The Wholehearted Marriage offers practical tools for helping couples keep a passionate connection with one another and understand the role their hearts play in their lives. Drs. Smalley and Stoever maintain that circumstances, such as busy lifestyles, differences between spouses, personal baggage, the loss of a loved one, childhood trauma, etc., trigger reactions that condition us to close up our hearts for protection, blocking the flow of love. A disengaged, protected heart makes it impossible to experience an intimate, connected marriage. As a result, couples drift apart, trying to find some version of contentment, or they give up altogether and look for love somewhere else.
Through their experiences in marriage counseling, Drs. Smalley and Stoever discovered that the commonly heard phrase "I don't love him/her anymore" is merely a camouflaged misunderstanding about what true love is and God's design for it. They affirm that love is more than just a feeling, and that to have true, lasting intimacy, couples need to learn to love wholeheartedly.
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What inspired you to write “The Wholehearted Marriage”?
This book was certainly inspired by our own life stories and circumstances. I (Greg) had reached a place a few years go where there was a lot of personal and professional turmoil. I was struggling in a family owned business, I felt burned out and massively depressed. I really didn’t recognize that my heart had shut down. Even though I had been trained to help people manage depression, the skills and tools didn’t work. For the first time in my life I couldn’t “think” my way out of feeling depressed. God literally brought me to the point that I couldn’t use my head to solve the crisis and He revealed to me that this was a heart issue. Fortunately, someone recommended the book Waking the Dead by John Eldredge. The book gave me words to describe what I was grappling with and feeling. This began my journey of questioning the role of my brain and my heart—especially my heart. I realized I had only been existing in my head, killing off my marriage, my relationships, and myself. As I learned to understand the importance of an open heart, how to care for it and keep it fully open, I came out of that deep, dark depression. Better yet, I no longer felt burned out and I recaptured God’s call upon my life. My relationship with Christ, my wife, kids, family and friends went to a new depth in terms of intimacy and connection. The best way to describe it is that my heart awakened!
We began to apply these concepts in our work with couples in crisis. We recognized that hearts were disconnected, shut-down, and generally ignored in epidemic proportions. By focusing our efforts in helping these crisis couples understand the necessity of reengaging their hearts, we began to see dramatic results. We watched in amazement as couples who had previously wanted to divorce began to get excited about the prospects of a truly connected and intimate marriage.
Since these concepts were changing our marriages and helping couples in crisis, we wanted to share these insights with others.
What do you see when you look at the landscape of marriage in America today?
In general, the message we hear regarding marriage in America is very negative – children are being raised without a mom and dad in the home, young couples are choosing co-habitation over marriage, and those who are married report high levels of dissatisfaction. None of this seems very honoring to an institution that means so much to the Lord.
Even with that said we are more optimistic and excited today than ever before. Marriage is a hot topic in so many different sectors of society.Politically, government is getting involved in healthy marriage initiatives and investing tax dollars in strengthening marriages. In the corporate world, business leaders are recognizing that unhealthy marriages and divorce cost them millions of dollars every year. Human resource departments are beginning to invest considerable time and energy into strengthening relationships within the workplace. In churches, leaders are recognizing that marriage is God’s idea and something must be done to help members of their congregations cultivate Christ-like marriages. All together, the issue of marriage in America seems to be reaching a tipping point. We appear to be on the verge of a marriage revival. The desire and movement towards healthy, thriving, wholehearted marriages can be contagious.
How can we maintain a wholehearted relationship even in changing economic times?
With the strain of fi nancial pressure, job losses, and continual bad news on the television, stress on marital relationships may be at an all time high. Now more than ever it is important to focus on having a solid relationship in the home. Spouses need to recognize they are on the same team, working together to overcome these hardships. While resources may be tight, strengthening your relationship doesn’t have to cost any money. Building your relationship with your spouse and with the Lord will provide you with the solid foundation needed to face and overcome external circumstances that would otherwise leave us feeling helpless.
What separates couples with wholehearted marriages from the rest? How do they look different?
While we are not advocating that you diagnose your friend’s marriages as wholehearted or halfhearted, it is usually fairly simple to see the results of a wholehearted marriage. In general, wholehearted couples rejoice and celebrate together – expressing joy, laughing, and experiencing adventure in their relationship. On the flip-side, wholehearted couples also mourn, hurt, cry, and empathize with each other. Simply put, hearts are fully engaged and connected in all seasons of life. Below is a chart to help further distinguish between the two ends of the spectrum:
Given that this book is decidedly “Christian”, how would someone that is not a Christian or from a different religious background live wholeheartedly?
Our bias is that everyone needs to have a personal relationship with Christ. That said there is obviously evidence of many non-Christians that have a successful marriage with high levels of satisfaction. When hearts are open, love is free to flow. We believe God gave everyone a heart and the ability to open or close it, thus all of us are free to take advantage of this principle.
Wholehearted, healthy people are able to give and care for others freely. As a major distinction people with a personal relationship with God understand the opportunity to get their needs met fi rst and fore-most from Him. They are also free to receive and share His love. This combination creates the formula for the greatest marriages.
What personal challenges and obstacles do you face in keeping your hearts open?
We would both say that in the early stages of exploring these concepts, wounds and lies from our past were our biggest obstacles. As we have found healing in these areas, they no longer have the power to close our hearts down. Like many of the people we encounter on a daily basis, our biggest obstacle to maintaining wholehearted marriages today is the hectic, busy pace of our lives. Even as we teach and write, we recognize the enemy at work to prevent us from slowing down. At warp speed, we miss out on chances to wholeheartedly engage our wives, open our hearts for intimate sharing, and have fun without interruptions. However, we are committed to simplifying our lives so that wholehearted marriage becomes a way we live and not just a place we visit.
We recognize our wives are much further along in opening their hearts, and they have been our greatest teachers in this journey. Below we have included their answers to the following questions.
What do your wives think about you writing a book called The Wholehearted Marriage?
Our husbands’ writing a book called “The Wholehearted Marriage” makes sense because that is how they live life. They have worked hard to get rid of obstacles that were blocking them from living “wholeheartedly.” God has restored many areas of heartache, rejection and loss that kept them from living up to their full potential. Both are men who really strive to make their relationship with the Lord, their marriages and family a top priority.
What differences have you seen in your marriage as a result of your husband applying this material?
Christina Stoever: I won’t lie and tell you that we apply these concepts all the time, but it definitely has made us aware of where we want to be. Our middle son Cade reminded us a couple of weeks ago, “why don’t you practice what you teach to the couples at the retreat.” Great word! Our kids keep us humble. It really is a good thing to be reminded to stay the course. Shawn’s applying these principals has made a difference in his personal life and in our marriage.
Erin Smalley: There was a great transition when Greg became more aware of his heart and I am very proud of his spiritual growth. He seems to be more alive than I’ve seen him in years—talk about building safety in our marriage. It truly allowed a new level of intimacy to be uncovered in our relationship; instead of being a bystander, he became a wholehearted participant. Although he is not perfect he blesses me and our family daily with his vibrant sense of humor and heartfelt caring.
Thank you for pursuing God wholeheartedly! We are blessed to be loved and cherished by our husbands.
For an exciting interactive online experience with the authors including video Commentary, humorous and thought-provoking video illustrations visit WholeheartedMarriage.jlog.com powered by: JLog.
Discussion Group Questions
What areas of your life (work, kids, marriage, hobbies, relationship with God) are you most wholehearted? Which areas do not come as naturally? What stops you from living wholeheartedly?
Were you raised in a home where your parents or significant role models taught you how important your heart is in life and in relationships? Why do you think people don’t talk about the importance of our heart?
What messages are young boys taught about manhood and emotions? What messages are young girls taught about womanhood and emotions? How might these two different ways of handling emotions impact a marriage?
Read through 1 John 4:7-21. Where does love come from? Do you agree that the love we feel towards our spouse is not generated by us but comes from God?
Where is your heart in your marriage at this time? Is it shut down completely? Is it fully open?
To better understand your ability to be aware of your emotions, answer the following questions:
• Do I pay a lot of attention to how I feel?
• Do I notice my emotions as I experience them?
• What emotions do I frequently experience?
• What emotions are easy for me to express?
• What emotions are difficult for me to express?
• What emotions did I see expressed in my family growing up?
• What emotions were never expressed in my family growing up?
• Can I accurately name my feelings?
• Do I pay attention to my thoughts, beliefs and actions that could be causing how I feel?
• Do I understand how my feelings influence my thoughts and actions?
• Am I aware of how my emotions impact my spouse?
How do you typically manage painful or troublesome emotions from your spouse? Do you…
• Remain emotionally unaware or disconnect from their heart?
• Judge, criticize or disapprove of their emotions?
• Stuff, ignore, overlook or disregard their feelings?
• Minimize, rationalize or discount their emotions?
• Completely trust their feelings or believe they are true fact?
• Follow their emotions blindly, mindlessly act on them, or impulsively being led by them?
• Recklessly spew or spray your feelings in response to them?
Think back over any signifi cantmoments that you can recall from your childhood (traumatic events, disappointments, times you were hurt). What were you feeling? What did you say to yourself or what message did you receive from the incident—what were the lies written on your heart? In what ways have you replaced those lies, messages, and fears with God’s truth? Where are you in the process of getting healing?
In order for intimacy and deep connection to occur, hearts must be open. And your heart will only open when you feel emotionally safe. Answer these questions:
• What specific things do you do on a regular basis to nurture and care for your heart?
• Do you mostly feel open and emotionally available in your marriage or do you feel guarded and distant?
• How safe do you feel with your spouse?
• Can you trust your spouse with the deepest parts of your heart?
• 0-10 (with ten being the most safe), how safe is your marriage for you and your spouse?
• How do you react when you feel unsafe?
• What does your spouse do that helps you feel safe in your marriage?
• How have you made it unsafe for your spouse?
• How do you damage the safety of your marital environment?
What does a typical day in your life look like? How much spare time, leisure time and down time do you have every day? To what extent do you feel worn out, tired, exhausted and depleted? What is the high cost you and your marriage are paying for a fast paced lifestyle? In what ways can you slow down and simplify your life?
How effective are you at opening your heart to be impacted by what your spouse is feeling? What keeps you from empathizing with your spouse? What might help you do a better job of really feeling your spouse’s pain and other emotions?
God built things into the heart of your spouse that were designed to change the world. Which gifts, talents and hidden abilities are stored in your spouse’s heart that needs to be exposed? What is keeping you from calling out your spouse’s amazing gifting?
What role does humor, laughter and having fun play in your marriage? As the years go by, many couples slip into a rut of predictability. What are some ways that you could surprise your spouse by doing something unexpected?
Every couple has their own amazing stories, events and memories of two people joined together as one by the creator of this universe. How often do you reminisce about your life together? Has it been a while since you shared your love story? What is keeping you from reminiscing about memorable things that have happened over the course of your marriage? What will you do to change this?
Dr. Greg Smalley is the author of 18 books, including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage and Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage. He earned his doctorate in psychology and serves as the Vice-President of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.
"Unleash the heart of your marriage! Greg and Shawn have made it easy.... You'll want to read this book with your whole heart." -- Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, founders of RealRelationships.com and authors of Love Talk
"Every now and then a great book on marriage comes along. This book ranks in that category!" -- Dr. Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors
"Greg and Shawn share their hearts, as well as their years of professional experience, in hopes that you would be equipped and encouraged. Their practical insights are based on sound studies, which will help you excel in your marriage. I heartily recommend their book." -- Ken Canfield , PhD, author of They Call Me Dad and executive director of Boone Center for the Family, Pepperdine University
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