What's more important in a marriage than learning a partner's love language, being proficient in conflict resolution or having great sex? According to popular author and speaker Dr. Gary Smalley in I PROMISE: How 5 Commitments Determine the Destiny of Your Marriage, the answer may be "security."
"Do you feel secure enough to open up and share who you really are, including your deepest thoughts, hopes and dreams without those uneasy feelings creeping in --- feelings that maybe you'll be blamed, criticized, condemned, judged, or ridiculed?" This is the sort of intimacy Smalley believes is necessary for the best marriages.
Security, he says, means keeping your promise to love your husband or your wife no matter what. "It doesn't matter if either of you loses your attractiveness, turns grumpy, sour, or uncommunicative, gets a debilitating illness, or falls into deep depression. You will love him. You will cherish her. You promised. And that promise gives your marriage security." The more secure each partner feels, the more their feelings of affection toward each other grow, Smalley writes. But if partners don't feel emotionally safe with each other, he believes it will put the marriage in jeopardy.
Smalley, the author of more than 40 marriage and parenting books (MAKING LOVE LAST FOREVER, THE BLESSING) makes his points with a winning combination of personal, sometimes vulnerable, anecdotes about his own marriage of 41 years. Particularly impressive is his willingness to share his own serious marital mistakes in the early years of his marriage, and a sweet testimonial to his wife Norma toward the end of the book. Smalley's anecdotes are often delivered with a good helping of humor and an ability to poke fun at his own marital misdeeds. He includes practical take-aways ("Becoming a student of your mate," "List your mate's positive qualities") so that his ideas can be easily understood and applied.
Some of his advice will feel familiar: "Make eye contact when you talk. Don't try and change your spouse, change yourself. Men need to be good communicators with their wives." Other ideas might be new to the reader: "Quit being a victim. Take responsibility for your own happiness." Each chapter ends with a teaser that gives the reader a taste of the next chapter.
Five of the chapters unpack five promises that Smalley says create security in marriage. Conform your beliefs to God's truths. Be filled with God. Find God's best in every trial. Listen and communicate with love. Serve your spouse. At the end of the book is an "I Promise Constitution," which both spouses are invited to sign.
Readers will find some stereotypes ("Women want to be attractive, men want to be strong" or "Girls, he loves it when you send out his clothes for cleaning, cook his favorite steak, or watch a ball game with him"). When talking about sticking by a spouse and letting difficult circumstances become "God's hammer strokes" to form in you the character of Christ, Smalley sidesteps the issues of what happens when a spouse is abused or repeatedly cheated on. Sometimes the tone becomes a little over the top: "The principle in the next chapter…offers a promise of fulfillment beyond your wildest dreams!" And far too much research cited ("Intimate talk increases a man's chances of staying healthy 500 percent") is not footnoted or part of the skimpy endnotes, so the reader has no idea specifically where the statistics or information came from.
But this book's core message about affirming commitment and establishing a secure marriage is a welcome one. Engaged couples, newlyweds and longtime married spouses will find ideas for creating deeper intimacy in this accessible book; pastors and marriage counselors will also pick up some tips to pass along to their parishioners and clients.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011