Chapter OneMARRIAGE 911
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Give honor to marriage, and remain
faithful to one another in marriage. HEBREWS 13:4
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NOT LONG AGO I took my family on a vacation to Florida.
One evening my two young daughters and I were building a
sand castle on a beautiful, powdery white beach. As we worked, I
noticed a young boy, about nine years old, circling our growing
fortress. He stayed about ten or fifteen yards away from us as he
tossed a football to himself. No one seemed to be with him.
Eventually I asked the boy to throw me the ball. We played
catch for about five minutes, and then I turned to the girls and
asked if we should invite the boy to build with us.
"Sure!" they said.
"Hey, son," I asked, "would you like to help us?"
"Oh, yeah!" he replied enthusiastically.
We all sat in the sand to continue our construction project.
Soon I asked the boy, "What's your name?"
"Zachary," he said with pride.
"Nice to meet you, Zachary," I replied. I then introduced my
"What are you doing out here?" I asked. "I haven't seen you
"Well, I've been at my dad's house," he explained. "Now I'm
here at my mom's house."
Immediately I assumed his parents had divorced, but to
avoid presuming anything, I said, "Really? So your dad lives
"Yeah, he lives in Alabama," Zachary replied. "And now I'm
here with my mom in Florida."
"Really," I answered. "And what does that mean, Zachary?"
I'll never forget his answer. This nine-year-old boy momentarily
took his sandy hands away from the castle, looked up with
fear in his eyes, and said in a wavering voice, "I'm not sure, but
my mom says it means that I'm now the man of the house."
A feeling of utter sadness washed over me. I was sad that a
nine-year-old boy thought that he had to be the "man of the
house." This is the job of a father, not of a young boy. I saw the
panic in his eyes that he had to do something beyond his years-that
he had to grow up quickly. But the thing that broke my
heart is that he longed for his daddy. Nothing can ever replace a
father in a child's life-especially the daily interaction. This is
where a young boy learns how to be a man. Zachary learned that
a dad quit and left him home alone to fend for himself.
But as heartbreaking as Zachary's story is, do you know the
saddest thing of all? Millions of Zacharys live all around this
country. Untold numbers of hurting little boys and girls grow
up in broken homes, forced to accept adult responsibilities long
before they're ready. You probably know some of these children
too. And they're frightened.
Behind every child affected by divorce stand two people who
lost their dream of a lifelong, satisfying marriage. Many of them
are frightened too. They are often sad, lost, and confused.
THE NEED FOR A MARRIAGE REVIVAL
It shouldn't take a sad story like Zachary's to make us realize
that America urgently needs a marriage revival. Did you know
every day 2,700 children will watch their parents either
separate or divorce?
under current trends in the U.S., younger people who
marry for the first time face a 40-50 percent chance of
second marriages fail at a rate about 10 percent higher
than the rate of failed first marriages?
many first marriages end in divorce in the first three to
five years? In 2000, for example, among women aged 25
to 29 whose first marriages ended in divorce, the median
length of marriage was 3.4 years.
at least one researcher suggests that fewer than half of
the marriages that avoid divorce can be described as truly
marital distress puts both adults and children at
increased risk for mental and physical problems? Common maladies include increased incidence of
illness, decreased work productivity (especially for
men), suicide, violence, homicide, significant
suppression of the immune system, mortality from
disease, and increased rates of automobile accidents.
These are more than statistics when we realize that the
people they represent are our neighbors, our family members,
our friends, our coworkers. Just looking around us, we can see
that this nation urgently needs a marriage revival. The welfare
and happiness of countless couples-not to mention the millions
of little Zacharys-depend on it.
Yet all revivals, of whatever type and wherever they occur,
start small. The marriage revival that we need so badly will begin
only when individual couples consciously choose to do the hard
work necessary to avoid the pain of divorce and instead enter
into the satisfaction and joy of a Promised Land marriage.
It's this vision that makes me passionate about helping
couples to resolve their marital problems. I have dedicated my
life to equipping couples to understand, find, and experience
God's best for their marriage. But it took two dreams-literal
ones, mind you-to get me on track.
A DREAM OF FREEDOM
About two o'clock one morning, I sat bolt upright in bed after
experiencing one of the most vivid dreams of my life. The images
not only captivated me but also promised to help me put
together some pieces of a difficult puzzle that had confounded
me for a long time.
In my dream I stared as the Old Testament patriarch Abraham's
descendants enjoyed "the good life" in Goshen. I watched
as God freed the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. I observed
as the ancient Hebrews struggled and learned in the wilderness.
I witnessed their supernatural triumph at Jericho. And
finally I saw them take possession of the Promised Land under
the able leadership of Joshua.
Yet somehow I knew that this dream served as far more than
a historical replay; I understood that these ancient Israelites represented
contemporary married couples. And I knew that what
happened to God's chosen people in biblical history could happen
to husbands and wives right now.
"Whoa!" I murmured the moment I opened my eyes. I
bolted out of bed, turned on the computer, and started typing.
Here's the artwork for the idea that came to me that morning. It
still serves as the framework for my understanding about how
best to help couples leave the "slavery" of marital hurts and disappointments
in order to enter the Promised Land-all that
God meant marriage to be.
We'll unpack this map as we make our way through the book,
but for now it's enough to grasp the general idea. The biblical
story of Israel's flight from being stuck in Egypt to a new life in
God's Promised Land provides a model with the power to point
modern marriages to health, courage, and renewed strength. I
could never have asked God for such an insightful dream.
TASTE THE DUST
Like nearly everyone else in the country on September 11, 2001,
I sat glued in front of my television set as the World Trade Center
towers disintegrated into a pile of rubble. I could hardly believe
that terrorists could stage such a hideous attack, let alone
comprehend the vast number of deaths they could inflict so
quickly. The attack rattled me to the core.
The following month I traveled to Pasadena, California, for
a seminar. And for the second time in my life, an impossibly
vivid dream awakened me in the wee hours of the morning.
In my dream, I saw the World Trade Center towers still
standing, looking down on the rest of the New York skyline. I
felt helpless as two hijacked planes once more smashed into a
pair of defenseless targets. And I felt weak as I watched both
towers crumble into dust.
This dream felt so real that I could taste the dust and smell
the smoke. It felt as if I were really there.
I realized that, like my previous dream about the ancient Israelites
fleeing Egypt, this dream was symbolic, with the collapsing
towers representing a husband and a wife. In the shadow of
their catastrophic fall stood dazed children, wounded families,
and crippled communities, all bleeding profusely from the devastation
In my dream, I was driving a vintage M*A*S*H ambulance.
With me rode a team of men and women whose faces I couldn't
see but who nevertheless made up a crucial part of the team. On
one side of the ambulance, as clear as day, I saw some words
stenciled in classic M*A*S*H style: MARRIAGE 911.
And then I woke up.
A flood of emotions swept over me. Right there in the hotel
room, I broke down and sobbed. Despite my mixed feelings, I
got out of bed, booted up the computer, and started writing. I
recorded my whole dream. When I finished, I logged on to the
Internet and discovered that no one yet owned the rights to the
name "Marriage 911." So I grabbed it.
And in those emotion-filled, early morning hours, I knew
God had set my agenda for the foreseeable future.
WHY THIS BOOK?
Why have I written this book? To offer help and encouragement
to searching husbands and wives? Surely. To create a practical
tool that God might be pleased to use in a marriage revival?
That would be terrific. But that is not my core reason.
A deeply personal motive drives me to publish this book.
I'm writing for all the Zacharys who live all around us. I can
never forget that poignant moment on the beach and the desperate
longing that I saw deep in Zachary's eyes. I know that
those same eyes peer out from millions of little boys and girls all
over the country. But behind every Zachary is a distressed
couple, a husband and wife who wanted desperately to make
their marriage work but couldn't find the way. The eyes of these
couples haunt me.
I write this book for them.
I've dedicated my professional life to helping couples
everywhere not only to make sense of their marriages but also to
enjoy them in a way they never thought possible. The goal in our
work at the Smalley Marriage Institute is, as we say on our Web
site, "not to 'cure' the relationship. Instead, the objective is to assist
a couple in moving its relationship onto the road to a healthy,
satisfying relationship." Our mission is building, renewing, and
restoring the promise of a great marriage. When a husband and
wife leave from their experience, they are equipped with a clear
plan and direction for how to reach their desired marriage.
In an effort to make this goal become a reality, we've created,
under the leadership of Bob Paul, two- and four-day "marriage
intensives" in which couples come to the Institute for concentrated
relationship help. We've been tracking the performance
of these sessions for the past few years and have felt delighted to
discover that they consistently enjoy more than 90 percent success-that
is, less than 10 percent of the couples who complete
the program end up filing for divorce, and those who stay together
report a significant improvement in their level of marriage
When my dad heard about the phenomenal success we've
been enjoying in this program, he expressed the desire to
understand what we do; so he helped lead an intensive a short
while ago. Subsequently I overheard him tell a friend, "I was
shocked to see what they're doing. These couples fly in from
everywhere and often come in separated from each other, hurt
and hostile, having suffered through affairs or any number of
horrible things. These husbands and wives don't even know
each other when they show up-but at the end of the four days,
they leave appearing to be lifetime friends. They return home
This book represents my attempt to bring you the benefits
enjoyed by the couples-some in serious relationship distress-who
leave our marriage intensives arm in arm and hand in hand.
What happens in those intensives can also happen wherever you
live. And it can start today.
JOIN ME! SEE CHANCES!
Are you ready for a marriage revival? More to the point, are you
ready to revive your own marriage? If so, I invite you to join me.
I'm thrilled at what God is doing through our work at the
Institute and pleased that I have some small place in it. I'm delighted
that our marriage intensives have racked up a 90 percent
success rate-but I'm no longer surprised by it. In one sense, of
course we're going to have 90 percent success because this marriage
revival is God's idea.
I believe with all of my heart that God wants a marriage revival
to spread over the whole world. And I'm certain that he
wants your own marriage to blossom and grow in the Promised
Do you want that, too? Then join us. Read this book. Try the
principles out in your marriage. Share hope with the couples
around you. Be part of God's work to strengthen marriages all
around the world.
So, where do we start? We start where ancient Israel started:
in the giddy days of a fresh beginning.
* * *
The land you are about to enter and occupy is not like the land of Egypt
from which you came, where you planted your seed and dug out
irrigation ditches with your foot as in a vegetable garden. It is a land of
hills and valleys with plenty of rain-a land that the Lord your God
cares for. He watches over it day after day throughout the year! DEUTERONOMY 11:10-12
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"WE NEVER KNEW it could be like this!" How many times have
I heard those words, or something very like them, from couples
who found themselves in the Promised Land? I've lost count.
But I still get goose bumps each time I hear them.
I suppose I get especially charged because I know where
many of these husbands and wives started out: angry, bitter, and
loud-or depressed, withdrawn, and hopeless. We first met because
they felt their marriage had reached the end of the line. Before
dissolving their union, they agreed (oftentimes reluctantly)
to give the relationship one last shot. So they came to meet the
team at the Smalley Marriage Institute and wondered whether
they'd leave as a couple.
We like to check up on our clients at set intervals after the
marriage intensives, and most of the time we get very good news.
Not every couple who returns home reaches the Promised Land
swiftly, of course; most have just left Egypt and have a lot of
work to do before they can set foot in the land of their dreams.
But some couples catch on quickly, learn and master the critical
skills, wholeheartedly give up control to God, and sooner than
they imagined possible find themselves enjoying the pure milk
and delicious honey of a Promised Land marriage.