Gary Smalley: Keys to Marital
By Laura Bagby
I got a chance to chat by phone with this author of 19
books, including the Angel Award winning "The Language of Love,"
and I discovered that the founder and chairman of the board for
Relationship Center was just as approachable over the phone
as he would be if he were standing in my own living room.
Having seen the divorce rate skyrocket, I was curious what this
seasoned expert with 30-plus years of marital counseling experience
had to say on the topic of spousal conflict and resolution. I
was especially intrigued when I learned that separated couples
who come to the counseling team at the Smalley Relationship Center
can expect a 90 percent success rate of staying together.
So, what's the secret?
First, couples must recognize what they are doing to perpetuate
conflict in their marriage. Both husband and wife have core fears,
or what Gary calls "fear buttons" or "anger buttons," that both
parties are completely unaware of. The counseling team at the
Smalley Relationship Center has isolated twenty typical fear buttons.
Some of these include feeling inadequate, belittled, controlled,
abandoned, rejected, and disconnected, and the fear of failure.
Left unchecked, couples can get stuck in an unpleasant cycle
Gary calls "the fear dance." "When a wife has a core fear and
the husband doesn't know what it is, the husband is going to say
or do something to tap into it," he explains. "Then her reactions
almost always push his button. His further reaction re-pushes
Gary has witnessed the cycle in his own life with wife Norma,
who he has been married to for 38 years. The typical battleground
for Gary and Norma: the car.
"For years we would get into the car and she would always have
a cute comment about my driving -- driving too fast, driving too
close to the edge," Gary explains. "I would interpret that as
she was controlling me and belittling me because I thought I was
a pretty good driver
.I was communicating to her that she
was a failure as a woman, as a wife: 'You are not a strong person
because you can't handle driving in certain conditions
went off on my wife for years. She never had any idea what she
was doing, and I didn't have any idea that she was poking [my
Lest one might think these fear buttons are limited to husband/wife
conflicts, be forewarned that they appear in conflicts among friends
Gary told me about the time his friendships with two pastors
suffered because he always ended up arguing with them. Once he
realized that they had unknowingly tapped into his own fear buttons
of control and belittlement, Gary was able to get his relationships
back on track. "Now if they say or do anything that taps into
my core, I don't respond the way I used to," he says. "I take
it to the Lord and say, 'God, this is between you and me.' I still
want to keep loving this person, so I don't take it personally.
The moment you start understanding it, you start getting victory."
Another key to staying happily married is attending weekly small
groups made up of four couples who pray together and keep each
other accountable. Gary has been an active participant in small
groups for 25 years and is currently in three small groups and
can't say enough about the benefits of assembling with other caring
"If they are willing to get into a small group, we don't know
of anything better. If they can get into a small group, I can
give them a 95 percent guarantee that their life is going to change
in a positive direction," Gary states with conviction.
The reason why small groups work, says Gary, is that individuals
get energy and support from them. Struggling couples realize they
are not the only ones dealing with difficulties and are able to
give and receive pray. And, more importantly, each individual
knows that they are going to be held accountable for any actions.
The idea is biblical. Scripture tells us in James 5:16, "Therefore
confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that
you may be healed."
"I never lost a couple to divorce in one church when I was in
Texas if they got into a small group and were loved by other couples,"
Gary told me.
That's some track record and good news for those struggling to
make it. Through his books, video series, conferences, and counseling
sessions, Gary has helped countless couples find hope and rekindle
What does Gary have to say about that kind of legacy?
"This is my favorite thing to hear: We were right on the verge
of divorce and not only have we stayed together and we are glad
that we did, but our kids are thrilled."
For those of you who, like me, want to know more about understanding
and resolving the fear dance, pick up a copy of The
DNA of Relationships.
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