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Are You Treating Your Spouse Like a Roommate? Part 2

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

In this week's episode, Dr. Greg Smalley from Focus on the Family, Chris, and Tim continue their conversation from last week emphasizing the importance of friendship, communication, and so much more in marriage.

Speaker 1:    Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.

Chris Grace:    Well, welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. It's so good to be with you. And for all the listeners out there, hey, go check out all of those information that we have on our website, So many good resources, events, and blogs and podcasts, different books we recommend and different authors that are out there that we just love and...

Tim Muehlhoff:    Take advantage of COVID right now. I mean, Netflix is great. Come on. I mean, that is God's gift to a fallen world. Netflix is a never ending hole. But we offer some classes that you can actually take. We have a class on spiritual battle in marriage, and no doubt, spiritual battle was the reality during COVID. And so, check out some of our classes and maybe do a mixture of both. Before you get to The Queen's Gambit, go ahead and do a quick class or mix the two. But now's the time to not just amuse ourselves, but also to maybe go a little bit deeper into our relationships from a biblical perspective. We'd love to give you those kinds of resources.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. So, Tim, that one on spiritual battle is pretty powerful. Check it out. One called The Art and Science of Relationships. So, today, Tim, we have a guest that we've had before on a previous podcast, Dr. Greg Smalley. And Greg and Erin Smalley have just put out a new book, and we mentioned and talked about it on our last podcast. The book, by the way, is called Reconnected: Moving from Roommates to Soulmates in your Marriage. And both Greg and Erin work at, focus on the family. Greg, are you there? Are you still with us?

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Well, I was debating if I should stay on. Because our friendship goes back 20 years, I figured-

Chris Grace:    No, it's longer than that.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    ... I better stay on.

Chris Grace:    I think it's at least 20 years.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    [inaudible 00:01:57]. Thank you for having me back at least. Yeah.

Chris Grace:    Well, it's good to have you back. And Greg, that book that we talked about, Reconnected, last time is such a really powerful book, and there's a lot of great material there. And Greg, you guys have written this, it came out during COVID, and so it's such good advice. And I thought, too, we'll continue talking some about that. Our listeners really have an interest in all things, relationships, and what does it mean to have relationships with not just maybe a roommate or a friend or with a child to a parent.

    But also, Greg, you guys have written this book that can actually be good for almost anybody, I mean, whether they're married or not to just be... What does it mean to connect with another person, to be able to hear them and listen to their heart? And I think in the last podcast, we were able to talk about listening to your children for bids for attention or connection there, they're wanting to talk about things. And so, Greg, what do you think? Let's keep talking about some of this material, and what you and Erin have done is a pretty awesome book.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Well, thank you. Yeah. It's become such a passion of ours because I just think as we look around, people are... I think they're frustrated, they're together. COVID, quarantined, all these new words that really had no meaning before. We're together more, but I just think so many couples feel alone, even though they're together. And so, a big part of our motivation was to really understand, what's going on for a couple that that feels like they're married, but alone, they're feeling lonely. Because that that's a tough deal. When we start to experience a loneliness in our marriage, we gradually just drift apart. I would argue that loneliness is one of the most difficult of all of our human emotions, because it's just so different than how we were created to be. We were created to be in relationship. And so, when we're feeling lonely, especially in a marriage, especially with this spouse that is supposed to be our best friend, that we're supposed to have this deep connection...

    And so, we were really driven by that to go, what causes couples to begin to drift? What's going on for them uniquely? And then, how can we give them just one solution? So, each chapter is a, here's the problem. Maybe we're not dealing with conflict, and so we're disconnected because we're not dealing with our issues. So, what's one way that we could maybe do conflict difference? Or sexlessness is a huge issue in our culture. About 15 to 20% of the couples report not having sex together. And so, what do we do there? And so, again, each chapter's designed really to give one simple solution. This is going on, try this. And it's designed, just over time, just to help to bring that couple who may be drifted far apart back together in a way to where...

    We use the word soulmate. Now, I know, honestly, I hate that word because it's, in our culture, it implies this magical relationship, this one person who's out there. We don't mean it that way. It's just rhymed with roommate. And so, we define soulmate is this is you're in this lifelong relationship, and you regularly experience the deepest levels of connection and intimacy with your best friend. To me, that's a soulmate, this person that I'm committed to you for lifetime, I'm with you till the end, and let's figure out how to stay in a deep, deep connection. So, that's what we mean by that word.

Chris Grace:    That's good. Thanks for defining that.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Let's go back to that sexlessness. We get this a lot at Family Life Marriage Conferences, we do a whole talk on sexual intimacy, and couples are very transparent afterwards and say, "Listen, we don't have sex." And it's funny, Greg, because a lot of the time, it's the woman saying that. Like, "Hey, it's not me. I know the gender stereotype is he wants sex all the time. That is not our marriage. He is just flat out not interested, for whatever reason." So, define that a little bit, and then in your book, you talk about how do you rekindle that?. I think listeners would be interested in that.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Yeah. And I've heard it's about 25% of the couples to where the woman has the stronger desire, so you're right, this just isn't just the man always wants it. I think the biggest thing that we try to encourage couples to recognize is that if you're not having sex, there's a reason, and figuring that out is so incredibly important. I mean, is there a physical problem to where we need to go to the doctor? Is there a relationship issue that we just don't feel safe? Or is it just that we're so busy that we're exhausted and worn out and have nothing more to give at the end of the night? Whatever it is, we find that couples just typically don't talk about sex, and it's so unfortunate because this should be the most talked about aspect of our relationship.

    And so, part of what we're trying to help a couple do is, one, we need to retrain our marriage, that it's okay to talk about sex, and let's dig in and figure out... So, we give this big checklist. I mean, it's like 30 bullet points of possible reasons why couples aren't having sex, just to help that couple really pinpoint, "Okay, for us it's this." And then whatever that is, then how do we proactively then deal with that?

    Because this is such an amazing gift that God's given us within our marriage, this gift of sex. There's nothing that takes us to a deeper level of connection and intimacy, and just there's so many benefits. And it's so heartbreaking when couples are missing out of that, and it's in the best interest of both. Both need to matter. And we keep telling people, you need to be having sex often in a way that feels good to both of you. And so, figure that out, whatever that looks like, but take the series because I really do think it's the enemy of marriage that wants as disconnected in the bedroom, especially So, this is worth fighting for as a couple.

Chris Grace:    Gosh, it sure is worth fighting for. Greg, some of the research out there that talks about... They looked at what are the most important factors in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex in their marriage, even the romance and the passion. And you know what they found is probably one of the most important determining factors that they feel satisfied in their romance, passion, and sex in their marriage? Is the quality of their friendship. So, it's the quality of the couple's friendship. Well, interesting. So, the higher your quality, the closer you feel that this is a confidant, of all the things we associate with friendships, somebody I can trust, somebody I can turn to, somebody who I can tell all of my heart with, I think that's what you're talking about. If you're struggling in this area as a couple, you need to really go look at and see what's wrong. What aspect of a friendship, for example, isn't there?

    But here's what's also intriguing. The most important determining factor in whether husbands feel satisfied with the sex or romance or passion in their marriage is also the quality of the friendship. So, it's not just wives, it's the husbands who say, "I also need to... When I'm satisfied with the sex and passion in our marriage, it's related to because I also," they say, "my friendship with my spouse is strong and high." And I think that's important. I think you guys bring out just some great tips for these couples to process such an intimate and difficult sometimes area.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Well, I love what you're saying, and I don't know how frank we can be on your podcast.

Chris Grace:    We can always edit things out, don't worry.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Okay, good. But what I always tell couples, is so as I'm talking to the man and the wife, and so the husband and wife, I always say that the guy that the beauty is look how God designed sex to work. I mean, look at the mechanics of it. And that tells you a lot about what should be happening relationally. That in order to have sex, literally a man must initiate an erection, and what I tell the guys that that's your job is to initiate.

    But usually for a woman, Chris, like you're saying, that it's around that a friendship, it's around outside the bedroom. And so, for him, it's to figure out, "Okay, so how can I initiate really building that strong friendship?" And then for sex to happen, then the woman must receive her husband. And so, we often talk about how are you preparing yourself so that you're able to receive emotionally, physically, mentally? How are you keeping well cared for and open? And that's what I love about the way God designed this, is that we can look to the physiology and go, "Okay." So, it tells us something that you've been relationally that we need to be doing, and I think that's cool., A cool part of the whole experience.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. So-

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Did I make you guys feel super uncomfortable?

Chris Grace:    Not at all. Not at all.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    I just hear crickets, so yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Right. Yeah.

Chris Grace:    No, so that was the editor. Yeah.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    [crosstalk] that's what you want.

Tim Muehlhoff:    No, and this is what, to me... So, yeah, it's friendship-based, Chris, what you just said. So, let's say there's tension in the friendship, there's unresolved conflict. Well, that's what's so alluring about pornography, is it's the quick way of saying, "I don't have to deal with anything when I go to this porn site." Right? "I don't care about that person I'm looking at. It doesn't matter to me. But if I go to my-

Dr. Greg Smalley:    It doesn't require anything.

Tim Muehlhoff:    It doesn't require anything. "If I have to go to my wife and initiate sex, well, we're upset, we're upset with each other. There's certain things I haven't done. There's certain disappointments I have that she hasn't done. And that's too complicated. That's just [inaudible 00:13:07]. So, I'm going to do the shortcut route, and that is get satisfied through a different means." And that, to me, is the addictive nature of pornography, is I can take shortcuts. And the other things seem so much complicated to me, and that's a dangerous pattern to get into.

Chris Grace:    That's a good insight. Yeah. What do you think, Greg?

Dr. Greg Smalley:    I mean, it's true. That's exactly right, that pornography creates a situation where I have to make no investment. I don't have to build anything. I don't have to try. I can get relief without having to work at it. And that's the beauty of our sexual relationship, is that it requires all that work in the building of the relationship. For me, I always tell Erin, "I know that you told me you loved me when we got married, and that's actually, for me, that's good enough. I just want to know that you like me." And so, when I think about friendship with Erin, I want to know that she likes me, that she wants to be with me, that she enjoys spending time and we'd like to hang out. And that's a part of the whole foreplay for me, is when she's joking and laughing and we're connecting and we're taking walks and we're just being together because, then, to me, that's evident that she likes me.

    I know that Erin loves the word pursue. So, as much as I want to be liked by her, she wants me to pursue her, especially her heart. She wants me to really care about how she's feeling and what's going on emotionally for her and connect that way. And it seemed like, when she's liking me and we're hanging out being friends and I'm pursuing her, I mean, it's a such a great setup for then that cherry on top, that sexual relationship. So, I agree with you guys. I mean, it really, it's so important to build that friendship and why that's such an important factor within sex.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. And Greg, sometimes we think about just... You've been married, what, how many years now? 25, 30?

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Almost 29.

Chris Grace:    29 years. [inaudible] about the same out there. Look, younger couples, I think facing a barrage of things from our culture... I mean, the number of people who are getting married is down. Divorce rate is down. That's awesome, but so is the rate of people... But one of the things that's happening, it seems to me in our culture, is for younger people, marriage is a scary option, and they face things... There are resources at their fingertips that all of us never had at the beginning of our marriages. However, there's also a whole list of things that can affect younger marriages, and these are just some of them. And so, Greg, I know you guys wrote this in mind with younger couples as well and getting them a good start, a good foundation, and I know you guys have gone through some difficult and some pain as far as... Even how this book and the timing of it came out, do you want to share a little bit of some of the journey you guys have been on?

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Yeah. Erin and I were on a date night back last January. We were walking in, we were going to go see some dueling pianos, which I love, so we're going to this little concert hall, when our oldest daughter Taylor called. And so, Erin answers, and all of a sudden she starts going, "Wait, slow down. Wait, why are you crying? What's going on?" And so, obviously I knew something... I assumed that maybe someone close to Taylor had been injured or maybe in a car... Whatever. All of a sudden, Erin just starts crying, hands me the phone. She can't even talk. And so, I'm like, "Taylor, what's going on, honey?"

    I mean, I never in a million years would have guessed what she was about to tell me, but she said, she was literally celebrating her third wedding anniversary. They were out, and her husband at the time announced that he didn't want to be married anymore. I mean, it was a shock to her. It was a shock to us. I love my son-in-law. The next month, I mean, Taylor begged to get help. I went and met with my son-in-law just to encourage that we all go through hard times, yet I walked my daughter down the aisle and I placed her hands within your hands off a promise that you'd given me that you would fight, you would do everything in your power to stay married. And I said, "I expect you to do that." And unfortunately, he did not make that choice to fight for their marriage, and so this past May, their divorce was final.

    And it's given Erin and I very new, different perspective on what we love doing. I mean, we run the marriage department and focus on the family. I mean, this is what we do. And yet, to be a part of just watching a marriage disintegrate and the pain and the heartache and what that does to a whole family... I mean, there for a while, I was like, "Why are we even doing any of this? If this can't even make a difference in our own family, why? Maybe I'll just go be a greeter at Walmart, something. Something else." And I can tell you now, what, nine months later, that my passion has been renewed for helping, especially young couples, to really to be able to fight for their marriage.

    But I tell you, through this, honestly, I think what I've learned... If you guys were to say, "Hey man, boil..." So, we know there's... Chris, you said it. There's this gazillions of information on how to have a great marriage. I feel like to boil it down, I would say this. Have a lifelong commitment. In other words, I look at my wife, and I tell her that I'm with you till the end. Divorce isn't an option. It doesn't exist. It's not in our vocabulary. And so, we have to figure it out. So, if you have that lifelong commitment to where you've got grit, we'll do whatever it takes, and then you keep growing as an individual and as a couple, I mean, I think that's about the most simple formula that can make it. I want my wife to know I'm with you till the end, but I'm committed to growing as an individual and us as a couple.

    And through this, I mean, I went and started seeing an individual counselor because I got to the point to where I went, "Man, what is going on in my own life that I'm oblivious to that may cause problems, or probably is causing problems in my marriage?" Because I want to deal with that stuff. We've all got baggage. We're human. We've got junk we've got to deal with. So, I feel like if we committed to each other and dealing with that junk in our personal lives so we're growing, and then continuing to say, "This year, man, what's one thing that we can learn as a couple? How could we grow? What's one thing that we want to focus on this year?" I just feel like if we just did that, that we can have an amazing marriage, not a perfect marriage. But I'm just convinced. So, that's some of what I've learned through just watching and walking this through with my daughter, is that let's commit to each other and let's keep growing as individuals and as a couple.

Chris Grace:    Greg, thanks for just sharing with our listeners, some of this journey you're on, and praying for you, of course, and for your daughter.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Thank you.

Chris Grace:    Greg, for you and Erin, speak to, also the listeners out there who maybe are in a serious relationship or even engaged, how do they know that this person that they're with has grit, has commitment? I've heard it said that one of the best predictors of a good marriage is whether or not your potential spouse handles trauma well or handles disappointment well, or how do they handle heartbreak or other things? Do they have commitment, I think, is another way of asking. Do they have grit? How can a young couple know that? Or a person who's thinking, "Who am I about to be with?" And what have you learned through this process? What would you ask next time of someone who asks for your daughter's hand in marriage?

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Yeah, that's a great question, and I don't know, honestly, Chris, if I've got an answer to that. I wrote something for dads called 12 Questions That Every Father Should Ask His Future Son-in-law, and they're really good questions. I did a really good job. It is what I did with my former son-in-law. If there was a textbook, if there was a formula, I mean, I felt like I did it all, I asked at all.

    I think looking back, because I know there's someone listening going, "Well, that's not very helpful," I now have said to... So, I've got three daughters and a son, and I've said to my kids that I think what I would have done differently to gauge the grit component that I'm with you until the end, is to ask this person that you're about to get married to that, "Let's go in and have premarital counseling. Let's go see a license Christian counselor, a pastor, a good mentor company, someone, and let's commit to 10 hours." Because within that time, some of these individual stuff, it's going to come out. I mean, you're going to get some light shined on maybe some of these issues, but I think it's not that you've got to deal with all that and that someone has to have this perfect background, because you're not going to find that person, but I think it's a willingness to go get help. To me, that that's the big factor. That's what I would be looking for.

    So, what I've told my older two daughters now is that when this young man now comes to me and asked for my blessing, that's going to be my requirements. I mean, I tell him, if at the end of the day, I'll walk you down to whomever you choose, but if it matters to you guys, and it especially matters to him, I would say go at least 10 hours of counseling as a start. Because I would want to know this person is open to that, that this person is willing, that you're training their relationship that it's okay to ask for help. All of that is good. And all of us, in every marriage, you're going to hit hard times, you're going to hit those moments that you need help and that you need a community around you. If pre-maritally you've all ready done that, there's a higher likelihood, I think, there's a higher likelihood that you're going to be more willing to engage the help when you need it.

    I mean, I'd be curious of what you guys see is how to answer, Chris, your question, but at least that's some of how I look at it now.

Chris Grace:    Well, you're right in line with research that talks about the value of pre-marital counseling in saving or preventing future divorce. Right? I mean, the number of couples, when they look at couples that had pre-marital counseling, versus those that didn't, the divorce rate goes down by some 38% for those who had pre-marital counseling. And I think, Greg, what you're getting at, is you're not going to solve everything during a premarital counseling. There's not 10 hours that is going to solve our issues. What it's going to do is it's going to shine a light on some things. But what it does do is it shows that this person is willing to go and fight for this or willing to take the time. And again, it's not trying to solve all the issues during this brief moment in time. What it does is it shows a commitment to this other person that I'm willing to go do something and try it out. So, I think [crosstalk 00:26:15].

Dr. Greg Smalley:    [crosstalk] it requires humility in anytime we reach out. I mean, for me, again, it's been incredible these last nine months ago and see a counselor, just for me. Erin and I went as a couple. It requires humility. It's a willingness to say, "I don't have all the answers, and I'm willing to go in and put some things out there and learn and grow." And you're right. That's the message you're sending to each other is that I'm humble enough to know I don't have all the answers and I'm willing to get help. And I think that that's a part of that building a foundation for that early relationship that will really reap benefits later on.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. It's so scary, Greg. I mean, I have three boys who are not married. Oh man.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Well, I've got two daughters.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Hey, I'm up for negotiation.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    All right. Let's start.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So, I-

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Got a whole bunch of cattle.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So, I would never presume to speak into your situation. I've not experienced that. What I say to the pre-marrieds at Family Life Conferences, is do not pay attention to what he says, or she says, only pay attention to what they do. Because what's he going to say? Right? If a Christian woman asks a Christian man, "What do you think about church?" he's going to say, "Well, of course, church is important. Of course it is." But it's like... Yeah. Set that aside. Does he go on his own initiative? Do you always got to prod him? Stuff like that. Going both ways, men or women. Because you don't want to prod and push and yank a person the rest of your life. You just want that person to be almost in some ways self-motivated to do that. But man, how do you gauge that? That is so hard. How do you gauge that during the courtship time, where you are putting your best foot forward? You know what I mean?

Chris Grace:    Yeah. And Tim, you're saying, I think, an extremely valuable piece of advice for listeners out there. I mean, Greg, with your story and what you would do and how you would reapproach this, how your daughter would do it, I think Tim, also, you've landed on something pretty powerful, that our actions speak so much louder than what we say or do. We can sometimes live up to someone's expectations by giving them the right answers. And then I think a person misses that very important... I think the most important thing they have in front of them, which is what you just said, watch how they behave. What have they done in the past? Are they willing to go to counseling? Have they just done it? They say they would, but have they made that commitment? Do they walk into the church door? Do they read their Bible? Or whatever it might be that you're looking to as a behavior or an action, because that's what we can go off of. It's the best thing. Greg, what are you thinking out there?

Dr. Greg Smalley:    I mean, it really is. I love what you're saying. I mean, I was sitting here just thinking, even nine months later, man, I still adore my son-in-law, I still love him, my heart is still fully open to him. I feel like the story in the Bible about the wayward son and to where that father sees him approaching, and they just run and embrace, which would have been very weird for the culture back then. But that's what I long for. That's what I'm praying for. And I'm hoping... Man, I hope that this is just one chapter of their very long love story. I tell my daughter, it's not over till one of you remarries, and so let's keep praying.

    I think the other part, one of the things that I wish I had done differently as a young husband, and I didn't do a great job... I mean, I was in graduate school, I didn't have a professor that really shared any of this, anything meaningful really, when I was in school. But anyway-

Tim Muehlhoff:    You should have gone to a Christian school, Greg.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    I know. I know.

Tim Muehlhoff:    [inaudible] would have helped.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Yeah. Chris Grace was my social psychology professor way back when. But one of the things, I would say it this way, that it takes a village to raise a marriage, so it's a different take on that Hillary Clinton quote. But it does take a village. We need to be cultivating a strong community around us. We're all private... especially in this day and age, to where, man, we can hide out now in our home. We're required to be in our home. We're getting away from community. If you can even go to church together, I mean, all that's really hard right now, which it's just unfortunate because it's that community around you that will keep fighting for your marriage.

    And I really do believe that a marriage, per season, can survive off of someone else's hope. But we won't have that if we stay to ourselves, if we're not cultivating relationships with other couples and other people who can then speak that, who can fight for who can say, "Man, we're not letting you divorce. No way. Heck no. Let's fight for this. We're going to help you get help. We're going to support..." All that. And I didn't do a good job of that when I was a young husband, and paid for that. We do that now. And so, tonight, as a matter of fact, we meet with our marriage small group, and that's such an invaluable part in it. There's strength in numbers, and whatever other cliches I could come up with. But it's true, though. In a marriage, we shouldn't try to do this alone.

Chris Grace:    It's such good advice. And you were a good husband back then. You guys, don't underestimate. In fact, Greg, it's still a cherished memory to have you and Erin and the Dickens' and then me and Elisa to just... We got together on a regular basis and talked about marriage stuff, and so you guys-

Dr. Greg Smalley:    You were part of my community. That was fun.

Chris Grace:    I think Tim is part of a community that we're in now. We've been involved in as couples for a long time, Tim, and Greg, I think what you're saying to young couples, get a community, get young couples, go find them, read a book, Google in books on marriage. You'll find a ton by Tim Muehlhoff and ton by Greg and Erin Smalley. There's a lot out there. And grab something and read it and fight for not just your marriage, but for that other person's marriage. Do not let him walk away from this. And fight for that. Greg, thank you for sharing such a personal story. It's enlightening for us, even in midst of hardship and pain, for us to hear from what God is doing in y'all's life and walk. And again, we'll be in prayer for you guys. And just so grateful to have you on our podcast.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah, thanks, Greg.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Well, thank you. Well, and I love doing this. And we're praying for that ending for that next chapter in their love story, and I believe that that can still happen. So, thanks, you guys, for the prayers, and thanks for having me.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. We believe it can happen, as well, and we'll continue to lift that up. Hey, it's been great, Greg. Tell Erin hello and greetings to you guys. And it's good to have you on here. Good talking with you.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Thank you.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Bye, Greg.

Chris Grace:    Bye.

Dr. Greg Smalley:    Bye.

Speaker 1:    We're very glad you joined us for today's podcast. For more resources on marriage and healthy relationships, please visit our website at We'll see you next time on The Art of Relationships.