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love is a decisionProven Techniques to Keep Your Marriage Alive and Lively
By Gary Smalley John Trent
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1989 Gary Smalley and John Trent, Ph.D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePlanning on a Great Marriage?
It was just turning dark when I arrived at the home of a family I was staying with in Tampa, Florida. Exhausted after speaking at a seminar all day, I was looking forward to a restful, uneventful night.
I knew my hosts only slightly, but they lived in a beautiful home in a peaceful neighborhood. But then again, looks can be deceiving. In fact, I would never have expected either event that happened to me over the next few hours.
As I walked up to the front door, I reached into one pocket, then another. That's when I realized I'd left my key inside in my room, and I was locked out of the house. Ringing the doorbell wouldn't have done any good. My hosts had told me they wouldn't be home until late. So I decided to go around to the back yard and see if by chance a window or door had been left open.
As I rounded the back corner, I froze in terror. From out of the dark, a huge black form was racing toward me at breakneck speed. It was the biggest dog I'd ever seen in my life!
Ten feet from where I stood petrified with fear, the dog left the ground with a tremendous leap—and I knew I'd soon be on my way to the hospital. In milli-seconds I'd feel the pain of his teeth tearing into me.
I closed my eyes and braced myself for the collision ... but nothing happened. At first I thought, He's toying with me. This dog knows I'm about to die, and he wants to watch me suffer! But after a moment more, I finally built up enough courage to open my eyes. Unbelievably, he was sitting happily at my feet, his big friendly tongue hanging out and his tail wagging. He was actually whimpering for me to reach down and pet him.
After my heart rate dropped from triple to double digits, I checked the house only to find it securely locked. It was getting late, and I was worn out. I was faced with either camping out on the back porch with my new-found canine friend or thinking of some alternative. That's when an idea hit me.
Another family I'd been introduced to lived in Tampa. Perhaps I could stay with them until my hosts returned. So I jumped into my car and drove across town to John and Kay Hammer's stately home—and into an even more surprising situation.
As I knocked on the door, I was greeted by Kay. "Hi, Gary," she said, flashing her million-dollar smile. She makes anyone she meets feel special and important. I explained my situation to her and John, and they insisted that I stay at their house for the night.
I met their charming children as they piled out of their rooms. Finally, after a little small talk in the living room, we all retired for the night.
My body must have known that my plane didn't leave until the next evening, because it overruled the alarm clock, and I slept late the next morning. By the time I got up, showered, and dressed, the kids and John had already headed off to school and work. Only Kay was left in the kitchen to play short-order cook for her unexpected house guest.
I'd already received one shock when Godzilla the Dog leaped at me, but little did I know I was about to be hit with a second shock that was even more disturbing. As we sat at the kitchen table, the smile quickly fell from her face and down into her teacup. She sat there, her head bowed, staring blankly at the table top. With very little prompting, Kay began pouring out an all-too-familiar story.
For years, this wife had felt neglected. Her husband gave the best of his week to his thriving business, and she and the children were left with emotional left-overs on the weekends. All the family responsibilities for raising four youngsters fell on her shoulders, and she was exhausted from putting out fires between her husband and the children.
At times she would plead with John to work on their disintegrating relationship, but her cries fell on deaf ears. Too consumed with building up his career, he didn't have time to worry about the way his marriage and family were breaking down.
Kay suffered through the "domestic" neglect that many wives do, but with one added heartache. She was a Christian with a genuine faith, but she knew that when her husband went to church it was more for social contacts, not spiritual growth.
Slowly, as the years went by, his insensitivity had eaten its way to the very core of their relationship—and had begun to poison her heart.
The Ruin of a National Treasure
As I sat with Kay that day, I felt like I was watching the wreck of the Exxon tanker, Valdez. Here was a beautiful home and a stunning family. Yet with disharmony and heartache steering at the helm, their family relationships had been guided right onto the rocks, just as that ill-fated oil tanker had been.
Day after day, the poison of a ruptured marriage poured onto their lives, covering the natural beauty of a loving family with three inches of sludge. They had tried to clean up some of the disaster (which their relationship had become), but in many ways the damage was already done. The kids were feeling the tensions at home and beginning to reflect it in their lives, and any interest they might have shown in attending church was now falling dormant.
Kay had been listening to her friends—even to Christian friends—who told her, "Quit being a doormat, Kay. You've already gone through too much. God will forgive you. Get out of this mess of a marriage, and try again with someone else." She'd even gone to her pastor at the time and to a "Christian" psychologist. Both had told her that with her husband she could never hope to get the ship off the rocks—their marriage was dead in the water and unsalvageable.
"I'm not rushing you to leave, and I hadn't planned on telling you any of this," she said to me at the breakfast table, embarrassed by the tears that quickly came to her eyes. "But when the children come home from school today, I'm leaving my husband. We're all moving out...."
I'd like to say that John and Kay's story is unusual, but, unfortunately, it isn't. In working with couples and families for almost two decades, I've seen many such disasters. They have ruined our greatest natural treasure—our families.
From every appearance, a few rags or suction hoses wouldn't begin to repair the damage that had taken place in the Hammers' relationship. In fact, the more I listened, the more I could see why certain "advisors" had told her the landscape of their life would never be the same. From a human standpoint, it certainly did look like the better option might be to pack up and move on than try to rebuild the impossible. But God allowed something miraculous to happen over the next few hours with Kay that transformed her relationship with her husband—and my life as well.
It's been almost fourteen years since that fateful morning at John and Kay's home. And today the Hammers are not only some of our closest friends, but members of our National Board! Their relationship has changed from oil-soaked blackness to a crystal-clear reflection of Christ's love. Even more, their deep friendship and love for each other is a testimony in itself and has turned back many, many couples from the brink of divorce.
What brought about the change in their lives? That's what this book is all about. The very verses and concepts I first scratched out on a sheet of notebook paper for Kay that day are the same things I've seen God use in the lives of hundreds over the years. I'll be sharing biblical principles that when applied to a relationship—even one washed up and on the rocks—can turn a mess back into a treasure. Learning specific directions for steering clear of danger can also keep a strong marriage or family from running aground. But change only begins at the place we all must start—at the same point the Hammers had to come to.
Planning to Have a Great Marriage and Family?
Whether it's a family, a school, a company, or a sports team, we cannot possibly guide our relationships safely through the waters of our day without a plan. That's the starting point. Without a clear plan of action that points out the way to the deep waters of intimacy and avoids the shallow rocks of marital ruin we're inviting heartache into our homes. It's critical that we clearly plan our lives and not let chance set their course.
There may have been a time in an earlier day when society itself delineated boundaries clearly enough to substitute for a clear purpose at home. But that's simply not true today. We're asking for a natural disaster of our own if we don't have a specific sense of direction for our families. And that's what this book is all about. It's our best effort to give you a workable, biblically based plan of action for building loving, lasting relationships.
Now we know that asking you to adopt a "plan" of action for your home sounds a great deal like work, but we can assure you that the effort spent on steering your relationship into safe waters is far less work than trying to get it off the rocks would be.
Can having a clear plan of action really bring that much change? In one case, taking the time to learn and practice a plan of action turned a group of defeated individuals into an undefeated team:
The Man Who Made History
When our good friend, Norm Evans, was picked by an expansion National Football League team, they were mired in last place. The owner knew a change was needed, so he hired a new head coach. But that was nothing new. He had already hired several coaches, and hadn't changed their fortunes yet. With the way the team was currently playing, this young "upstart" he'd picked would probably be history himself within a year.
As it turned out, this particular coach would go into the NFL history books—but not as a failure. Today, even with ups and downs, he has been in the league longer than any other active coach—and there's a reason. He built his men into a champion team by following a clear plan of action.
The year prior to this coach's arrival, the team had a record of three wins and ten losses. Morale was down, motivation was low, and the players' efforts on the field were lack-luster. Norm remembers standing along the sideline with the other players, wondering how they were going to lose each game they played.
Then the new coach arrived in town, and he wasted no time in getting down to business. His first official act was to call a team meeting—and it was one the players would never forget.
He walked into the room, folded his arms, and stood silently in front of them for several minutes. The moments seemed to stretch into hours. He looked from player to player, and from eye to eye. Finally, he spoke in a clear, convincing voice and said, "Men, you're going to be champions of the NFL."
There was an awkward moment of silence in the room. Several of the veterans had to lower their heads to keep their smiles from breaking into laughter. Sure, coach ... they thought. Anything you say.... But inside they were thinking, Who's this guy kidding? We've always been losers in this league. Champions? We're not even challengers! Then the coach laid out the reason he felt certain the team would be successful—a clear plan of action.
"First," he said, "we're going to give you a great game plan each week that works. I'll guarantee that you'll know more about the person you're playing against than anyone except his wife. Second, you're going to practice that plan until it becomes a natural part of you. Third, you're going to learn the game plan and practice it—and win."
Bit by bit, the next season saw the wisdom of his strategy unfold. The players learned a specific plan and then practiced it over and over until they felt a confidence in themselves and between each other that they'd never had before. Now they stood on the sidelines wondering how they were going to win games—not lose them. In just one short year, they were a different football team. How different?
It was exactly the reverse of the year before; they came out of the blue to win ten games and lose only three. And the next two seasons, the Miami Dolphins, under head coach Don Shula, won the 1972 and 1973 Super Bowls as the best team in pro football.
"That's a great story if you're a football team," you may say, "but the only similarity our marriage has to an NFL team is that we're always taking cheap shots at each other!" Can having a "plan" really make that much of a difference in a marriage relationship—or even with our children? It did for John and Kay.
Kay Hammer didn't know much about the pro football team in nearby Miami when we sat down that morning, but she still had something in common with them. For years, she and John had let circumstances and the emotions of the moment call all the plays in their relationship—and their lives were on the brink of a last place finish as a result. Yet like this pro team, things started to turn around in their lives once they began to follow a clear plan of action and to practice it consistently.
That morning at the Hammers' breakfast table, I scribbled out for her several biblical principles that I was only then beginning to understand and apply in my own home. The scriptural guidelines that broke through that day and gave Kay hope are the very same ones I'll be sharing with you in this book.
A Marriage Mended ...
By applying these principles, Kay was able to see her marriage turn around in as dramatic a fashion as I've ever witnessed. Her marriage was doomed for the ashheap of divorce, but because of her willingness to follow a biblically based plan, it's alive, active, and growing today. The man she once couldn't wait to get away from is now her best friend ... and the one with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life.
The secret doesn't just belong to John and Kay—it's available for everyone who desires to have a strong family and a fulfilling marriage. I look forward to the years ahead and get excited about what can happen in families all over this country. I'd love to see hundreds of thousands of husbands, wives, and children make a commitment to do whatever it takes to honor God by following a clear plan for family intimacy. I believe it can happen; in fact, that's the whole goal of our ministry! One of the places you can start is by putting a biblical plan for relationships into action.
To keep our relationships off the rocks, we need to follow two essential steps: we must gain knowledge and then skills at applying what we've learned. The more we learn and practice what we've learned, the more gifted we'll become at developing intimate relationships within our homes. In the chapters that follow, we're going to open God's Word and see what He says about making our relationships strong and fulfilling—beginning with the very foundation of a successful family.
Keys to Building Loving, Lasting Relationships
In the next two chapters, we're going to discover that to have any loving and lasting relationship, we must understand:
Honor is at the heart of all healthy relationships—and
Genuine love is a decision ... not a feeling.
Are you tired of your feelings of love going up and down like a roller coaster? I'll share with you how you can develop a love that remains consistently strong from season to season, year to year. Contrary to popular belief, love is actually a reflection of how much we "honor" another person—for at its core genuine love is a decision, not a feeling.
Second, you'll see that love can best be put into action by mastering and practicing specific skills like:
Recognizing the incredible worth of a woman
I'll spend an entire chapter helping men in particular see how incredibly valuable women are. In particular, we'll see how God seems to have designed within a woman the very talents that can make her an invaluable resource in the home.
Learning how to energize our mates in sixty seconds
One key to loving relationships is the ability to step in when our loved ones are hurting or discouraged. In this section of the book you'll see a method Christ often used with His disciples and others that can help you reach out to those who are facing discouragement, frustration, or a loss of energy.
Keeping a major destroyer of relationships out of our homes
There is a killer lose in many homes today. It can take the life out of a relationship. One thing that I shared with Kay was how to keep the destructive "tapeworm" of anger out of relationships, and how to re-open the spirit of a loved one who may be closed to you.
Understanding the tremendous value of a man
While many couples don't realize it, a man is not a "second class citizen" when it comes to the ability to have strong, lasting relationships. In this section of the book, you'll discover how to tap into a man's God-given gift for nurturing which can form the basis of genuine love. In fact, you'll see in detail four specific skills with which each man comes "naturally" equipped. These can make a tremendous difference in his relationships. These same four skills are ones a wife must also master to see her relationships deepen and grow as well, and they include:
Providing security to see a marriage bloom and grow
Excerpted from love is a decision by Gary Smalley John Trent Copyright © 1989 by Gary Smalley and John Trent, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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