Marriage Course

  • Introduction

    What you will discover

    1. Why you should take this course
    2. The heart of a healthy marriage is personal responsibility
    3. How healthy your relationship is today

    The great American poet Robert Browning once said, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” Congratulations on beginning the Celebrate Forever Marriage Course! What an amazing journey the two of you have begun! As you have probably already figured out, marriage is the most significant, wonderful, intense relationship you will ever experience. We couldn’t be more thrilled to help you acquire the skills needed to succeed in your marriage. Marriage is incredible, and what makes it incredible is the conflict it naturally creates and how that can make you a stronger couple.

    Marriage often gets beat up in the media, misunderstood, and often devalued because of the hurt it can cause people. Divorce is rampant, fewer and fewer people are choosing marriage, but still, marriage is the key foundation of any civilization. When marriages are healthy, neighborhoods are healthy. When marriages are healthy, communities are healthy. When marriages are healthy, entire countries are healthy! When marriages are healthy, the entire planet is healthy!

    Kevin and Gloria Lu began the Celebrate Forever Foundation to equip its members and the public with the education, skills, technology, and resources they need to create lasting healthy relationships and families that can be celebrated forever. Our goal for this marriage study is to give you the skills, insights, and knowledge necessary to truly celebrate your marriage forever!

    Recently the Lu’s were watching CNN during a long and troublesome layover in London. They missed their flight back home to California. To say the least, they were not happy about being stuck trying to get on the next flight back to their home.

    But there was something more important waiting for them that day. While watching CNN, there was a big debate going on between a man and a woman. The Lu’s can’t remember what was being debated that day, but they do remember HOW each person was debating. There was yelling, interrupting, and chaos during the heated discussion. At one point, the people debating went nose to nose with each other, literally pointing fingers to the point their fingertips were almost touching! It made the Lu’s uncomfortable watching them scream and yell at each other. All they wanted was to relax and pass the time in peace.

    Then it hit them! This is the problem with relationships today. Too much yelling, too much blaming, too much pointing the finger at everyone else and too little pointing the finger at ourselves.

    Kevin and Gloria are in the wedding dress business. Their company, Casablanca Bridal, is a wholesale dress company selling thousands of exquisite dresses globally a year. But their passion is not about selling wedding gowns, it’s about helping couples truly celebrate marriages forever! They want every bride who wears one of their dresses to experience wearing a gorgeous gown and a marriage of their dreams.

    Many little girls dream about their wedding day and the “happily ever after”. Too many of those same little girls’ have their marriage dreams turn into nightmares because of avoidable issues like the man and woman debating on CNN. If you want your relationship to succeed long after the beautiful wedding dress is put in storage, then you must learn the secrets to loving well so you can celebrate forever.

    An important study affirmed relationship education when it found that if a couple completed a full course, even if they were not doing well, 90 percent of them were still together and significantly happier 2 years after the program. (Bray and Jouriles, “Treatment of Marital Conflict and Prevention of Divorce.”)

    This is why Kevin and Gloria chose us, Michael and Amy Smalley, founders of the Smalley Institute and Smalley Intensive Care for Couples program, to help develop this marriage course for seriously dating or engaged couples. We believe in marriage, and we want you to experience the relationship of your dreams. Like any dream, to make it a reality it will take knowledge and skills. You are going to gain both of these in this online course.

    Great relationships are no accident, they take work. You need the knowledge and skills to successfully navigate the ups and downs of your relationship’s journey through life. If you want to succeed, to be happy together, then keep moving forward and apply all you learn in this course to your relationship.

    The key elements of the Smalley Intensive Care for Couples program are what make up the heart of this course. Since 2001, couples from across the globe have participated in the intensive program. The Smalley Institute works hard at identifying and learning what it takes to help couples experience the relationship of their dreams, no matter what they’ve experienced together.


    The Celebrate Forever Marriage Course is a journey. You can start at the beginning and work your way to the end. However, our favorite part is that you can come back to the course and jump straight to the lessons you need the most when you hit a roadblock or
    heated conversation. The lessons can easily stand alone and are meant to be a tool for you to use for years to come.

    Here’s a preview of upcoming the lessons:

    The Knowledge

    1. It starts from me, change me first ®
    2. Your personality styles
    3. The dance
    4. Setting up for success
    5. Yours, mine, and ours

    The Love Skills

    6. Breaking the dance
    7. LOVE Talk
    8. Forgiveness
    9. Sexual intimacy

    If you apply what’s being taught in this course, you will succeed in building the relationship of your dreams. We wish there was a quick gimmick or pill we could give you so your relationship would thrive, but there is not. Our belief is that we are giving you something even better!

    Nothing in life worth having is easy to achieve.

    Take a chance and discover what it takes to love well. Many people think that the fundamental building blocks of life are oxygen, water, and food. We disagree. The building blocks of life are relationships. People are designed for relationships. When people love well, that is when they truly live!

  • It starts from me, change me first ®

    Nicholas Sparks once wrote, “She wanted something else, something different, something more. Passion and romance, perhaps, or maybe quiet conversations in candlelit rooms, or perhaps something as simple as not being second.”

    If you don’t learn how to take responsibility for your own actions, your relationship will struggle to succeed. Have you ever tried to change your partner or someone else? How did that turn out? Hopefully, most of you are laughing at this point – realizing that your many efforts to change people’s behavior and attitude failed miserably. Yet, for many of us, we continue to try.

    If at first, we don’t succeed – keep trying. Like somehow people are going to eventually break down and do what we want them to do. The sad reality is many people do eventually break down – and so too the relationship!


    What things have you tried to change about each other? How did that go... did it work? Why or why not?

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    You want your relationship to succeed. It’s natural to want happiness, laughter, and joy, but these things come at a price. Nothing comes for free. In order to gain all the good within the relationship you desire, you must learn why it starts from you.

    It’s important to point the finger at yourself and eliminate the blame game from your relationship. Blaming doesn’t work, it is ineffective, and it will kill the passion and love in your relationship if you don’t stop blaming your partner for the problems in your relationship.

    What can we learn from Adam and Eve? Blaming doesn’t work! Way back in the garden when it was just the two of them. Eve was the first to be tricked by the serpent’s deception of what God told Adam and Eve not to do. She ate the forbidden fruit and then gave it to Adam for him to do the same. And then God came into the garden and the first blaming and shaming conversation started. Gen. 3:12 ESV “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”

    Do you see the blaming going down the line? The man blamed his wife and his wife blamed the serpent. Our first blame game in recorded history… blaming truly is in our DNA. And did you notice the more subtle blame on God? Adam —”The woman who you gave me” Adam blamed God for making her! Did the blame game help their case? No- does it help ours today? No. Many things that come natural to us, like blaming, may beparts of our DNA but they are unhealthy. We need to recognize when blaming starts and apologize for it.

    In this lesson, you will take a look in the mirror and realize you have plenty of your own dysfunction to worry about. Your partner is not free from dysfunction and ridiculous behavior, but neither are you.

    The biggest effect of taking responsibility for your actions and emotions is how it breaks “The Dance”, which you will learn about later on in this study. Too many of us think, “If only my partner would…” What we need to be thinking is how we can’t change others, but we can change how we react to others. We can’t control what others do, but we can control what we do, and this ultimately creates positive reactions to our actions.

    Personal responsibility requires that you take a hard look at your own side of the equation. It starts from me is about taking responsibility for what you do. This is a game-changer for any relationship. Think about what happens when two people take responsibility for their own actions and attitude toward each other. The relationship can’t help but prosper!

    Let’s put this life-changing concept into action relationally. The process begins by understanding exactly what to do when you get upset. This is when personal responsibility truly matters.

    What to do when you get upset

    1. Create space.
    First and foremost, we need to create some space from each other. Another phrase for this is a “time-out.” This is when you get away, either internally or physically, so that you can calm down. We will go over time-outs more extensively later on in the course during the lesson titled “Breaking the Dance”. It is mentioned here because you can’t begin taking a time-out until you’ve assumed responsibility for your actions.

    This is a time to get away and pray for the great physician to examine and warm your heart. David was one of the best at allowing God to know his heart and open to God changing it. In Psalm 51:10 ESV we see David reaching for healing and connection. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” A similar plea is in Psalm 139:23-24 ESV “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!”

    These passages set the mood for a great character to be developed. They illustrate what humility looks like. As you begin to look in the mirror of your heart and reflect on your character allow David’s words to impact how deeply you look. David is open to God revealing “any” grievous way and he desired a clean heart. When God looks at your desires can he see you striving for the same ideals as David?

    2. Identify your emotions.
    When you get upset, you must be quick to listen to your own emotions and needs and not so much the other person’s. If that sounds selfish, consider the reality. When your buttons have been pushed, you are no longer feeling safe. There is no way you can effectively listen to the other person. You can’t listen because your heart is closed and trying to heal. A closed heart is a heart unable to hear from others. It is wounded and shut down.

    Have you ever tried to listen to your partner when your heart is closed? It’s impossible. It doesn’t matter how relationally competent you are; when your buttons get pushed, you cannot listen effectively until you deal with yourself first.

    The key is to identify your feelings, needs, hurts—your “stuff.” You do that by working to identify what got you upset. Ask yourself several key questions:

    • What’s going on for me right now?
    • How am I feeling?
    • Where is this feeling coming from?
    • What is this saying about me, or what am I believing about myself right now?


    Try thinking of your most recent conflict. Write it down in 2-3 sentences. If you were to go back to that moment, how would you answer the above questions for that conflict?

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    Taking responsibility for your feelings means that you let your feelings and emotions (buttons) matter. You allow yourself to go to a place of compassion for yourself. You can always validate your emotions rather than ignoring them, detaching from them, or judging them.

    Be curious rather than judgmental about your feelings. Care and attend to your “stuff.” Allow the feelings to have space to breathe. When you validate your own feelings, you’re making it okay that you’re feeling whatever. Learn to view your feelings simply as information, and as the language of your heart.

    3. Manage Your Emotions
    After you identify your emotions, think about what a healthy response would look like. For example, take a few deep breaths, stand up and stretch, listen to music, take a walk, pray, talk to a friend, etc. Why are you doing all these things? You do them, to get your heart open, so you can respond (instead of reacting) to the other person. You are setting yourself and your relationship up to be able to handle the situation better in the future. Think through the attitude and action you feel will lead resolution and harmony.

    Remember, our natural instinct is to “react” when our buttons get pushed, instead of “respond.” Reactions by definition are knee-jerk. It’s like when someone hits our knee and our leg kicks out. Reaction mode doesn’t involve conscious thought; we just react. The goal here is to respond to your partner. Responding is thought out. When you respond, you do things that preserve your integrity and the relationship.

    The book of Proverbs sometimes known as The Book of God’s Wisdom urges the reader to seek wisdom, show discernment, restrain words, get understanding, and show self- control. The words wise and wisdom are used 104 times in the ESV Bible The idea of treasuring wisdom over jewels, money, or gold is found in Proverbs 4:4, 8:11, 3:13-15,16:16. When the great son of David, Solomon, was asked what he wanted if he could ask for anything he wisely choose wisdom. Wisdom is a comfort and a guide that will lead to right decisions and through difficult circumstances.

    Proverbs 15:1-2 ESV “A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.”


    Why is taking personal responsibility important for your relationship?

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    Now we want to make a list of the things you think need to change in your life to make the relationship stronger. This is not meant to be a shaming list of your life, but realistically, we know you are not perfect and your partner has probably figured out the same thing. What is it you could work on to help the relationship be healthier.


    Make a list of the things you think need to change in your life to make the relationship stronger:

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    What is your plan to address the issues on your list?

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    If you don’t identify what needs to be changed, and then develop a plan for how you are going to change, the change isn’t going to happen. It is not enough to identify something is broken, you have to pursue the knowledge and skills necessary to fix it. If your list of issues you could work on has things like alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography addiction, etc. then we’d recommend contacting a professional counselor to help you. We’ve got a referral network you can access on this site, of pre-screened, trained, and helpful counselors that would love to work with you.


    Do you even know? If you are fighting constantly and going through an up/down relationship, then you probably know your relationship is not where it is supposed to be. If you are this couple, then you can’t wait to get started so you can fix what’s broken and finally get your relationship back on track.

    But maybe you’re the couple who doesn’t really know one way or another if your relationship is in trouble. You know there are some things that aren’t working properly, but there are also plenty of things that are working. You might be in the most dangerous position. If you aren’t aware of your relationship weaknesses, then you won’t feel the need to make any changes. This is not good. If your relationship is experiencing any (or all) of the 4 major risk factors of divorce…you might be headed toward a broken relationship. One that ends on bad terms and broken dreams.

    Do not panic. We created this course to help educate and inspire couples just like you! The problem in relationships isn’t the fact they get into trouble or conflict. The problem in relationships is that people don’t know how to resolve the issues throughout their journey together. It is this inability to resolve a conflict that ultimately leads a relationship to brokenness.

    The first step in this course is to do a quick health assessment of the relationship. The following 8 questions will let you know exactly where your relationship stands. We know you must be thinking, “8 questions, what in the world can 8 questions tell us about our relationship?!” It can tell you a lot. We helped Drs. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley, two of the preeminent relationship researches in the world, validate their theory on divorce by giving this assessment to thousands of couples. What they found was extraordinary! By assessing how much a couple experiences their 4 risk factors of divorce, they could predict 93% accurately who would divorce and who would make it.

    It’s time to take the assessment. We feel the need to reiterate again, do not panic. All this assessment does is tell you where your relationship is today. If you fall in the danger zone, then you simply cannot ignore the lessons in this course and must take action. The lessons can literally save your relationship.

    Assessing the status of your relationship is a good thing. It lets you know how much change you need to make in order for the relationship to be healthy. You can make a change. Your relationship doesn’t have to stay unhealthy. If you fall in the danger zone, all it means is your knowledge and skills to love well need work. You don’t have a relationship problem, you have an education problem. The more you learn and apply the principles in this course, the better your relationship will be.

    What you will want to remember
    • The best chance your relationship has in succeeding is you taking responsibility for being healthy and loving. You choose to treat your partner the way you want to be treated.

    • Regardless of how your relationship tested in our 8 question health assessment, it’s up to you to learn what it takes to experience a healthy relationship. The assessment isn’t a doomsday sign, it just highlights what needs to be worked on.

    • Be inspired by the relationship health assessment.

    • Now you know what you can do to take responsibility to prepare for your forever.

  • Your personalities


    What you will discover
    • Your personality as an individual in relationships.
    • How your personality types match and the strengths/growth areas for your relationship!

    The personality inventory you take is not like a test you fail or pass. It’s more like a fingerprint that shows your tendencies, which can change, unlike fingerprints. Discovering your personality in the context of relationships helps show where your strengths and growth areas exist.

    We are God’s workmanship. He created us together for a purpose.

    Psalm 139:13-14 ESV “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

    Ephesians 2:10 ESV “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

    The Creator of the Universe knows you and knew you would make this choice in who you were going to marry. Personalities in marriage are a blessing and a difficulty. Learning how to stay connected and balanced in your personality can be the most maturing process in life. Usually your spouse’s personality is different from yours and now is the time to see those differences as assets. You may be more of a introvert and your spouse an extrovert. Learning to accept yourself yet still challenge your norms is important to understanding and appreciating each other.

    Each of us has these personality strengths in combinations which can change and adjust with circumstances in life. However, everyone one of us needs balance in our personality. Therefore, the goal of this assessment and personality descriptions is to honor your personality strengths and help you understand where you are “out of balance” in terms of who you are and understand what you can work on to improve.

    We’ve found that our greatest personal strengths—when pushed out of balance—become our greatest weaknesses. For instance, let’s say that your strength is you have tremendous enthusiasm, this becomes a weakness as your enthusiasm turns into manipulation or ridiculous behavior.

    If a character trait of yours is too extreme, to the point that it irritates your partner or your children, you can decide to decrease that trait and increase the characteristics of other traits.

    Let’s take a closer look at four different personality types to bring oneness, satisfaction, and harmony to your relationship.

    Personality types can be broken down into 4 different animals: the Lion, Otter, Golden Retriever, and Beaver. These animals were not chosen randomly, and we bet you are already starting to figure out which type of person fits under each animal name.

    It is easier to remember personality styles when they are associated with a strong metaphor. Please take a few moments to individually take the personality assessment.


    Now you both have a decent idea of who each other are. This is going to help you better understand each other, communicate better, talk to each other’s personality, and then give you the chance to see how your unique personalities work together and the key areas you might struggle in.

    The next thing we want you to do is to choose the correct personality type for each of you in the drop-down menu below. We’ve developed a helpful tool that can take each of your personality styles and create a customized report on the specific strengths, growth areas, and key aspects to focus in on for a change. All you need to do is select the correct personality style for both of you and then click submit.

    Take your time in reading the results. It will give you valuable insights into your relationship. !INSERT PERSONALITY MATCHING SYSTEM HERE


    What have you learned about each other that you did not know before?

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    Now that you know your partner’s personality type, what could you do differently when you need to confront something in the relationship? For example, if you’re married to a high Otter, how do you need to approach your Otter partner when there is a problem?

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    What is unique and valuable about your partner’s personality? Which of his or her traits stand out to you?

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    Proverbs 27:17 ESV “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” What does this mean and how does it apply to personality? It means to be joined together and grow to meet the challenges of life and to make one another wiser and better. The rub of your personalities shouldn’t hurt you, it should strengthen you and your relationship. 

    What you will want to remember
    • Now you know each other at a deeper level, use this knowledge to highlight each other’s uniquenesses and why you value each other’s personality style.

    • Remember each other’s strengths and make a list of the things you appreciate about your partner’s personality.

  • The Dance

    What you will discover

    • The reason you get upset or irritated with each other. • How the dance gets your relationship stuck.
    • The 4 ways you can’t react when you get upset. INTRODUCTION

    Every couple goes through conflict and can feel miserable at times. Right now you’re engaged or seriously dating and the relationship feels incredible (at least it should). This is a good thing. The easiest time of your relationship is during the dating and engaged years. In reality, however, is that you are going to get into conflict. Two people living together are going to have differences. The problem is not differences, the problem is how we react to our differences. We want to make sure, early on, you understand this principle. No relationship is perfect, no couple is just right for each other…and this is okay. What matters, in terms of your relationship succeeding, is how you react to conflict.

    When couples seek out help, they often point to things like finances, kids, in-laws, or poor sex as the reason for their troubles. But these are merely surface level issues. It is never about an issue like poor finances. It is always about what’s underneath the issue, like a failure, feeling ignored or unimportant, rejection, control, and the list goes on. They complain about surface level events or circumstances. The problem is that you are not miserable because of finances, kids, in-laws, or sex. You are not miserable because you married the wrong person. You are not miserable because of some “circumstance” in your relationship. The reason you are miserable is because a button is getting pushed and you are reacting in an unhealthy manner. You don’t have to be miserable.

    The problem is your reactions, not your circumstances.

    You do not control your circumstances, but you can control your reactions. In other words, you can’t control whether or not your partner saves or spends when it comes to money. You can control how you react to your partner spending too much or being too big of a money miser.

    Start controlling your reactions, and things will get better. Try controlling your circumstances, and things get more miserable. This is extremely important. The more you try to control things which are out of your control, the more miserable you will feel.

    Stop wasting good energy trying to control what you cannot. Instead, start working on what you can control, your reactions, and wait to see what happens. Your life, relationships, and overall satisfaction will increase because you will be making better decisions with how you treat yourself and those around you. It is an amazing thing to see how people respond to being treated well.

    Mat. 7:4-5 ESV “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck from your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

    It starts with looking at our own reactions and reflection in the mirror. When you see your motives, attitudes, and actions in a clear light through humility. Then you will be at a place to help some one else.


    Couples often point to many different facts or circumstances as to why they are upset with each other. Unfortunately, facts and circumstances are never the reason you get upset. You get upset when a button gets pushed. As you will see, when a button gets pushed, you tend to push your partner’s and it creates this negative cycle of unhealthy reactions. We will get to this cycle, or dance, in a moment. First, here are the most common buttons that get pushed for men and women:

    1. feeling disconnected
    2. feeling controlled
    3. feeling like a failure
    4. feeling invalidated
    5. or feeling rejected

    These buttons are the most common. Which ones do you relate to most? It is starting to make sense, isn’t it? Remember, you are not mad because your partner forgot to take out the trash, taking out the trash is simply a circumstance. You are mad because when you found out your partner forgot to take out the trash, the button of feeling rejected (or ignored, unimportant, etc.) got pushed. Your anger is about feeling rejected and not about taking the trash out.

    Many of you are thinking right now, “But it is about the trash! Just take out the stinking trash and I wouldn’t feel upset or rejected!” This is not true. Because if it is not the trash, then it will be something else. Working too late, not sticking up for her, etc., etc., etc. It will always be some circumstance. There is always a circumstance. Look at it this way:


    Back to Genesis 3, was there fear in the world before the Adam and Eve sinned against God? Did anyone feel disconnected, rejected, or judged? No way! We were perfect, naked and unashamed. It wasn’t until Gen. 3:7-8 ESV “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” We brought rejection into the world when we rejected God’s boundaries. We failed God by not standing up to the serpent and telling him to leave us alone. Our buttons are reflected in this deep connection we were designed for. We long for approval, success, acceptance, etc. because we had it before the fall. We want to get back to the place of perfect connection and harmony. 

    If you want a deeper more intimate relationship, then get off circumstances and on to buttons. Because it is all about the button. And buttons are worth talking about because you care about buttons. Circumstances are facts, and facts can be argued. If you do not believe us, then take a walk down your own memory lane. Think back to your own arguments. How many hours have the two of you wasted arguing about facts? Too many! Circumstances are always about the facts and you will get lost over the facts. Factual discussions create an environment of a courtroom, and is a courtroom the kind of relationship you are trying to create? Hopefully not.

    Take for example a typical argument a couple will have over remembering ATM receipts. Let’s say the woman handles the money and the budgeting, and the man keeps getting into trouble because he forgets to hand her the receipts when he withdraws cash from the ATM. His actions make budgeting and keeping the checkbook registry balance difficult.

    This can cause a ton of stress each month in a relationship because of the monthly bank statement arriving in the mail! She would get the bank statement and then review it with the check register and it would never match because he was consistently forgetting to give her ATM receipts. This would immediately lead to a major fight because she would tell him what an immature loser he was for not giving her the ATM receipts and he would respond by telling her there were starving children in Africa (meaning there were bigger problems in the world than remembering ATM receipts).

    Couples will get stuck on the “facts” for months and years because facts are arguable. Lawyers make their living from arguing the facts on either side of an issue. Your relationship is not a courtroom, and you are not opposing counsel! It does not work to focus on facts in an intimate relationship. Period. Focus on the facts, and the argument keeps growing in intensity, focus on feelings and you give yourselves a chance at resolving the issue. It is easy to argue any side of an issue when you want to focus on facts. Watch what happens when you focus on feelings. It allows you to discuss what really matters instead of getting stuck on opinions.

    The day you learn to get off of facts and on to feelings is the day your relationship turns around. Let this be your day! Because when you share the WHY (feelings or buttons) and let go of the facts, the conflict will get resolved. Take for example the couple arguing over ATM receipts. If the woman would share how she feels like a failure because the bank statement is not matching the checkbook rather than focusing on how immature or irresponsible the man is, the argument will get resolved. If she shares how she feels ignored, then the man is forced to recognize how his actions are negatively impacting the woman. No one (except for total sociopaths!) wants another person to feel like a failure or feel ignored. This is why you want to share feelings instead of facts. Facts cause hurtful conflicts, feelings help gain understanding.

    When the man hears how the woman is feeling ignored and like a failure, what choice does he have in response? Seriously. At this point, the man is wanting to help the woman feel less like a failure and not ignored. Guess how he will end up accomplishing this? By beginning to remember the receipts. But he’s not doing so out of some ethical, financial morality, he’s doing so because he cares for the woman and doesn’t want her to feel like a failure or feel ignored. He suddenly wants to remember the receipts because it’s not about the receipts, but about not wanting the woman to feel like a failure or feel ignored.

    James 1:19 ESV “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;”

    When we are quick to hear we listen to the message beyond the words or ‘facts’ spoken and penetrate to the heart of the matter. Feelings or buttons are the ‘real’ message. If we take the time to truly listen before we speak we can move to deeper levels of understanding and insight.


    Answer these questions. Do you want your partner to feel like a failure? Do you want your partner to feel controlled? Do you want your partner to feel disconnected? We hope and trust your answers are a resounding NO. Of course, you do not. No normal person wants their partner to feel those things. Yet we say and do things, sometimes on purpose, many times accidentally, that lead our partner to experience those feelings. It is normal, conflict is inevitable. The good news, however, is when you share feelings, you get your partner on your side. Feelings get positive movement, facts get you stuck and miserable. When you share feelings, your partner says, “Whoa, I really don’t want him feeling that…something has to change.” When you share facts, your partner says, “Oh yeah, buddy, well take this fact and shove it!”

    Check out this list of the most common buttons people experience:

    Rejected Judged Disconnected Lonely
    Failure Powerless Misunderstood Scorned Invalidated Defective Inferior
    Worthless Disheartened Offended Pathetic Heartbroken Anxious Overwhelmed Threatened Horrified Pressured Bewildered
    Ashamed Self-conscious Exhausted Suspicious Dejected Devalued Humiliated Abandoned Unimportant Ignored Neglected
    Condemned Unwanted Danger Disliked Mistrust Despair Unhappy Controlled


    When you do not share your feelings (or buttons), you get stuck in the Button Dance. The Button Dance is an unending cause and reaction nightmare for couples that will end in divorce. It is the reason couples divorce. Take a look at the following example of the dance from the ATM receipt example.
    Judged Man’s Buttons
    The Dance
    Failure/Ignored Woman’s Buttons
    Escalate Your Reaction
    Avoid Your Reaction
    Notice how the reactions end up pushing each other’s buttons worse each time causing them to spiral out of control! It creates a neverending cycle of hurt, bitterness, and

    eventually, divorce. This is important to understand – dysfunctional, or poor, reactions only make things worse in your relationship. We are not trying to teach rocket science here, just better relationships. This is great news! You do not need to worry about getting rid of your buttons. You can’t, they’re here to stay. But you can do something about your reactions.

    Instead of using your old reaction style, you can adopt new skills like validation, listening, forgiving, and creating a safe relationship. But we’re not going to focus on the new reactions quite yet. You still need to fully understand how not to react first, before you can appreciate how you are going to begin reacting throughout the rest of The Simple Relationship Course.



    Now you have a firm understanding of what really makes you upset. It’s now time to discover the 4 ways you can’t react when a button is pushed. Drs. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley are two of the premiere relationship researchers in the world. One of their hallmark studies was on what causes couples to divorce. They studied thousands of couples over many years and discovered an amazing thing. When all was said and done, there were really only 4 things couples did that caused them to divorce. Amazing, right? When you ask the average person the question about what causes divorce, they usually think it must be many different things, but the experts found it is truly only 4 things. If this sounds too simple, or you may be skeptical, then how about this fact – Markman and Stanley created an 8 question test that can predict divorce 93% accurately! Eight questions, 93% accuracy in predicting divorce.

    Their 4 predictors of divorce are so powerful, they devoted two questions per risk factor and then asked the couples to rate from 0-3 (0 being never and 3 being often) how often a certain risk factor occurred during a conflict. If a score reaches over a specific amount, there’s a 93% chance they will end up divorced if things do not change. Did you catch that last part? If things do not change.


    Remember the 8 Question Relationship Health Assessment you took at the beginning? If you scored over 17 points, things need to change. You are officially at risk of the relationship ending hurtfully. It’s not a threat or a death sentence, but if you don’t take the lessons in this study seriously, your relationship is in real danger. The good news is you can change. If you apply what you are already learning in this course, your relationship will get better.

    The importance of Drs. Markman and Stanley’s finding is that we know the 4 things we must avoid doing when our buttons get pushed. Great relationships are not complicated, they are a result of two people committed to responding in loving and healthy ways when their buttons get pushed.

    There are only 4 ways you can react poorly that lead to divorce. Understand these 4 risk factors, and then work at eliminating them from your life. Ask yourself which of these 4 risk factors you struggle with the most. Do not be alarmed if you struggle with more than one. We normally struggle with multiple risk factors. It is what it is. What you will soon need to focus in on, are the new ways to react being taught here in The Simple Relationship.

    Knowledge is power, so take a long look at the 4 risk factors of divorce as discovered by Markman and Stanley:

    1. Escalate

    This is when you “freak out” or yell and scream when a button gets pushed. It is obvious, quick-tempered, and explosive. It is damaging because things are said and done which can never be taken back.

    Proverbs 15:18 ESV “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.”

    Psalm 37:8 ESV “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”

    Proverbs 29:11 ESV “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds back.” Scripture warns over and over about anger. Escalation is the outward reflection of inner anger that has gained control over the reactions of another.

    Eph. 4:26-27 ESV  “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” In this passage it doesn’t say don’t be angry… it says don’t sin in your anger. For many people it’s hard not to escalate when set up to be angry. The human emotion is not wrong it is what we do with that emotion that lead us to an unhealthy reaction.

    2. Avoid/Withdraw

    When your buttons get pushed you turn and run away to avoid conflict. Conflict tends to make you nauseated. You hate the idea of conflict, so you run and hide from it, hoping the conflict will somehow magically disappear. But it does not, because you never bury anger dead, you always bury anger alive.

    Eph. 4:31 ESV “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Notice the first thing mentioned is bitterness. If you find yourself bitter about something that is a sign you are angry. Justifying bitterness is not okay in the biblical world. Bitterness shows a lack of forgiveness. And we can’t afford to harbor unforgiveness.

    Mat. 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Now you know why it is so important not to allow bitterness to grow.

    3. Belittle or Dishonor

    When your buttons get pushed you get nasty and throw out mean names or hurtful statements. Your goal is to tear down your partner with any word or statement that comes to mind. It is an undermining of the person’s character or feelings.

    How is it that our mouths get us into so much trouble? Usually somewhere along the way our “defense” turns into pride and we let go of all discretion. James 3:10 ESV “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not be so.” Then James goes on to add later in chapter 4:6 …”God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

    4. Negative Belief

    When your buttons get pushed you to become judgmental and view your partner’s intentions or words as negative, or even falsely negative. In other words, you view your partner in a negative light. Nothing he/she says or does is received in a positive manner. No matter what your partner tries to do, you refuse to see it for good, but instead, choose to see it negatively. This is the big HOPE killer. Your partner ends up saying, “Why does it matter? Nothing I do is right, so I might as well give up.” Negative and judgmental thinking is a fire when caught spreads destruction everywhere.

    Mat. 7:1-2 ESV “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

    The lens we see through has a great deal to do with how we see things. This passage challenges us to not fault-find and become ungracious with each other. Jesus doesn’t want us to assume that we know the motives of others.

    These are the 4 ways you can no longer respond to your partner when conflict arises in your relationship. You have to view them as the worst possible thing you could do. It doesn’t mean you won’t do them, but it does mean you have to quickly identify you are doing one or more of them, and stop immediately. You can no longer claim ignorance. You are officially enlightened! You have learned the truth, and the truth will set you free.

    If you want your relationship to improve, then you are going to have to take responsibility for how you respond to your buttons getting pushed. You can do it. You already know how miserable it is to get stuck in the Button Dance. No one likes that dance!

    You are learning a new dance, a love dance. A dance where you can enjoy each other, spend quality time together free from conflict.

    The foundation of a healthy relationship is taking control of the change process through personal responsibility and understanding the impact of buttons and the miserable dance couples get engaged in when they react in one or all of the risk factors of divorce.

    Your foundation is firmly set. We are now ready to build on top of it the most important ways you can react differently when your buttons get pushed. It is all about how you react to your buttons, it determines the satisfaction of your relationship. Put simply – the better you react, the better your relationship.

    What you will want to remember
    • The reason “I” get upset is because a button got pushed like feeling disconnected, controlled, or like a failure. When I recognize this, I can begin to control how I react.

    • I do not want to react by escalating, avoiding, dishonoring, or negative believing my partner to death.

    • The better ways to react are things like personal responsibility, time-outs, being kind, and patience.

  • Setting up for success

    What you will discover

    • How I treat my partner matters in the success of our relationship.
    • There are 4 key things I need to do to help my partner feel safe in the relationship.
    • When I look to serve my partner, things change for the better. INTRODUCTION

    We all want to feel safe to be who we are and to feel safe sharing our deepest thoughts and dreams. Somewhere along the way life happens and we engage in bad patterns that cultivate disconnection. Even if you’re feeling on top of the world because of an engagement or the beginning of a great relationship, stuff happens throughout your time together that can begin to break down all the good established early on in a relationship.

    By fostering a safe relationship, or setting yourself up for success, with your partner you will engage their natural desire to connect and be open to you. You will increase intimacy both emotionally and physically.

    Setting up for success is when you behave in such a way that people are drawn to you. Like a magnet, when you learn how to treat your partner in 4 keys ways, you become irresistible.

    The point of any relationship is to be connected and satisfied. No one gets into a relationship in order to spend the next 5 to 7 years being utterly miserable. Your first thoughts when meeting your partner were not, “Wow! Now that is someone I could hate in about 5-years.” But something does happen for many couples – irritation, bitterness, and lack of intimacy take over the relationship and most of them end up divorcing because they despise each other. The average divorce occurs between 5 and 7 years of marriage.

    The best news of all is that your partner naturally desires to be connected with you. Your hearts are designed to be connected, and so when you are disconnected, your heart is in an unnatural position.

    Your heart resists being closed because it’s not comfortable being closed. It wants to be open. This is great news! Because once you begin behaving like a love magnet, your partner will be incapable of keeping their heart closed. It will spring back open when it feels safe again.

    Your job is to create a safe relationship and set yourselves up to succeed through 4 key elements:

    1. Respecting boundaries
    2. Valuing your partners’ differences
    3. Being truthful and honest
    4. Being a servant

    These are the 4 keys to creating a safe relationship and becoming a love magnet.

    1. The key to respecting boundaries or walls

    What Amy was asking for was a boundary. The key point in this discussion is if your partner is wounded because of your actions, then you’d better do a good job at allowing your partner to heal properly. Or, like in our case, respect the fact your partner wants to have fun, and not ruin a date night or vacation because you can’t put aside the conflict for a moment and concentrate on loving your partner properly.

    Remember, only the person who built the wall can take it down. By approaching the wall and not building one yourself you set the other person up to naturally pull theirs down. “I understand you are hurt and need some time. I want you to know when you are ready to talk I will be too.”

    Boundaries can take on many different forms. Some of us need to stand up for ourselves in a positive way by not allowing ourselves to be demeaned. Two becoming one doesn’t mean that one is either a doormat or a bulldozer of the other.

    I Sam. 24:22 ESV “And David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.” If you know the story of Saul and David you know Saul tried to kill David. Saul’s jealousy of David turns their relationship that once was one of admiration and comfort into Saul’s murderous pursuit of David. In this passage there seems to be resolution. Earlier in the chapter we learn David could have taken the life of Saul but chooses to spare his life and Saul in return stops pursuing David to kill him. The stronghold in verse 22 is a place of strength David and his men return to. The stronghold is a good place. Why didn’t David go back with Saul to his home at the palace? Because Saul was not a person that could be trusted. Does David leave his stronghold? Yes, eventually he does but when he feels safe. The idea of boundaries and respecting walls can be established from this passage because based on the past David needed to protect himself and his men. God allowed David to protect himself from Saul’s past behavior. In your marriage there might be times you don’t feel emotionally safe and it is okay to protect yourself. Drawing a boundary is appropriate when your motives are to reunite and cultivate a better relationship in the future.

    2. Value your differences

    There are differences that can be seen as a deficit or an asset when it comes to your personality styles and interests. The problem many couples have is that they focus on their differences and see them as negative, or as a problem. But that is simply not the case. It is your differences that make you stronger! In an age of compatibility, it can make some couples nervous when they don’t feel “compatible”. Compatibility is not the most important thing in relationships. Valuing each other and not trying to change each other’s personalities is what makes a marriage worth having. It is a choice to view your partner as a blessing or a curse.

    You both took the personality assessment, you are now aware of each other’s strengths and differences. If you want to be a love magnet, now’s your chance to start valuing who your partner is, and stop trying to change them.

    When we say things like, “Sheesh! Why can’t you just relax?” We are sending our partner an un-conscience message, “I don’t like who you are and I want you to change…in fact, I wish you could be more like me!” It is okay to challenge our partner in areas where something is dysfunctional and it is impacting us personally. I (Michael) am a major avoider when it comes to conflict. Amy shares with me how that makes her feel is a good thing. Amy sharing with me how much she wishes I was more aggressive with people is a bad thing. I’m not an aggressive person, that’s Amy’s territory. Me telling Amy to “relax” is also not a good thing. I’m trying to tell her she should be more like me, and that does not make a partner feel safe.

    Take some time right now to think about who your partner is, and what you appreciate about him or her. Write them down, make a list, and keep it handy. If you get irritated with your partner, make sure to pull out the list and remind yourself how valuable he or she is, your attitude will take a major turn.


    What do you appreciate about your partner and why?

    Entry Updated

    3. Be truthful and honest

    You send yourself and your partner the best message when you are striving for the best in your life. The cornerstone for living a life worthy of your marriage is honesty. Other words for honesty are integrity, sincerity, and candor. What great words! Your partner won’t know how to be disconnected with you if these are words in which she could use to describe you!

    Jonathan Hilton said this about honestly, “Always Be Honest – How much is your integrity worth? What can you gain by being dishonest that you can truly enjoy? If your word is worth nothing then neither are you.” The problem with lying to your partner is that you are trying to avoid something or gain something from the lie. But answer me this, is it really worth gaining anything through deceit? All you’ve gained through lying is more lies and the eventual meltdown when the truth comes out. And trust us…the truth always comes out.

    One of our favorite things to say at the beginning of an ER-4LOVE Intensive is a “soapbox” speech we have about lying. People squirm uncomfortably when we talk about how the truth ALWAYS comes out, no matter how sophisticated or smart the liar is.

    Remember one of the most successful con men in American history, Bernard Madoff? He is the former non-executive chairman of the NASDAQ stock market and the admitted operator of a Ponzi scheme that is considered to be the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.

    But did you know about Charles Ponzi? That’s right, Madoff may be the most successful Ponzi scheme in American history, but could you imagine being (or being married to) the man in which the Ponzi Scheme was named after? Now that is a legacy you do not want to be associated with, and it’s a legacy you do not want to create in your relationship. These two men became famous for their lies, they might be the best of all time, but both men share something in common. They both got caught! If they can get caught, so can you.

    A legacy of lies is only going to make things worse, eventually. “A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” 2 You think by not being honest you are saving your partner from hurt, but in reality, you are causing significantly more pain and suffering by being disingenuous. You do not have to go to the catastrophic levels like Madoff and Ponzi to ruin people’s lives. A common problem in marriages are partners who believe they are “saving” their partner from undoing hurt. If you are being dishonest, then you are only increasing the amount of hurt your partner is going to experience once the truth finally comes out – and it always comes out.

    You can also be honest in addressing your negative beliefs with each other, especially when they are false negative beliefs (ones that are not even accurate). Ask questions like “What did you mean by ___?” or “This is what I just heard —— is that true?”
    1 2 Gandhi

    4. Be a servant

    Being a servant works. Putting the needs and feelings of your partner ahead of your own sets up the relationship to experience true intimacy. The problem is people are generally concerned about serving others because they fear being taken advantage of. This is not a ridiculous fear, but it is semi-unfounded.

    Does your partner take advantage of you from time to time? Yes. This does not mean they will FOREVER take advantage of you. It means they made a mistake, they more than likely know this, and their heart is not interested in taking advantage of you. Try and think back to a time someone served you well, authentically put your needs ahead of their own. Maybe it was a grandma, uncle, or cousin. How did you react or respond to this person?

    That’s right…you probably responded extremely well because you like how it feels when someone serves you; thus desiring to return the favor. This is a general rule of life and relationships. What goes around comes around, whether good or messed up. If you act immaturely, you are setting your partner up to act immaturely. If you do a great job being a servant, you are setting your partner up to be a servant back to you. Nothing is guaranteed because as you already know, we cannot control our partner or others.

    I John 3:16 NIV “This how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters.” So much of love today is given like a financial exchange. You give me this and I’ll give you that. That’s not how we are called to live. There is no better place to practice loving others than in our own home by being a loving servant to one another. 

    Nothing is more attractive, hot, sexy, fun, wonderful, or satisfying than a partner who works at being a great servant. Do you want to be irresistible? It ends by being a great servant. If you are going to be a great servant, it is not impossible, and actually, as you begin implementing servanthood in your relationship, you will find it is quite rewarding.

    A life lived only for yourself is a lonely life. A life lived working at finding opportunities serving the people around you is more satisfying than you can imagine. We want to make this simple. There are 4 things you want to keep in mind if you want to serve your partner.

    4 Keys to being a great servant

    1. Make a choice about putting your partner first

    All great things begin with a choice. And once you take responsibility for yourself you are in a position to begin to truly serve others, namely your partner. Once you decide to make your partner’s feelings and needs a high priority (the highest), your attitude will change and your heart will realign with this new decision. When you choose, you are recognizing the value in your partner. Serving is like actually finding the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It’s a gift your partner doesn’t deserve and may not even believe in, yet you choose to serve anyway.

    2. Use your selfishness as a trigger

    One of the best lessons I (Michael) ever learned about getting better at serving was from my first supervisor. Her name is Dr. Keena Peak, and she was loving enough to recognize I may have had a hard time putting others first. I am certainly no jerk, but my personality and ADHD make it harder for me to think about others because I am always thinking about 1,000 things at once. My thoughts generally lean toward my own desires and I can easily allow my excitement about my stuff to over-run focusing on Amy’s stuff.
    Dr. Peak taught me that I didn’t need to become a completely different person – but I needed to add some attentiveness to who I was. She used my own selfish excitement to help “trigger” being a servant. She explained to me that if every time I got excited about wanting to share with Amy about an idea or how my day was, to use that thought as a “trigger” to remind myself to first ask Amy about her day.

    It was genius! I had selfish thoughts all the time, all I had to do was begin using those thoughts to remind me to serve Amy. Remember, people (even selfish ones) want to be connected to someone more than they want to be selfish. All it took for me was to train my thinking to respond better to my selfish thoughts. Guess what? It worked! Fifteen years later my own staff once commented about what a great servant I was at a meeting, which caused me to laugh, and I told them to first pause and let me get Amy on the phone so she would believe me when I told her. Second, I knew and told them the truth, I’m not a natural born servant, I’m self-made.

    3. Ask what you can do

    Sometimes great hearts and wonderful intentions go very, very badly. You may be getting excited about finally realizing there is a way to act that might just give you the relationship of your dreams. We caution you to not rush forward without making sure you actually know what would be meaningful or significant to your partner. Have you ever tried to do something nice for your partner, to only have it blow up in your face? If you answer yes (which both of us surely do) the problem was not in your heart or intentions, it was in your strategy. Never assume you know what your partner needs when it comes to serving. Ask.

    If you want to do something loving and serving, you’d better make sure it is what would be meaningful to your partner. This is easily accomplished with a question. You see a need like your partner just hung up the phone with a parent, and he looks distraught. Don’t fly ahead and start doing things you think would be serving. Because in reality, what you think without asking your partner is probably only going to be meaningful to you. The next time you want to do something good for your partner, try asking, “Hey…it looks like that phone call was upsetting. Is there anything I can do for you right now?” You want things to change quickly in your relationship, then start asking that question on a weekly basis and watch what happens.

    4. Go and do it

    Do not be afraid to take the leap, especially if things are stressed out. We promise you this, things are not going to get less stressed by continuing the same behaviors and attitudes that got you in this mess in the first place. Be bold and courageous. Choose to be a servant, even if your partner is not serving you. We have an entire experience in The Simple Marriage on implementing good and healthy boundaries. Don’t worry about getting taken advantage of, because you will know how to protect yourself from a partner who does not respond well to your serving.

    Remember, becoming a love magnet is about how you treat your partner, especially in times of trouble and conflict. The more you respect boundaries, value your partner’s personality, be honest, and ultimately serve your partner, the more your relationship will thrive. And thriving is what you got together for in the first place.

    What you will want to remember
    • How I treat my partner matters in the health of our relationship.
    • I want to do everything in my power to set my partner up to succeed in our relationship.
    • I might not be able to control my partner, but I do have influence, especially when my words and actions are loving.

  • Breaking the dance


    What you will discover
    • The most important thing you can do for your ability to resolve conflict is to take
    • When your heart rate gets too fast, you lose the ability to think rationally.

    What you are about to learn is vitally important in encouraging and maintaining a happy relationship. If you can not do this one thing, then all the other stuff you’re learning in this course is going to be useless. You have the power to make a change in your relationship, even if your partner is not trying or even doing the wrong thing. This is the central message of our book! Calming down during conflict is an incredibly powerful tool in your arsenal to keep conflict on a healthy level and not let it spiral out of control. If you want to be happy, and want your relationship to be happy – then you have to learn how not to engage in conflict.

    We can not emphasize enough how important it is to learn how to call a time-out. It is one of your greatest weapons against the relationship spiraling out-of-control. A time-out is your key defense against hurtful and meaningless conflict.

    Why does conflict hurt many relationships? Because couples never learn how to handle conflict appropriately. And, because most couples get into conflict when their ability to think rationally is gone. Drs. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley, at the University of Denver, discovered during a 12 year-long study of couples that when a male’s heart rate gets above 90 beats per minute, his ability to think and talk rationally goes out the window. (Renick, M.J., Blumberg, S., & Markman, H.J. (1992). The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP): An empirically‐based preventive intervention program for couples. Family Relations, 41(2), 141‐147.)

    These researchers figured out that if they could simply interrupt the conflict by asking a couple to read a newspaper for 5-10 minutes, this would help them calm down and lower their heart rates, they could actually have a healthy discussion about the conflict. Time-outs help you protect your conflict so your hurt feelings are kept at a minimum.

    But couples also struggle with meaningless conflict, This is a conflict that truly does not matter – unimportant conflict. You know about the meaningless conflict. It’s the kind of conflict when the feelings finally calm down, you look back on the situation and think to yourself, “What in the world were we just fighting about?” Meaningless conflict is the kind of conflict where you had a bad day and you are now overreacting to something your partner did innocently (or not so innocently).

    A time-out helps eliminate this kind of conflict because you never really get going, and once the time-out is over, you realize it was not important enough to keep discussing and your feelings are relaxed and whatever it was you were upset about is now over.


    So what is a time-out? We first want to explain that a time-out is not avoiding. Usually, there are two kinds of conflict personalities in a relationship. One who avoids conflict at all costs and one who engages in conflict at all costs. You learned about these reaction styles earlier in the course with the 4 Risk Factors that cause divorce. There are avoiders and escalators, which we have discussed in the DNA of Relationships as well. Either style is destructive to a relationship because both do not help conflict get resolved. Avoiders hurt the relationship because they never actually engage in a discussion and they try to bury their hurt feelings or anger deep down inside. Of course, you never actually bury anger dead, you always bury it alive. So at some point, the anger is going to build beyond the avoider’s ability to contain it and the anger will explode like a volcano. In our intensives, we can usually identify an avoider by the statements of their partner. We hear things like, “I had no idea my husband was so angry! It was like this came out of the blue!”

    It can be hard to identify avoiders because they present such a calm outward appearance and they try to convince you that “nothing is wrong”. But something is wrong, the difficulty comes into the relationship because the non-avoiding partner can’t help the relationship because she has no idea something is wrong.

    Escalators are much easier to spot. Escalators put their thoughts, feelings, and opinions out there for all the world to see. There is rarely any confusion surrounding the thoughts and feelings of an escalator. When conflict erupts, escalators erupt right alongside the conflict and tend to yell and scream to make their points. This is destructive because they usually say or do things they do not really mean. Once something is out there, it is too late to try and take it back.

    Whether you are an escalator or an avoider, you have to learn how to take a time-out when you experience a negative feeling as a result of your partner’s actions or words. Can you identify when you are having a negative reaction to something? Probably. Most people are very aware of their negative reactions, the problem comes from how most people respond to their negative reactions. If you respond by avoiding or escalating, then you are hurting the relationship. Calling a time-out is the greatest gift you can give each other.

    A time-out says, “I love you and want to resolve this issue, but I can’t do it right at the moment. Just give me some time and then we will come back and resolve this issue.”

    The first thing you do is let your partner know that you need a time-out. You might say something like:

    • “I need a break.”
    • “I’m about to say something I don’t mean.”
    • “I don’t feel like this is going to a good place.”
    • “I’m about to lose control and do something I’m going to regret, so please allow me to take a time-out so I can calm down.”

    The purpose of taking time away from each other from a Biblical perspective is to seek God’s perceptive and love, David is a great example of this. Ps. 55:1 ESV “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan.” What I love about praying during a time- out is that it joins my relationship with my spouse to my relationship with my God.

    Remember to set a time for a time-in. You can not say to your partner, “I can’t talk about this right now” and then leave without assuring your partner of when you will talk about it. So you negotiate a time to come back together and talk. You might want to say something like, “I think I can talk in about 2 hours, is this okay with you?” It is fine to negotiate a time to come back. Just remember to relax and be open to serving your partner’s needs. If you get stubborn about how much time you want to take for the time-out, then things are probably going to get ugly. The point is to negotiate a time that is agreeable to both of you. Now you are ready to take a break and leave each other alone. You really need to respect each other’s space during the time-out. What we are trying to help you eliminate is the kind of ridiculous conflict you get into when you are chasing each other throughout the house. Demanding for your partner to talk is a bad strategy. Has that ever worked for you in the past? No. Give each other the respect you each deserve and maintain a distance during your time-out.

    During the break, make sure you are thinking about your part in the conflict. No one is ever 100 percent innocent in a conflict. Even if you can rationalize that you were responsible for 5 percent, take 100 percent responsibility for that 5 percent. The time-out is not a time to become more upset about your partner. You can not spend your time-out building the case against your partner. We’ve already discussed that you are not on opposing counsel, you are on the same team. Taking a time-out to develop your argument will only make the conflict worse. If your objective is a happy relationship, which we know it is, then you will spend your time-out in a way that honors your partner.

    During your time apart, try and think about how you could have handled the situation differently. I (Amy) always think about my approach. Did I escalate or say something that was unfair or unkind? My tone of voice can even get me in trouble at times. So I ask myself how I may have handled myself poorly during the conflict.

    Before the time-out is over, ask yourself if you are ready to hear your partner’s side of the conflict. If you are not, then reschedule another meeting time. A humble spirit is necessary for a healthy discussion. You can not find any solutions until you are willing to hear both sides. You need the full understanding of the conflict before you can find a way to resolve it. Once you are ready to listen, you are ready to talk. When you can validate your partner, you are ready to talk. When you have a healthy perspective, you are ready to talk. Do not attempt to talk until you are humble and prepared to validate your part in the conflict.

    The power of a time-out is that it humbles and prepares you to do the very things needed to resolve the conflict.

    Ps. 25:9 ESV “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble what is right.” Humility is the key to opening up our ears to truly listen to each other. 

    What you will want to remember
    • The most important rule of conflict resolution is stopping the insanity of the moment. No one resolves anything in the heat of the moment.

    • Take a break from the conflict, but don’t forget to set a time-in.

    • Figure out what you can own during the time-out. The more you take responsibility for your actions, the better your partner will feel about the conversation.

  • Forever LOVE Talk

    What you will discover
    • Having a system to communicate when conflict occurs is the best way to reach a solution.
    • Safety in communication is created through the structure of LOVE Talk.
    • A healthy conversation to resolve conflict is going to sound exactly like giving an order at a drive-through restaurant. INTRODUCTION

    We’ve been helping couples since 1997, and if we’ve learned anything in all this time, it’s that couples will fight. They fight a lot.

    There is nothing abnormal or unhealthy about getting into conflict with your partner. Conflict is the natural progression of an intimate relationship. Conflict is actually healthy and an important part of a balanced relationship.

    Conflict is natural. Conflict is inevitable. Conflict adds depth to your relationship because you are sharing differences of opinions and needs. When you experience conflict, you are learning about each other and presenting an opportunity to better love each other.

    The problem with conflict is most couples don’t have a clue on how to resolve a conflict. They just fight and never come to solutions.

    You don’t have to be miserable and avoid topics because YOU are “too sensitive”. You are about to learn the structure and the system to help you come to a resolution in your biggest conflicts.

    LOVE Talk and Drive-throughs

    The core principles in our communication method can be discovered at any fast food restaurant.

    These companies have spent millions of dollars to ensure they have happy, reoccurring customers. What they discovered (and basically any company who is customer oriented) is that people want their orders understood, correct, and they want to be validated if something goes wrong.

    If you have ever gone through the process at the drive-through window at fast food restaurant, then you have successfully gone through the exact same process we want you to replicate at home when conflict erupts in your relationship.

    Think about this for a second. What happens when you first pull up to the drive-through at a Fast Food Restaurant for example? A soothing voice (albeit somewhat crackly) comes through the speaker and says, “It’s a great day, how may I serve you.” What a great way to be greeted. It’s friendly, helpful, and service oriented. What’s the next thing that happens? You give the voice in a box your order. And after your order is given, the employee repeats your order back to make sure he/she has order accuracy.

    Just out of curiosity, do you ever give more input than simply your order? We mean, do you ever start telling the employee what you ordered last week at a fast food place? Do you go into a 30-minute monologue describing your first experiences at said fast food place as a child and the first car you owned when you made your first order alone? Probably not, which is a good thing. Not only would all that information be irrelevant, you’d probably never get the meal you ordered because there was too much discussion about the past and irrelevant information.

    Or, have you ever been shamed or invalidated by a Fast Food Restaurant employee after giving your order? For example, have you ever ordered a sandwich, large fries, a cookie and creme milkshake, and a diet coke and then had the employee not give you the order because he felt like you were too fat to eat that meal? Could you imagine the hurt and embarrassment if an employee behaved in such a manner? It would be obnoxious and you would probably never eat there again.

    But for some reason, we feel like it is totally appropriate and helpful to bring up the past and other issues when we get into conflict with our spouse (or anyone else). The reason LOVE Talk is so powerful in helping you resolve conflict is that it forces you into a system of communication that fosters understanding and validation. Couples cannot resolve issues because, most of the time, they have no idea what they are actually arguing about.

    The reason we’re giving you this word picture is because you need to replicate the experience you have at a drive-through in your home when conflict erupts. There are two roles you play when using LOVE Talk to resolve your conflict.


    We will address these two roles in more detail later on in this course!

    The takeaway right now is recognizing the importance of the drive-through experience when it comes to resolving a conflict. You want to replicate that experience verbatim in your house.

    LOVE Talk general rules

    There are three general rules you must understand before you get into learning the system of LOVE Talk.


    When couples approach a conflict resolution with humility it allows each individual the ability to communicate with authenticity and provides a safe environment to build emotional intimacy.

    Col. 3:12-14 ESV “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything in perfect harmony.” The choice to ‘put on’ is like the choice of putting on clothes. Everyday we make that choice, hopefully, ( that’s suppose to be funny) and in that choosing we decide who we are going to be that day. I may dress for the office or the gym but I hope everyday I choose to live a life of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love.


    Dr. John Gottman, a marriage and family psychologist out of the University of Denver, did a significant research project on couples who’d been married 20 years or more and reported being satisfied in their relationship. What Dr. Gottman discovered was that the biggest thing all these couples had in common was a ratio of 5 positive experiences with each other to every 1 negative experience.

    The big idea is to have 5 good things in your relationship to every 1 bad thing in your relationship. Rule #2 is about not having a conflict during fun-time. Keep fun-time sacred and do not allow yourselves to get into conflict. We are not advocating avoiding conflict, which is one of the 4 risk factors, but instead, we are asking you to hold the potential conflict on a date, vacation, or family outing till you get home and can discuss it using LOVE Talk. You may feel this is impossible but it is about maturity and patience not about forgetting or overlooking.


    When a button gets pushed, please take a time-out before you try and LOVE Talk or any other type of communication. The worst mistake couples make is to try and “resolve” conflict when one or both of them are too upset. You just learned how to take a time-out, this is when you want to use it.


    What you are trying to replicate at home is the same experience you get when going through the drive-through at a Chick-fil-a or other fast food restaurants. What does LOVE stand for? Listen, own, validate, and express.

    The Employee Rules

    The entire job of the employee is to LISTEN and VALIDATE. Listening well is not a natural gift and has little to do with your eardrum. Being a great listener, and thus a great employee is more about seeking understanding and validating the customer’s feelings and needs. Listening involves your ears, your posture, your head, and your heart. If all these elements are not working together, then you are not going to be a good listener and LOVE Talk will be useless.

    Listening helps you understand what the conflict is about. When you learn to be a great listener, you set up your marriage to succeed. Listening is at the core of loving your spouse well. When your spouse feels listened to, the doorway to intimacy will fly open! When your spouse feels heard and validated, no matter what has happened in the past, he/she will melt at your ability to listen. We’ve watched couples in our Smalley Intensive program embrace for the first time in years after they’ve validated and listened to each other.

    Validating someone’s feelings is first to accept someone’s feelings and then acknowledge and accept the other person’s unique identity and individuality.

    Validation says, “You are more important to me than proving me right or proving you wrong.”

    EX: I understand how you could feel that way…

    There are no “buts” or “howevers” in validating. You allow the person to feel how they want to feel- give them space so they can change their own feelings. It works because you put your feelings aside and focus on honoring the other person’s feelings.

    Painful feelings that are ignored will gain strength. Validation doesn’t mean you are admitting to being wrong or a jerk. It means you see how the other person could interpret, or feel about, your words or actions. You could say, “I can see how you felt…”

    The invalidation effect
    A normal reaction to a situation.
    happy angry
    reaction when invalidated

    The fundamentals of validation

    • Acknowledge the other person’s feelings.
    • Identify the feelings by asking specific questions or repeating back specific statements.
    • Offer to listen, which means to stop any other activity and posture yourself toward your partner.
    • Help your partner clearly define his or her feelings by rewording what you hear.
    • Make sure you are there for your partner, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
    • Always be patient when your partner is sharing.
    • Try not to rush your partner through the experience of sharing, allow them to be comfortable sharing.
    • The last, but probably most important thing, is to simply accept your partner’s feelings or needs without being judgmental. You are putting yourself in their shoes and understanding their side.

    Things you will need to own and be aware of:

    • Negative beliefs – “He or she will take advantage of me…”
    • Critical spirit
    • Resentment or Anger – bitterness is never an option
    • Pride – Why should I have to do that? Why can’t I just be me?
    • Guilt – If I validate your feelings then I was wrong and I’m a bad person

    When your partner, or you, feels validated, the energy to fight gets sucked out of the relationship. It is like pouring a huge bucket of water on a fire, your partner’s emotions and needs can relax once she feels validated.

    The Customer Rules

    The customer rules are straightforward, you must learn how to own and express your feelings and needs. Stick with what’s going on for you, and not what your partner is doing wrong. It’s also important to keep things simple by keeping statements short. If you start out with too many words, the things most important to you are going to get lost through the defensiveness and anger of your partner.

    So remember…

    What is my part

    If we want to be understood and validated, then we want to set our partner up to make it easy to love as well. Owning is about taking responsibility for your part in the conflict, your beliefs, pride, anger, etc.

    Do not blame the employee through criticism or shame
    Nothing good ever comes by being mean and nasty. So just stop yourself if you start attacking your partner. All this means is that you need another time-out to cool off and get settled so you can have a nice and healthy conversation. LOVE Talk does not mean the conversation is not going to hurt a little bit, but it should not feel like an attack.

    Share your feelings and needs
    This is the time you might want to look at the Buttons list to help you identify your feelings.

    Keep it short and concise
    What is truly important is that you keep your statements of buttons or needs to one sentence at a time. You do not want to overwhelm the employee with too many words.

    Use “I” statements
    Make sure and start each statement with an “I”. Nothing sets up your partner to get defensive and angry more than the word “you”. Eliminate it from your words and work to reword your statements, to begin with, “I”. For example, “I felt rejected last night at the party.” You don’t want to word it like, “You totally ignored me all night, again, at the party and you made me feel so rejected.” The word “you” is like throwing the first punch in a boxing match.

    LOVE Talk – Solutions

    Finding Win/Win solutions is the goal of LOVE Talk! The reason we say Win/Win solutions is because there can never be a “loser” after the two of you have LOVE Talked. If one of you feels like a loser, then both of you lose. A relationship is about being a team, so when one of the team members loses, the whole team loses.

    Take note of these three things you can do to help come to a win/win solution:

    1. Brainstorm for all possible solutions
    There are no bad ideas during this stage. Sometimes even the crazy ideas lead to something that will work for both of you.

    2. You want to discuss feelings rather than facts
    Remember not to get caught up in facts. Just worry about solving the feelings and needs shared by each of you.

    3. There is no such thing as a win / lose scenario
    In this step, you are to work on serving each other’s needs. Relationships are more fulfilling and lasting when both people are working at serving each other’s needs. It is not about you, it is about your partner at this stage.

    A great way to word a suggested win/win solution would be, “Would it be a win if…” When you start off win/win conversations with those words, you set up your partner to relax. It’s like approaching the topic with an open mind and an open heart. People relax and take deep breaths when they feel like something isn’t being shoved down their throat.

    Things not to say in a fight

    When you get into an argument with your partner, there are some things you should never say. Below is a list of things couples have told us through the years that would be on their list.
    • say “never” or “always”
    • comment on the other person’s appearance (negatively)
    • bring up the past
    • curse
    • mention divorce
    • say “I hate you”
    • say “You’re just like your ___________” (mom/dad/sister, etc…)
    • use “You” in sentences where you are placing blame (Ex: “You are such a jerk.” “You made me feel…” “You were supposed to…” “It was your job.”)
    • make personal/attribute attacks, i.e., “You’re lazy/worthless/fat.”
    • turn the table (i.e. If your partner approaches you about a feeling or need, don’t get

    Do not…defensive and put it back on them.)
    • kitchen sinking (i.e. don’t bring up everything that has ever happened in your relationship)

    Would you add anything to this list? If so, please fill out the blanks with some of your own.


    Let’s take a moment and see exactly what LOVE Talk would look like. It can help you get the concept to see the method and read exactly what it is supposed to sound like when you are engaged in LOVE Talk. Let’s say a couple was in an argument over someone’s inability to remember receipts. For this example, we’ll assume the guy isn’t remembering them and the woman wants him to remember receipts.

    Remember, before you sit down to LOVE Talk, you should have already taken a time-out. During the time-out identify your buttons and needs. Now you’re ready to LOVE Talk:

    Thanks for coming back and LOVE Talking this with me. I guess the reason I got upset this morning was that I’m feeling ignored over the remembering receipt issue.

    Okay, I can hear that. You are feeling ignored because I’m not remembering receipts. I can totally get that because I can admit that you’ve been asking for months about this, and I’m still not remembering them. Anything else?

    Thank you, and yes, I think I realized that when I can’t reconcile the checkbook with our bank, it really makes me feel like a gigantic failure. Like I’m being given a test each month and I have no ability to pass it.

    Whoa! I know how important it is for you to perform well, you always were the better student. I hear you saying that when you can’t reconcile with the bank, it truly makes you feel like you’re failing. Sounds like you might even feel helpless or powerless as well, is that accurate?

    [nodding her head] Absolutely, like I can’t do anything about it.

    Anything else?

    I guess what I need is to figure out a way for you to remember receipts and get them to me.

    Okay, I hear you really need me to figure out a way to remember the receipts and actually hand them to you. Is that right? Anything else?

    Nope, you heard it and I do appreciate you listening. Do you have anything to say as a customer?

    I actually do. I think I feel judged and condemned when confronted about not remembering the receipts

    I get what you’re saying because I can lose it and yell. Sounds like my reaction hits buttons of being judged and condemned. Is that right?

    Yes, it is. I think another big one for me is that when I’m accused of not loving or caring much about our marriage, I feel pretty invalidated.

    I hear you. When I start in on you it can come across like I’m invalidating your love for me or your commitment to our marriage.

    Yes, thank you for hearing that. I think my biggest need in this issue is to be approached more softly if I mess it up.

    I totally get that, you need me to approach more softly if I’m feeling ignored or like a failure. Anything else?

    Nope, that’s pretty much all my stuff. Are you open to discussing possible solutions?

    I am, what do you think could help with this issue?

    Well…would it be a win for you if we just didn’t worry as much about receipts?

    I know that receipts aren’t a big deal to you, but they really are to me. That wouldn’t be a win for me. Would it be a win if we got you something that would help remind you to keep receipts? Like a larger bag or something, you could carry with you?

    I’m open to that. My biggest fear is that I’m simply not going to remember, and I know that isn’t a good option. Probably having something on me would make a huge difference in remembering receipts. Maybe something like a shoulder bag or even a backpack. I could designate a specific pocket to put the receipts in and then you could check it when I got home from trips or supply shopping. Would that be a win for you?

    Absolutely, I honestly don’t care how you remember the receipts, just that you remember them. And it doesn’t bother me at all to check a specific pocket. I could do that.

    Okay then, why don’t I go with a backpack, and I can use the front zipper pocket for receipts.

    Not just an example, but real life…

    You might read the LOVE Talk example and think it sounds ridiculous, the funny thing is…it’s an actual LOVE Talk conversation we had together after 6-months of marriage. We were miserable over my (Michael’s) inability to remember receipts.

    When I heard Amy share how she felt ignored and felt like a failure, my perspective on the receipts changed. To this day I don’t feel receipts are important, but Amy is highly important to me, therefore I remember them because of her and not because of the importance of receipts.

    This is why you LOVE Talk, to get down to the feelings and needs. No one wants their partner to feel ignored or like a failure. Amy didn’t want me to feel judged and condemned. When we share feelings, we become a team again, and teams win championships!

    What you will want to remember
    • Keep the rules of Forever LOVE Talk with you when a conflict needs to get resolved.

    • Forever LOVE Talk will not work if you don’t take ownership of your part in the conflict.

    • Patience is the key to successfully navigating Forever LOVE Talk. If things get out-of-hand during Forever LOVE Talk, simply take another time-out. If this happens more than twice, you might want to consider meeting with a friend, mentor, or counselor that is mutually agreed upon to help resolve the issue.