Dr. Greg Smalley, son of popular author and speaker Dr. Gary Smalley, serves as Focus’ Vice President of Family Ministries. Greg’s office is just steps from mine, and I enjoy our regular interactions. Not only is he a marriage expert and popular author with a doctorate in psychology, but he also has a great sense of humor. He’s a fun guy to be around. Greg and his wife, Erin, have been married for 21 years and have four children.
But would it surprise you to learn that the Smalley’s marriage was in dire straits just two years into it?
Today, I want to share the story – and what ultimately saved their marriage.
Greg and Erin will tell you they weren’t very good at managing the conflicts and pressures that beset most young couples in graduate school. That’s embarrassing when you’re the son of a famed marriage-and-family expert and a candidate for a Master’s degree in counseling. So Greg and Erin, in shame and confusion, swept their marital problems under the rug.
Luckily for them, they weren’t able to fool everyone. Greg’s supervisor, Dr. Gary Oliver, sensed that something was wrong. And Dr. Oliver’s wife, Carrie, a fellow student of Greg’s and a special friend to Erin, shared her husband’s misgivings. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much the Olivers could do – not while Greg and Erin chose to keep up their painful masquerade.
Things might have gone on this way for a long time if it weren’t for a fateful phone call.
Erin happened to be out running errands when Greg, tired and frazzled at the end of a hectic day, picked up the receiver and heard Carrie’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Sorry,” he said dully when she asked to speak to his wife. “Erin’s gone.”
“Gone?” responded Carrie. “Oh, dear! Gary and I were afraid it would come to this!”
Greg had only meant that Erin was gone for a bit, but Carrie’s reaction revealed her assumption that Erin was gone for good. While the miscommunication was initially funny, it gave way to a frightening realization. Suddenly it dawned on him: the cat’s out of the bag! The Olivers are on to us! Greg didn’t know whether to cry or breathe a sigh of relief.
“Greg,” said the voice after a long pause, “I have a feeling we need to talk. Would you and Erin like to come over for a while?”
To make a long story short, that’s exactly what they did. When Erin got home, the two of them went straight to the Olivers’, where they spent the evening not in a formal counseling session but in prayer, discussion, confession, and honest reflection. Greg remembers it as a turning point, a watershed moment in the development of their marriage. It was more than just a lesson in understanding his wife at a deeper level: it was the beginning of a long-term relationship with an older, wiser, more experienced couple – a communal connection that would prove to be a source of indispensable guidance, solace, encouragement, and reassurance for the next fifteen years.
It was a relational revolution.
Can you relate to Greg and Erin’s story in benefiting from another couple’s investment? Or have you felt compelled to reach out to another married couple and offer a helping hand?
On tomorrow and Friday’s broadcast, “How Mentoring Saved Our Marriage,” you’ll hear the moving story of Tom and Sandy Ralya, a couple who, not unlike Greg and Erin, found themselves on the brink of divorce – until a small number of friends and mentors challenged them to face their troubles and turn to God to restore their broken marriage.
I hope you’ll tune in. In the meantime, I want to ask you a pointed but related question:
Would you like to be a part of someone’s relational revolution? Can you and your spouse see yourselves, like the Olivers, coming alongside a younger, less seasoned couple and helping them normalize the rough spots in their marriage? Can you picture yourselves sharing some of your own struggles and revealing a few of the secrets that have helped you maintain your commitment to one another through the years? If so, we’d love for you to consider becoming a Focus Marriage Mentor.
But let me turn this to you: have you found yourself on the verge of divorce and ready to throw in the towel, only to have another person or couple pull you back from the edge? What turned the tide?
I hope you might consider using this space to share some of your story and in the process, perhaps encourage those who might be struggling through a difficult spot in their marriage.