FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Building Safety in Your Relationships

with Gary Smalley | February 15, 2005
Play Pause

Today on the broadcast, Dr. Gary Smalley, author of the book, The DNA of Relationships, explains to Dennis Rainey that "life is about relationships, the rest is just details."

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast, Dr. Gary Smalley, author of the book, The DNA of Relationships, explains to Dennis Rainey that "life is about relationships, the rest is just details."

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Dr. Gary Smalley explains that “life is about relationships, the rest is just details.”

MP3 Download Transcript

Building Safety in Your Relationships

With Gary Smalley
February 15, 2005
| Download Transcript PDF

Gary: If I put my hands in front of me in a circle form and lock my fingers together, that forms a circle – so people can visualize this – your hands out in front of you, and you have a circle – I can only change the person inside that circle.  I'm only responsible for that person.  I can't change anybody else.  I can influence them, but I can't change them.  I can only change me.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, February 15th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Dr. Gary Smalley joins us today to put relationships under the microscope so we can look at the DNA.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  Most of our regular listeners know that you grew up in – how do you say it – southwestern Missouri?

Dennis: Southwest.

Bob: Southwest Missouri, all right, in the little town of Ozark, Missouri.  Is there something about the water in that part of the state or something that it just – it helps cultivate relationship expertise, you know?  Because I'm thinking …

Dennis: I think there is.

Bob: Our guest on the program today is headquartered in that same area, in Branson, Missouri; both of you are marriage and relationship experts.  Do you think it's the water?

Dennis: Well, I'm going to find out if Gary Smalley has ever – if he has ever been to the water of life.  Have you ever been to Ponce de Leon, Missouri?

Gary: Pontidelli?

Dennis: No, no, listen carefully – Ponce de Leon, Missouri – like the Spanish explorer.  Have you ever been to Ponce de Leon, Missouri?

Gary: That must be Ozark.

Dennis: No, no, no.

Bob: Is there actually a town called Ponce de Leon, Missouri?

Dennis: It is, and it goes by the name Poncey for short, and my mom grew up about two miles from Poncey.  Now, Ponce de Leon, Missouri, is a town – at least when my mom was there, of about 50 people.

Bob: Are you sure it's still in existence today?

Dennis: You know, I took my mom, before her death, down there, and I'm not sure how many people really live there.  It looks like a ghost town, frankly, but south of town, there is, coming out of a hillside, a rusty old pipe that shoots out of some layered rock that has the coldest, freshest, most delicious water you have ever put to some parched lips.  And I don't know who discovered Ponce de Leon, but they attributed the spring water coming out of that cliff to water that would extend your life, which is what Ponce de Leon was looking for when he came to America.

Bob: He was looking for the eternal springs.

Gary: And it gives you a passion to minister to families and marriages.

Bob: I guess that's what it is.

Dennis: And I was just trying to find out if Gary Smalley had ever had a drink from that spring, and if he had, then I would have said, "Bob, you're right."

Bob: It is the water.

Dennis: It completely blows the illustration – he's never heard of it.

Gary: If it trickles down into Branson, though.

Bob: That must be what it is.  It gets into the Taneycomo River, or whatever, and finds its way to him.

Dennis: Well, you undoubtedly know of our guest today on FamilyLife Today – Gary Smalley.  He has written 16 bestselling books – well – over 5 million of them have been in print.  I think I have a couple of million in my library of Gary's books. 

Gary: No wonder I sold that many.


Dennis: He and his wife Norma have been married for more than 40 years.  They have three children and eight grandchildren.

Gary: Exactly.

Dennis: No more news on the grandchildren front?

Gary: No, a couple of them are threatening to adopt but no more natural birth children anymore.

Dennis: Well, good for them on adopting.  Gary has written a book called "The DNA of Relationships," and introducing Gary I thought of a verse that I think is descriptive of what you've tried to do with your life, Gary, and you just see if you think I'm right here – Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment in the law?  And He said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and foremost commandment."  And a second is like it – "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets."

 Now, what Jesus was saying is that life is all about relationship, and that really is the theme of your ministry for more than 30 years?

Gary: Forty.

Dennis: Forty years?

Gary: Sure.

Dennis: This book, "The DNA of Relationships," is all about calling us back to that …

Gary: To the foundation of healthy, satisfying, safe relationships and the thrilling thing is my son, Greg, and his partner, Dr. Bob Paul, actually mentored me over the last three years and taught me  how to live this stuff, because I couldn't put it in a book until I was living it, and I told them that.  But I said, "I want to write a book if it really does change my life."  And it so changed my life that I said, "Yes, let's do it."  And together we put it together and it's out today.  It took us three years.

Bob: You've written on relationships, spoken on relationships throughout your ministry.  You'd almost think there is nothing new that Gary Smalley could learn about relationships.

Gary: That's what I thought.

Bob: What was new here?  What was revolutionary?

Gary: It was totally new to me, because I did honor and forgiveness and very vital things that you have to do, and personality stuff, and all that interrelates – but this is how to take a couple that's in major crisis and turn them around in four days – this is what they do in their ministry – and then I realized, as I started learning it, it applies to kids, junior high or high schoolers, college, all ages of adults, single or married, and so I realized, "Wait a minute."  My real calling is to relationships, generally, because when I was commissioned as a young pastor by a church in Waco, Texas, they laid hands on me and said, "Go into the world and teach people to love God, to love others like they love themselves."

But I got sort of into the groove of marriage and family, but I was always called to the broader – whereas my son, Greg, is called very specifically just to marriages.  He doesn't want to deal with family things or friendship or anything else – he feels so called by God to be just marriage.  Well, his research for seven years has been all about marriage, but the stuff applies to all of us, and it's literally changed my life in so many significant ways that that's why I'm – I have a whole new message because, basically, I had given up and was handing over stuff to my kids, you know, and I was settling down to look for ways of how I could go be an interim pastor or a missionary over here, you know, just to help and – no.  It exploded inside of me.  Of course, God got my attention with a heart attack and other things.

Dennis: I want to talk about that for a second, because you've had a heart attack in the past couple of years.  You've had a kidney transplant.

Gary: Exactly – by Michael, my son.

Dennis: Yes, you've had a couple of close encounters with death.

Gary: Absolutely.

Dennis: As you have been in a hospital room and had plenty of time to think about all this, what went through your mind during those times, looking at the ceiling and thinking about your mortality?

Gary: I really think that when I had the – I was turkey hunting when I had my heart attack, and I literally was lying on my back, my head against the backpack of my friend guide, and I just had an overwhelming sense of peace, and I relaxed and said, "God, I'll see you in a couple of minutes.  Thanks for my life, thanks for my family," I thought of my family, and I just relaxed, and I was dying.  I knew I was dead, because I couldn't get out of the woods.  I was too far away, out of cell phone range.  There was no way I was going to be saved, I knew that.

Dennis: Did you send any messages to Norma or your kids through the guide who was there with you?

Gary: No, because he took off instantly to get the truck.  So by the time I was – I couldn't walk, so by the time I was down on my back, and he took off – he gave me a duck call and said use it if you're worse.  You can't get much worse.

Bob: How much worse can dying get, huh?

Gary: Exactly, and there was 100-percent blockage, and there had to be for an hour, hour-and-a-half, and I don't know how you can live through that.  It doesn't make sense.  And he said – the cardiologist said I don't have any heart damage, but they think that's probably what killed my kidneys, because when you go without blood there for a while, I guess that really has a detrimental effect on it, I guess, whatever.  But my stress level was massive at that time, and I didn't really recognize it. 

 Anyway, so I just relaxed, and I wasn't thinking about ministry, I was thinking about being in His arms in moments.  So I now know how I'm going to feel when it actually does happen.  So I thought, you know, I'd panic, you know, or something, you know, and so on.

Bob: You look back on that later, and that's where this idea that life really is about relationships crystallized, because in what you thought were the final minutes of your life, everything else fades away, and all you're thinking about are the people in your life.

Gary: Well, I was thinking about God, I was thinking about the people, and so that's the greatest commandment.  So I ended my life with that same calling that I was given years ago.  I remember in college when I read that verse that you just read – "Loving God, loving others as you love yourself" – I said, "Well, that seems pretty simple.  Why get all complicated?  Let's just do that."

Dennis: You know, if you just think about the simplicity of Christ's command – He commanded us to love God.  If you miss God, you've missed life.  You've missed how to live it.  You've missed your purpose.  If you've missed Him, you can't begin to become who He created you to be.  But, secondly, what you're all about, too, Gary, is if you miss people in your pursuit of accomplishments, a career – if you miss people in the process of achieving the goals of life, you've missed that meaningful interaction of being connected to other people.

Gary: Right, and I think the modern-day neuroscience research shows – in fact, I was just reading it again this morning – shows that we're designed in our brain to connect with people in love, in an emotional connection with love, but they're also saying now that if kids don't connect with God and spiritually, it affects their very cellular makeup of their brain and causes thoughts of suicide and depression and a bunch of other things.  No wonder God designed – I think He's designed us in our brain to know Him, to love Him, to love others as we love ourselves.  I think the more we learn about this in science, we're going to see this is true.

Dennis: And yet we don't know how to love.  We need training in how to love.  That's what the Bible is about, that's why God gave us the Holy Spirit, and a lot of couples are in crisis today because they don't know how to love.

Gary: Yes.  Thousands of kids, every day, hear Mommy and Daddy in America say, "We're going to split."  I think probably one of the most gripping stories I've heard is that my son, Greg – one of the things that motivated him to get into this kind of ministry, anyway – he was sitting watching a television football game one Saturday morning, and his daughter, Taylor, had the next-door neighbor girl – same age – over playing.  And they were upstairs, and he heard them arguing, fighting.  He was watching the game, so he didn't really want to get distracted, and so when he heard them arguing, he thought, "Well, they'll work it, I'm sure."

 So they came roaring downstairs and stood in front of him, and his daughter said, "Daddy, Cheryl says that you and Mommy are going to get a divorce, and I said that you're not," because Cheryl's Mommy and Daddy just got a divorce recently, and she was one of four kids in the home, and Daddy said, "Well, Cheryl, I hate to tell you this, but Taylor's Mommy and Daddy are not going to get a divorce.  We made a commitment for life, and we know that we can work this out with the power that God put inside of us, and so that's not going to happen, and I'm really sorry about that."  And so he talked to them for a few more minutes, and Taylor actually looked at him and went uuunnnhhh, and stuck her tongue out, and then she ran upstairs. 

 And so but the girl stayed there, this little girl, and she just stood and watched him for a while, and he was watching this football game, and so he felt like muting it.  He muted it, you know, and said, "Cheryl, is there anything I can do for you?"  And she said, "Would you mind if I just sit with you for a little while and watch the game?"  He said, "Sure."  So she actually jumped up on his lap and just snuggled into him, you know, and sat there for about 30 minutes.  And, of course, he said, "I felt really uncomfortable, because here's this next-door neighbor kid, you know, on my lap, and I'm thinking, you know, I'm a psychologist, should I be doing this?"  And so eventually he said, "Why don't you go up and play with Taylor?"  And so she says, "Okay."  So she gets off and starts running upstairs, and then she turns around, and she looks at him.  She said, "Do you think it would be okay if every once in a while I just came over and sat next to you and played like you were my daddy?"  And he said, "My heart just crumbled," and he said, "Ever since then I have such a passion for couples to stay together and stay in love."

 And so, of course, I share that same passion, and that's what this book, "The DNA Relationships" is about – helping couples in crisis be able to work some things out right now, and those who go through his program have like a 72-percent average increase in marital satisfaction – not only do they stay together, the majority, over 90 percent stay together, but they have a great increase.  And I understand now why, because it's changed my life so much – and my wife's.

Bob: Gary, if the Bible calls us to relationships, and if Jesus says that loving your neighbor is like the greatest commandment, and if it's the desire of our heart to be united to one another in relationships, why is it so hard, and what is it that you've learned here that is revolutionary?

Gary: One of the first things that revolutionized me immediately was that just as these neuroscientists are discovering today, like Alan Schore of UCLA, is that we are designed for connecting with people emotionally and physically in relationships, but we only connect to people in a meaningful satisfying way if we feel safe.  And I'd never heard of that before.  All my years of teaching this stuff, but this came out of their own research and their own observation of these couples that they were helping.  So that what they do with these couples is they help them, each one of them, create safety for their mate so that their mate can naturally connect with them.

 What they have found is that if the person feels like they're not going to be judged, they're not going to be criticized, they're not going to be blamed, that they are not going to be shamed, that they're not going to have a sudden reaction and withdraw from them, but they're going to listen, and they're going to be loving and honoring and accept them for who they are and care for them just as a great friend.  You know, when you have a great friend, they can goof up and everything else in their life, and you don't just reject them, you know, you understand them and so on.

 So now I realized that there's five things in Chapter 5, actually, that you can do that create safety for someone else.

Bob: For example, what are some of the things?

Gary: Like, for example, if I really value someone, I honor them, and I say, "I accept you for who you are, where you are in your growth.  I don't judge you.  You are who you are."  If I put my hands in front of me in a circle form and lock my fingers together, that forms a circle – so people can visualize this – your hands out in front of you, and you have a circle – I can only change the person inside that circle.  I'm only responsible for that person.  I can't change anybody else.  I can influence them, but I can't change them.  I can only change me.  So that I want to accept another person for who they are, where they are, their own goof-ups, whatever they've done – sins – I don't get to judge them.  I get to judge me with my relationship with Christ, but I don't them.

 So I spent a great deal of my life, unfortunately, pointing my finger even, at times, at my wife saying, "If you would just shape up this area of your life, you know, I could be a lot happier around this home."  And it's just such a natural thing – if you think they're the cause then we think, obviously, they're the solution.  And I did that.  But, boy, as I pulled back from that, and I don't do that anymore, you can just see my wife feeling freer and freer and freer to open up with me, share things with me.

 You know, I'm sometimes the relationship type of person, and I'm thought of that, but, boy, behind closed doors, there are times where I would get on her case, and we could get into an escalated argument pretty easily.

Bob: It sounds like you're talking about what the Bible calls a "critical spirit."  Have you had a critical spirit?

Gary: I have at times, because I used to think, like, the average person that shows up at the marriage intensives, that the problem is really more my wife than me.  I'm the mature one.  If you just get your life together …

Dennis: Yes, just instruct them and help them get their act together …

Gary: Absolutely, because they have problems, and I don't see the log in my eye.  Now I'm really aware of my own log, and I can see her toothpick, but I'm not going to worry about her toothpick until I get the log out.

Dennis: Gary, you said earlier that you'd never heard of the importance of safety in a relationship.

Gary: Right – the way they explained it, yes.

Dennis: Yes, I was going to take issue with you, because I'll bet you have heard in 1 John, Chapter 4, where it says, "Beloved, perfect love casts out all fear."

Gary: Yes, okay.

Dennis: That's the picture, the ultimate picture, of safety that we want to create in a marriage relationship, and I'll add my own.

Gary: I love the way you're saying that, because that's the verse I've been using lately, but not that angle.  Hey, excellent, I'm shaking my head.

Bob: See it in the water in southwest Missouri.

Dennis: He's had a drink from Ponce de Leon, Missouri, I'm telling you.

Gary: What you just said, that's perfect, because I've been using it the other way.  I've been saying that as the more mature I get, the less fear I'm going to have, because mature love casts out all fear.  So I've been looking at it from me, but if I create safety, and I really have love for that person, they're going to feel less fear being in my presence.

Dennis: I'm telling you, that's how it happens.

Gary: That's the circle.

Dennis: That's how it happened in my marriage, because just, as you said, you didn't do things right with Norma – I didn't understand the importance of safety for my wife.  I was not creating a safe relationship where she could be who she needed to be, who she wanted to be, and …

Bob: That verse is engraved on the inside of both of your wedding bands?

Dennis: Just Barbara's.

Bob: And was it engraved at the time you got married?

Dennis: Yes, but it took 20 years …

Bob: For it to sink in?

Dennis: For it to get engraved on my heart – seriously.  But, you know, the reality is, it's okay to have a few things to learn about loving another person.  I think what Gary has kind of given us here today, Bob, is freedom to go to school with God and how to love Him, and then how to be a vessel of His love so that you can cast out fear and create a sense of safety with your spouse in a relationship.

Bob: And when that happens, when there is safety in a relationship, it flourishes like never before.

Gary: Well, the fascinating thing is that intimacy happens naturally, because we have it in us to want this relationship, and so people start to open up, and as they open up, then the intimacy just occurs, and that's what this Chapter 5 is all about, and so when these couples hear, during that four-day intensive, that the reason you guys are so stuck is you both feel so unsafe with each other, and that's not going to ever happen until that happens.  So that's a great – there's another value of those that are related to Christ as we meet together, you showed me the entire other side of that verse, which I'll start using.  Can I quote you on that?

Dennis: Quote John – I didn't say anything original in that.  You know, I think what I want to encourage listeners to do, though, is get a copy of Gary's book, because what he's talking about here is unlearning some bad habits, all right?  Because what happens when we do not create safety is we kind of spiral downward with our spouse.

Gary: They put armor on and build walls.

 Dennis: And we're experts at armor-bearing, sword-drawing, and wall-building.

Gary: And finger-pointing, it's your fault, yes.

Dennis: I've noticed the way you do that.  You really are – you're an expert on that.  But what we need is we need ways of knowing how to take the armor off, how to put our sword back in the sheath, and how to tear down the walls so that we can create a safe relationship and, Bob, a book like Gary's, "The DNA of Relationships," can coach us on how to do that.

Bob: As we're talking about it, I'm thinking about a couple I know who would benefit from reading this book – a couple where this whole issue of safety in the relationship has been threatened and has been lost, and then I'm thinking, "Well, maybe I ought to read through it before I send it on to my friends.  We've got copies of the book available in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if any of our listeners would like to get a copy, they can contact us.  In fact, what we're encouraging them to do, Dennis, is actually get a copy of Gary's book and your book, "Rekindling the Romance."  I think it's a great one-two punch, and we will include, if they order both books, we'll include at no additional cost, either the cassette or the CD of our conversation on this subject with Dr. Gary Smalley.

 So go to our website at and click the "Go" button that's at the bottom of the screen.  That will take you right to the page where you can order today's resources, and you can review them, see if there's any additional information you need and take advantage of the opportunity to get the cassette or the CD at no additional cost when you order both of these books.

 And, speaking of helpful things, we want to say a special word of thanks to the folks who help partner with us in ministry.  This daily radio program – you're listening to it because of a partnership that exists with this radio station, with some of our listeners who help support this ministry, and with the team here at FamilyLife that works to create the program.  That three-way partnership wouldn't work if you take one of the partners away.  This local radio station has got to be in place; our team here has got to be hard at work creating these programs; and then the listeners who help with the financial support for this ministry – you're just as valuable as the other two partners in this process.

 I want to talk for just a minute to those of you who have listened for a while.  Maybe you've benefited from the ministry of FamilyLife Today, but we've never heard from you.  We want to invite you to write to us, send an e-mail, let us know the call letters of the station where you hear FamilyLife Today, and when you do get in touch with us, if you can help with a contribution, a donation for the work of the ministry, we would appreciate it. 

 You can donate online at or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation.  Again, our website is, and you can send us an e-mail from there, or call us at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Let us know that you're listening, and, again, if you can make a donation, someone on our team can help you with the details of that over the phone.

 Well, we're going to continue tomorrow to examine relationships – what causes them to flourish and what causes them to wither with Dr. Gary Smalley as our guest.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you.  However, there is a cost to transcribe, create, and produce them for our website.  If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would   you consider donating today to help defray the costs? 

Copyright © FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.