Gary Smalley

The Psychology of Matriarchy*

In teaching on family and personal relationships, perhaps the one person having the greatest impact upon the Church today apart from Dr. James Dobson, is Gary Smalley. Smalley's messages in lectures and writings have been targeted primarily for Christians.

His book Joy That Lasts (Zondervan: 1988) is a good example of a style that attempts to apply Scripture to real-life experiences taken from counseling sessions. Joy That Lasts provides some worthwhile reading. Some of his teachings are open to debate. But generally, as long as Smalley relies on Scripture to guide his judgment, he has proven capable to counsel. [Problem is, in most cases, Smalley taints his Scriptures with the psychological ideas of unregenerate men.]

In his books on marital relationships, however, he tends to rely more upon the human wisdom and psychological technique than upon Scripture. There are some problems with his earlier writings that are still being published and widely read, as well as with his 1989 book, The Language of Love. The books with which we deal in this report are those that are devoid of any strong Biblically-based counsel. In them, Smalley has opted for psychological techniques that promise wonderful results to those who master them.

In The Language of Love, Smalley and co-author John Trent present a psychological technique which utilizes what they call "word pictures." They tell us that to be effective in communicating with others -- especially our spouses and children -- plain language will not suffice. But if we paint them a picture in their minds, using stories that help them identify with our point, they will be more inclined to receive correction and change their behavior.

The authors tell how world leaders use word pictures to move the masses -- some for "good," others for "evil." Yet they insist that word pictures are the "language of love." But are expressions of love valid without emphasis upon Jesus? Jesus, after all, is the one who expresses God's love -- the only love worthy of the name.

But Jesus is not mentioned in The Language of Love, except as an example of one who allegedly uses word pictures. Yet the authors neglect to point out that Jesus used "word pictures" (parables) so that those who heard them would not understand the truths they conveyed lest they repent and be saved (Matt. 13:10-16; Mk. 4:10-12).

Nor does the book, replete with case histories of the successful use of word pictures to effect psychological change, make reference to prayer, seeking the Holy Spirit's intervention, or conviction of sin. This proves that its advice may be viable for secular counselors, but for Christians, it offers a vast minefield of dangers -- advice that calls for reliance upon psychological technique rather than God's intervention.

For example, the authors present an entire chapter on "Pillars That Support a Fulfilling Marriage" (pp. 108-125). The five pillars are: (1) Security: a Warm Blanket of Love; (2) Meaningful Communication; (3) Emotional/Romantic Times; (4) Meaningful Touch; and (5) Spiritual Intimacy. The first four are given pages of attention. Spiritual intimacy rates no more than two paragraphs with no explanation of what it means.

The authors apply the same pillars to parent-child relationships, but they are not placed within a Biblical context. Only secular advice on bonding is given. Unfortunately, Biblical applications are conspicuously absent. How about family devotions, church attendance, and raising children in the admonition of the Lord?

These are the best ways to "bond" within a Christian family. I wouldn't suggest that Smalley sees no value in spiritual exercises. But my concern is that in this book, he virtually ignores their application.


Smalley is a strong proponent of the "left-brain-right-brain" theory, which postulates that men use the left side of their brains while women use the right side of their brains. Thus women are "more in touch" with their feelings.

Without dwelling on this theory too greatly, we must remember that it is just that: a theory.

Employing the left-brain-right-brain theory, Smalley insists that men should defer to the interests of their wives. This is true for both parties within the context of the husband's position. Lacking any Biblical context, Smalley thus emasculates men in favor of their wives' desires:

"If a woman truly expects to have meaningful communication with her husband, she must activate the right side of his brain. And if a man truly wants to communicate with his wife, he must enter her world of emotions. In both these regards, word pictures can serve as a tremendous aid" (p. 42).

What do we learn from this? That women must activate the right side of their husbands' brains. Why? To get them to think as women do. And men must enter their wives' world of emotions. Why? To get themselves to think as women do. Thus, husbands are placed in subservience to their wives, contrary to God's order.

Female Dominance: (For Better or for Best and If Only He Knew)

This is only one example of Smalley's psychological advice that reverses the male-female roles, making the woman dominant. More graphic examples of this role-reversal ploy are Smalley's two best-selling "marriage manuals," For Better or for Best and If Only He Knew.

Each book was written for different readers -- For Better or for Best for the wife, If Only He Knew for the husband. One might assume that the wife's book is designed to teach her how to esteem her husband's needs above her own, while the husband's would teach the man the same for his wife's benefit. This is only partly true.

The man's book tells him where the husband goes wrong in his relationship with his wife. The woman's book tells her the same thing -- where the husband goes wrong in his relationship with his wife. In other words, both books approach the marriage relationship from a selfish wife's viewpoint. They comprise a course on how to get the husband to meet the needs of his wife, with only a cursory explanation in For Better or for Best of how the wife can meet the needs of her husband -- and this with the ulterior motive of inducing him to meet her needs.

If Only He Knew recognizes the need for men to truly love their wives. But this is not to say Smalley's book for husbands contains wise counsel. Essentially, he wants them to give into their wives' every whim, regardless of whether wisdom or God's leading direct otherwise. But since both books are designed to be used in conjunction with each other, the wife's book should focus as much attention on her faults as the husband's book does on his. At least they shouldn't be out of balance to the degree that these two are.


An example of the lopsided approach to Smalley's marital counseling is the constant reference that the wife's book makes to the husband's book. This is to encourage the wife to get her husband to read his book so she can "motivate" him to shape up. Yet there is virtually no reference to her book in his. Thus, the husband is unknowingly being "set up" for correction as a kind of conspiracy between Smalley and the husband's wife.

Many churches are using these books in courses for married couples and for those engaged to be married. The strategy is that neither is to read the other's book: The husband is to read If Only He Knew; and the wife For Better or for Best. I have personally seen this result in men becoming self-effacing, while their wives discuss how boorish and totally out of touch with their reality their husband's are. They are educated on how to get their husbands' minds off normal masculine interests and totally on the wives' interests.

One particularly distasteful portion in For Better or for Best (the wife's book) is an illustration of a sexual bondage technique through which Smalley encourages wives to get their way by using trickery to play upon their husband's sexual appetites.

In Smalley's example, a wife wants her husband "to learn more about what a woman needs from a man, and, more precisely, she wanted him to read the two books she had just purchased for him on the subject." Smalley points out how the wife failed, and then offers advice on what she could have done by using what he calls the "salt principle" on "How to catch your husband's interest and keep it." According to Smalley, the wife should have concentrated on her husband's "area of higher interest" -- in this case, his sexual appetite.

Smalley then goes on to detail how the wife should have used sexual manipulation to bring her husband under bondage. Smalley calls this perverse psychological ploy "motivation." In reality, it is manipulation; and not only manipulation, but manipulation based on a lie. The books didn't "turn on" the wife at all, nor did she necessarily even have to read them (pp. 48-49). If her concern is for herself -- how she can get what she wants -- and especially if she uses subterfuge, lying, even the slightest amount of deception -- she is being manipulative. It is this latter method that colors Smalley's advice to women.

In effect, this book teaches women to prostitute themselves within their own marriages by trading sexual favors for approved behavior.

The Wife as Teacher

In his advice to the wife, Smalley puts her in the role of a teacher to her husband:

"Remember, you are in the process of teaching him, and he is in the process of learning" (105).

She is told how to get her husband to receive her correction, how to get him to stop watching "the most important football game of the year" and focus his attention on any trivial matter she wants to discuss. But if she loves him, why can't she let trivial matters wait and allow him to watch the game in peace -- perhaps even try to develop an interest in it herself?

Were one to expound on the unscriptural nature of Smalley's advice to wives, it would take volumes. Suffice it to say that of the 170 pages in For Better or for Best (the wife's book) there are at the most some eight or ten pages worth of copy, split up among various sentences and paragraphs, that acknowledge the wife's responsibility to get her act together. Add the remaining 160 pages to the 167 pages that dump on the husband in If He Only Knew, and those few nuggets aren't worth digging for.

A Subtle Witchcraft

What makes Smalley's advice in these books particularly dangerous is the scant use of Scripture to justify what amounts to a secularist philosophy. How much better would it have been for Smalley to present the Scriptures as inviolable, recognizing that "Neither was man created for the woman; but the woman for the man" (1 Cor. 11:9).

If a man allows his wife to lead him, or a wife seeks to lead her husband (both of which Smalley teaches in these books), they have disobeyed the Father's command; they have rebelled against His order of creation. They cannot expect His protection upon their union. They are, in effect, guilty of a sin as serious as witchcraft (1 Sam 15:23).

An important aspect of witchcraft is the propagation of female supremacy. This comes from witchcraft's worship of nature spirits, the earth goddess being supreme.

It is from pagan religious philosophy that the feminine aspects of nature are stressed. It is obvious then, that, the Scriptures being true when they say that the man is the head of the woman as Christ is the head of the Church (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23), those who advocate equality of authority in marriage are in rebellion against God.

Unrealistic Views

Will marriages be helped by Smalley's advice? Some might be -- those that are gross examples of a husband's total insensitivity to his wife's needs. But it won't be the Holy Spirit doing the work. It will be a manipulative wife employing psychological subterfuge. And she must maintain the ruse throughout the life of the marriage. Any lapse could prove disastrous.

And therein lies an essential problem with Smalley's philosophy. It is predicated upon the blanket proposition that all men are by nature lowbrow creeps whose only redeeming value lies in their brute strength which, if "harnessed" by women, as Smalley implies, might be put to some good use -- like helping with the housework.

* This material has been adapted and/or excerpted from a 1989 Media Spotlight Special Report by the same name (Albert James Dager).

Biblical Discernment Ministries - 3/95