Today on the blog we have author and marriage counselor, Dr. Greg Smalley. Greg serves as executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family. 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 eleven books including The DNA of Relationships, The DNA of Parent and Teen Relationships and The Wholehearted Marriage.
You grew up the son of one of the most popular family counselors in the world, Gary Smalley. And yet you have embraced the same calling as your father. What was it about your father that inspired you to follow in his footsteps?
My dad inspired me by practicing what he preached. Who he was on the stage was who he was at home. When he screwed up, which happened, he made it right. He truly tried to live out the principles that he taught. I didn’t have that sour taste in my mouth like some PK’s do. Another thing that inspired me was how many people would come up to us as kids and thank us for our father saving their marriage. That had an impact on me.
Isaiah 61:4 – Restore renew, rebuild…) the ruined cities were like marriages. My inspiration is to restore, renew and rebuild marriages.
Do people assume you’ve got family relationships all “figured out” considering your heritage?
Another value that I saw modeled by my father was transparency. My dad made his living telling about all the ways he messed up as a husband. I believe in being transparent and coming from a place of ‘here’s the mistakes I’ve made and here’s what I’ve learned’. My own marriage, 2 years in, I really thought we were 1 argument away from Erin leaving – I’ve been broken and felt helpless and hopeless. I know what that feels like.
Your marriage ministry focuses on relationships among millennials. What is different about the relationships of this generation?
I think one thing that’s different about millennials is that they are extremely hopeful and very optimistic about marriage. They want to and expect to get married. But I think this comes from what they were denied. In other words, millennials are the product of the largest divorced generation in our history. They’ve seen and been a part of so many broken relationships. They were denied growing up in a healthy marriage, so they want what they were denied. They have a strong desire but are extremely scared. They’ve never seen healthy marriages modeled, so they don’t know how to get it. They have concluded that the way to have a healthy marriage is to try it out beforehand. They’re not co-habiting because they don’t respect marriage, they highly value marriage. They think living together will help them be successful. The other big difference is because of the new technology (social networking, FB, tweeting…) they have extremely limited face-to-face social skills. That makes a marriage very challenging. They have to learn how to be face to face with a spouse.
What can Christian communities do to help foster better marriage and family relationships?
Churches need to embrace the importance of marriage and of strengthening marriages. Very few churches have ongoing, comprehensive marriage ministries. We need pastors who are willing to be transparent about their own marriage; who are willing to acknowledge that they don’t have perfect marriages and it’s ok to ask for help. Those pastors that normalize sharing their struggles and are being proactive are critical in strengthening marriages.
What is one piece of advice you could give to a young married couple about protecting and preserving their God-given union?
To live out Ephesians 5:29 – cherish and nourish. If all a young couple did was to help each other understand how incredibly valuable the other was, and then discover what they could do every single day to nourish their spouse and marriage, their marriage would thrive. It’s attitude in action – for me to value you above everything else and then learn what you need uniquely, what you need to feel loved. Cherishing my spouse and my marriage and asking how am I nourishing my spouse and my marriage.