May 21, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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An interview with Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley
Keeping a strong marriage and family dynamic is one of the most important things someone can invest in when it comes to their relationships. It’s easy to keep up with your spouse or family when things are going well and everyone’s happy, but what about when things aren’t so easy? How many times have you struggled with finding joy and contentment in a relationship that has been through a season of struggle?
We got to sit down with marriage and family experts Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley to talk about this exact issue. This couple has dedicated their lives to helping marriages and families stay together through both the thriving and challenging seasons that life has to offer.
CALVARY: Sometimes it’s easy for couples to get caught up in life when their marriages are doing well, but then suddenly they take a look back and realize something’s off. What are some early warning signs that couples should look for to make sure they don’t find themselves in a place where complacency sneaks up on them?
GREG SMALLEY: When that happens to me in my marriage, it’s probably because I’m very aware of how my wife is disappointing or frustrating me. There’s a concept called confirmation bias, which is a bias that results from the tendency to process and analyze information in such a way that it supports one’s preexisting ideas and convictions. So, if that lens is turned on and is more negative, then I’m only going to notice the stuff she’s doing that’s frustrating me. When I catch myself in those moments, I try to focus on the stuff she brings to our marriage that make it work; thus, really shifting my mindset to see her value over how she’s frustrating me.
ERIN SMALLEY: In order to not grow complacent in a marriage, it takes some acknowledgment and thought about what is going on inside of you where you feel dissatisfied. Ask yourself how your heart is suffering from what’s happening in your marriage. A person needs to take personal inventory where they’re at. Is there an area where you need to take care of yourself better so you can show up in your marriage in a way that brings you joy? Are there boundaries that can be set that aren’t there already? Are you spending enough time together? You really need to dissect what it is that’s leading you to feel disconnected and make adjustments from there.
CALVARY: One of the most common seasons of complacency tends to happen after a couple walks through a big life change such as transitioning to a new place, starting a new job, the birth of a baby, or when all of their children are grown, move out, and they’re now living with their spouse alone for the first time in 20 to 25 years. So, how can couples be proactive in caring for their marriage in seasons of big transitions?
ERIN SMALLEY: I see a lot of couples do the same thing they’ve always done to problem solve and connect, but what’s really needed is a new approach for this new season. What may have worked for you in the past isn’t guaranteed to work again now. So, it’s digging into what’s going on versus what you’d like to see going on and tending to whatever isn’t working. Ask yourself, “What do we really want, how do we want this to go, and how can we be intentional about working towards that?”
GREG SMALLEY: Yeah, I like that. I would say another big warning sign is when you feel like there’s a disconnect—when you feel like you’re two ships passing in the night because you just don’t seem to really be connecting. Most couples spend about 90% of their time doing administrative work together for their lives versus actually doing life together and learning about the other person’s experience at that point in their lives. They’re just raising kids, working, handling budgets, and tackling a bunch of tasks on their to-do lists, but they’re not connecting at all in those moments. So, really it just comes down to making sure you take 10 minutes a day to really sit down with your spouse and just talk to each other about how you’re doing and not focusing on anything administrative. If this part gets lost, then people start to feel invisible and lost in the mix of the life they’ve built together.
CALVARY: So, what are some things people can ask their spouse during these daily 10-minute connection points?
ERIN SMALLEY: It can be as simple as, “How was your day today?”, “What are you facing in life right now?”, or “What are your dreams?” Really make sure you never leave the “getting to know you phase” out of your relationship because we’re constantly changing as people and it’s important to make sure you still know your spouse.
CALVARY: What would you say is the key to a successful, long-term marriage when it comes to couples consistently finding joy in their lives together even when it’s not so easy?
GREG SMALLEY: I would say number one is continuing to grow as individuals. I think that’s often overlooked and something we don’t talk about. But we all have issues we need to deal with so they don’t turn into cracks in our marriage because these issues affect both spouses. I usually tell people the simple formula is to keep growing as an individual and deal with your stuff. This can look like having a counselor or mentor. Make sure your relationship with God is thriving because it’s all wrapped up within that.
To learn more about how to strengthen your relationship or to speak to someone about support for your marriage, please visit CalvaryFTL.org/Couples.
Kristen Hollis has served in the Communications Team of Calvary since 2020 as a Senior Copywriter and Editor. She contributes and edits content for Calvary’s digital and promotional initiatives. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Communications from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Kristen and her husband Zachary enjoy all things musical theatre, vinyl hunting, and having the opportunity to serve Calvary on staff while utilizing their talents.