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How Gary Smalley Saved My Marriage

How Gary Smalley Saved My Marriage

by | Dec 31, 2019 | Marriage, Relationships

Photo Credit: Sandy Millar on Unsplash

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The Most Important Thing For A Healthy Marriage

Several years ago, our daughter asked us, “What’s the most important thing for a healthy marriage?”

Over the past 18 years of coaching and equipping couples, we’ve seen one major common thread…

Both individuals need to work on their own emotional health to create a happy, healthy marriage. 

Over 22 years ago, we learned this lesson the hard way. 

Our marriage had crashed and the only way we were going to pick up the pieces and save our marriage was if we grew our emotional health. 

Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Being A Christian Doesn’t Mean You’re Emotional Healthy

Now, Melis has loved Jesus Christ for as long as he can remember. He grew up in a Christian home where they prayed and read the Bible at each meal, and went to church twice on Sunday.

I came to love Christ since a profound encounter with God in my early teens. Now, you might be wondering… 

How on earth could two people who love the Lord Jesus Christ with all their hearts be SO miserable together and hurt each other so much?

And why wasn’t our love for God translating into compassion for each other?!?

It’s pretty simple… being a Christian doesn’t automatically make us emotionally healthy people.

Photo Credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The Night We Decided To Save Our Marriage 

To be honest, there were signs of unhealthy emotions. For instance, we were ignoring conflict.  Instead, we were building hurt upon hurt, which turned into great resentment and contempt. And we now know from Dr. John Gottman’s research that contempt in any relationship is the beginning of the end. 

We needed to embark on a personal growth journey to change — to grow up emotionally to save our marriage.

It culminated one night on a date night out quite a few years into our marriage. We sat in a red truck at our favourite restaurant and I said to Melis, “I can’t do this anymore.” 

And he said, “What do you mean you can’t do this anymore?” 

I replied, “I can’t do marriage like this anymore.”

That night, he shared his heart with me. Turns out, I’d been so wrapped up in my own emotional turmoil that I had missed his pain. We agreed that night that we needed to do something. That we would take action.

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How Gary Smalley Saved My Marriage

I found the book Making Love Last Forever by Dr. Gary Smalley and to our surprise he talked about conflict being the doorway to intimacy. Imagine! Conflict was actually good for our marriage!

We learned that the way we fought could help us grow closer together instead of further apart. This was the opposite of what we had believed — we had been avoiding conflict!

This new knowledge gave us a lens to see conflict as a place to become more intimate instead of allowing conflict to tear us apart. 

Smalley also taught us that there are five different levels of communication. Guess where we were communicating?!

A very low level.

These levels showed us that we could communicate at a deeper level of intimacy that would help us to feel more deeply connected.

Photo Credit: Gus Moretta on Unsplash

Smalley’s Five Levels Of Communication

Each level of conversation takes us deeper into intimacy. Here are the five levels of communication starting from the lowest level to the most intimate:

Level 5: ClichesAt this level, communication is very shallow. 

Level 4: Reporter — Conversations resolve around exchanging facts, so it’s still not very deep.

Level 3: Opinions – This is where you share your ideas, which is a bit riskier because others may not like your ideas or the judgements that you’re making.

Level 2: Feelings – Here is where two people share their emotions or their gut level. This is getting quite vulnerable.

Level 1: Needs – The deepest level of communication is when we share what we need. This is peak performance communication. 

I can remember the first time I deliberately shared what I needed. I was having a bad day. We were standing in the kitchen and I turned to Melis and I said, “I just need a hug.” 

He immediately came to me and put his arms around me.

That hug meant more to me than all the other hugs he’s given to me because I’d asked for what I needed.

And he responded with compassion and care. Sharing our needs and meeting each others’ needs is communicating at a deep level of intimacy. 

Photo Credit: Alev Takil on Unsplash

Personal Growth Saved My Marriage

We’ve noticed something about couples who grow closer together. They don’t just invest in their marriage by reading or learning about marriage, instead they intentionally implement what they’re learning.

They put it into action.

They risk being vulnerable in order to grow closer together. 

We are forever grateful for Dr. Gary Smalley and his book Making Love Last Forever. He saved our marriage by embarking us on a personal growth journey.

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About Ann

Ann believes that every Christian marriage will face circumstances that will create emotional space causing the wife to feel lonely, scared and unhappy. But the good news is that when couples have already experienced a loving and supportive relationship, then they can get back to that… 

More About Ann


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Ann Visser


Mindset & Relationship Coach


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