “And now I’m here with my mom in Florida.”
“Really,” I answered. “And what does that mean, Zachary?”
I’ll never forget his answer. This nine-year-old boy momentarily took his sandy hands away from the castle, looked up with fear in his eyes, and said in a wavering voice, “I’m not sure, but my mom says it means that I’m now the man of the house.”
A feeling of utter sadness washed over me. I was sad that a nine-year-old boy thought that he had to be the “man of the house.” This is the job of a father, not of a young boy. I saw the panic in his eyes that he had to do something beyond his years—that he had to grow up quickly. But the thing that broke my heart is that he longed for his daddy. Nothing can ever replace a father in a child’s life—especially the daily interaction. This is where a young boy learns how to be a man. Zachary learned that a dad quit and left him home alone to fend for himself.
But as heartbreaking as Zachary’s story is, do you know the saddest thing of all? Millions of Zacharys live all around this country. Untold numbers of hurting little boys and girls grow up in broken homes, forced to accept adult responsibilities long before they’re ready. You probably know some of these children too. And they’re frightened.
Behind every child affected by divorce stand two people who lost their dream of a lifelong, satisfying marriage. Many of them are frightened too. They are often sad, lost, and confused.
It shouldn’t take a sad story like Zachary’s to make us realize that America urgently needs a marriage revival. Did you know that
• every day 2,700 children will watch their parents either separate or divorce?1
• under current trends in the U.S., younger people who marry for the first time face a 40–50 percent chance of divorce?2
• second marriages fail at a rate about 10 percent higher than the rate of failed first marriages?3
• many first marriages end in divorce in the first three to five years? In 2000, for example, among women aged 25 to 29 whose first marriages ended in divorce, the median length of marriage was 3.4 years.4
• at least one researcher suggests that fewer than half of the marriages that avoid divorce can be described as truly happy?5
• marital distress puts both adults and children at increased risk for mental and physical problems?
Common maladies include increased incidence of illness, decreased work productivity (especially for men), suicide, violence, homicide, significant suppression of the immune system, mortality from disease, and increased rates of automobile accidents.6 These are more than statistics when we realize that the people they represent are our neighbors, our family members, our friends, our coworkers. Just looking around us, we can see that this nation urgently needs a marriage revival. The welfare and happiness of countless couples—not to mention the millions of little Zacharys—depend on it.
Yet all revivals, of whatever type and wherever they occur, start small. The marriage revival that we need so badly will begin only when individual couples consciously choose to do the hard work necessary to avoid the pain of divorce and instead enter into the satisfaction and joy of a Promised Land marriage.
It’s this vision that makes me passionate about helping couples to resolve their marital problems. I have dedicated my life to equipping couples to understand, find, and experience God’s best for their marriage. But it took two dreams—literal ones, mind you—to get me on track.
About two o’clock one morning, I sat bolt upright in bed after experiencing one of the most vivid dreams of my life. The images not only captivated me but also promised to help me put together some pieces of a difficult puzzle that had confounded me for a long time.
In my dream I stared as the Old Testament patriarch Abraham’s descendants enjoyed “the good life” in Goshen. I watched as God freed the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. I observed as the ancient Hebrews struggled and learned in the wilderness.
I witnessed their supernatural triumph at Jericho. And finally I saw them take possession of the Promised Land under the able leadership of Joshua.
Yet somehow I knew that this dream served as far more than a historical replay; I understood that these ancient Israelites represented contemporary married couples. And I knew that what happened to God’s chosen people in biblical history could happen to husbands and wives right now.
“Whoa!” I murmured the moment I opened my eyes. I bolted out of bed, turned on the computer, and started typing. Here’s the artwork for the idea that came to me that morning. It still serves as the framework for my understanding about how best to help couples leave the “slavery” of marital hurts and disappointments in order to enter the Promised Land—all that God meant marriage to be.
We’ll unpack thismapas we make our way through the book, but for now it’s enough to grasp the general idea. The biblical story of Israel’s flight from being stuck in Egypt to a new life in God’s Promised Land provides a model with the power to point modern marriages to health, courage, and renewed strength. I could never have asked God for such an insightful dream.
Like nearly everyone else in the country on September 11, 2001, I sat glued in front of my television set as the World Trade Center towers disintegrated into a pile of rubble. I could hardly believe that terrorists could stage such a hideous attack, let alone comprehend the vast number of deaths they could inflict so quickly. The attack rattled me to the core.
The following month I traveled to Pasadena, California, for a seminar. And for the second time in my life, an impossibly vivid dream awakened me in the wee hours of the morning.
In my dream, I saw the World Trade Center towers still standing, looking down on the rest of the New York skyline. I felt helpless as two hijacked planes once more smashed into a pair of defenseless targets. And I felt weak as I watched both towers crumble into dust.
This dream felt so real that I could taste the dust and smell the smoke. It felt as if I were really there. I realized that, like my previous dream about the ancient Israelites fleeing Egypt, this dream was symbolic, with the collapsing towers representing a husband and a wife. In the shadow of their catastrophic fall stood dazed children, wounded families, and crippled communities, all bleeding profusely from the devastation of divorce.
In my dream, I was driving a vintage M*A*S*H ambulance. With me rode a team of men and women whose faces I couldn’t see but who nevertheless made up a crucial part of the team. On one side of the ambulance, as clear as day, I saw some words stenciled in classic M*A*S*H style: MARRIAGE 911
And then I woke up.
A flood of emotions swept over me. Right there in the hotel room, I broke down and sobbed. Despite my mixed feelings, I got out of bed, booted up the computer, and started writing. I recorded my whole dream. When I finished, I logged on to the Internet and discovered that no one yet owned the rights to the name “Marriage 911.” So I grabbed it.
And in those emotion-filled, early morning hours, I knew God had set my agenda for the foreseeable future.
Why have I written this book? To offer help and encouragement to searching husbands and wives? Surely. To create a practical tool that God might be pleased to use in a marriage revival? That would be terrific. But that is not my core reason. A deeply personal motive drives me to publish this book. I’m writing for all the Zacharys who live all around us. I can never forget that poignant moment on the beach and the desperate longing that I saw deep in Zachary’s eyes. I know that those same eyes peer out from millions of little boys and girls all over the country. But behind every Zachary is a distressed couple, a husband and wife who wanted desperately to make their marriage work but couldn’t find the way. The eyes of these couples haunt me.
I write this book for them. I’ve dedicated my professional life to helping couples everywhere not only to make sense of their marriages but also to enjoy them in a way they never thought possible. The goal in our work at the Smalley Marriage Institute is, as we say on our Web site, “not to ‘cure’ the relationship. Instead, the objective is to assist a couple in moving its relationship onto the road to a healthy, satisfying relationship.”7 Our mission is building, renewing, and restoring the promise of a great marriage. When a husband and wife leave from their experience, they are equipped with a clear plan and direction for how to reach their desired marriage.
In an effort to make this goal become a reality, we’ve created, under the leadership of Bob Paul, two- and four-day “marriage intensives” in which couples come to the Institute for concentrated relationship help. We’ve been tracking the performance of these sessions for the past few years and have felt delighted to discover that they consistently enjoy more than 90 percent success—that is, less than 10 percent of the couples who complete the program end up filing for divorce, and those who stay together report a significant improvement in their level of marriage satisfaction.
When my dad heard about the phenomenal success we’ve been enjoying in this program, he expressed the desire to understand what we do; so he helped lead an intensive a short while ago. Subsequently I overheard him tell a friend, “I was shocked to see what they’re doing. These couples fly in from everywhere and often come in separated from each other, hurt and hostile, having suffered through affairs or any number of horrible things. These husbands and wives don’t even know each other when they show up—but at the end of the four days, they leave appearing to be lifetime friends. They return home holding hands.”
This book represents my attempt to bring you the benefits enjoyed by the couples—some in serious relationship distress— who leave our marriage intensives arm in arm and hand in hand. What happens in those intensives can also happen wherever you live. And it can start today.
Are you ready for a marriage revival? More to the point, are you ready to revive your own marriage? If so, I invite you to join me. I’m thrilled at what God is doing through our work at the Institute and pleased that I have some small place in it. I’m delighted that our marriage intensives have racked up a 90 percent success rate—but I’m no longer surprised by it. In one sense, of course we’re going to have 90 percent success because this marriage revival is God’s idea.
I believe with all of my heart that God wants a marriage revival to spread over the whole world. And I’m certain that he wants your own marriage to blossom and grow in the Promised Land.
Doyou want that, too? Then join us. Read this book. Try the principles out in your marriage. Share hope with the couples around you. Be part of God’s work to strengthen marriages all around the world.
So, where do we start? We start where ancient Israel started: in the giddy days of a fresh beginning.