Greg Smalley first met his bride-to-be during a rather embarrassing moment. Greg had fallen asleep in class. Erin, who sat behind him, decided to have a little fun. She shook his arm and said, “Stand up.” Greg looked at her with a dazed look. Again she said, “Stand up, the professor asked you to pray. Stand up!”
Greg stood up and proceeded to pray. Then he realized that everybody in the class seemed to be laughing at him. When he finally sat down, the professor said, “Greg, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but could you wait to close us in prayer until I have finished lecturing?” When Greg looked at Erin, her face was red from laughing so hard.
“At that moment I thought to myself, this girl has real potential,” says Dr. Smalley, executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family. “I figured marriage with her would be quite the adventure.”
Erin and Greg have been married since 1992, and the practical jokes continue to this day.
“My motto for our marriage is, ‘expect the unexpected,’ because I never know when Erin is up to something,” Smalley says. “We have had a lot of laughs, but we have also learned some very valuable lessons throughout our marriage. I would have to say that one of the most important things we have learned is that the state of our hearts is foundational for a healthy marriage.”
Smalley contends there are a lot of people who live life with a closed heart and the impact of that on a marriage can be devastating.
When people feel emotionally unsafe in a relationship, they will close their heart and disconnect. People usually describe them as self-centered, insensitive and mean.
“I believe couples should strive to make their marriage the safest place on earth,” Smalley states. “When people feel safe, they naturally open their heart and intimacy occurs almost effortlessly. When a spouse feels emotionally safe, he knows he can open up and reveal his true thoughts and feelings and his wife will still love, understand, accept and value him.”
One of the ways to create safety in your marriage is to recognize your mate’s value.
“I often ask couples what they value about each other and encourage them to write it down,” Smalley shares. “When you are really angry, you can pull out that list and remind yourself of why you value your mate.”
Another key to creating safety is to understand there will be times when your spouse irritates you somehow. How you respond can either create or destroy safety in your marriage.
“When couples refuse to discuss sensitive issues until they both have had time to calm down and think about their own contribution and expectations in the particular situation, the outcome is usually much better,” Smalley says. “Most people think along the lines of win/lose. If one person loses, the whole team loses. In safe marriages, the goal is to find a solution where both people feel good about the outcome.”