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Book Review: “For Better or For Best” by Gary Smalley

Note: I read the above edition which is one of the first, if not the first, edition.

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If you’ve been around Converse and Crowns for a while then you might remember when I went down a rabbit hole of reading books on relationship psychology. It all started with a book about what women don’t understand about men and quickly spiraled into me wanting to read as many books from as many authors as I could because I was overwhelmed by how confused both sexes are concerning each other. So, when I came across a similar book in a donation pile at our church library, my curiosity was piqued once again.

You may be asking yourself, “Why on earth would a single woman want to read a book about marriage or husbands?” and that is a valid question I was asked by a friend just the other day. Part of it is definitely curiosity but it also goes back to the concept of not wasting your “waiting”. Do you know what common comment was made throughout the book?

“I wish I had read this before I got married.”

“If I had known this stuff before getting into a serious relationship I could have fixed so many of my issues that contributed to my marital problems.”

“The first decade of my marriage would have been so much better if I had realized how my spouse felt. I could have saved us both so much heartache.”

So, here’s my question for you? If all of these marriages would have benefited from learning this stuff earlier, why wouldn’t I try to get a grip on it now? Plus, from a purely practical standpoint, it does help me relate better to the men in my life which can’t hurt. Essentially, I don’t want to waste my single season. Most men and women enter marriage with no idea how to meet the basic emotional and mental needs of their spouse. Think about it... We prepare for college by taking prep courses and read a million reviews before buying a car so why is it such a strange concept to try and understand how better to relate to the opposite sex, even if you don’t necessarily have one to directly relate to at this moment?

The book I chose to read this time is “For Better or For Best” by Gary Smalley. I’ve actually never read a Smalley book which is weird considering how many we have in our church library and this one is quite old, originally being published in 1979. There are several updated editions and I considered ordering the most recent version but I REALLY wanted to start the book at that moment. I’m sure the newer versions are reflective of the reality of modern changes, like a majority of households now having two working parents, but the general concepts are still the same. Men and women are VERY different!

Much like other books written for wives, there is a companion book written for husbands.(I just might have ordered a copy of that out of curiosity…) The first half of the book is on the foundations of a good, God-honoring marriage and the second half is how to truly achieve those changes. To someone without a Christian background, this might seem archaic but if you view it through the Christian lens of being concerned with another's welfare you realize that two people who are more concerned with each other than themselves, both get more than they could on their own. The book also is a great reminder of how our differences are not a mistake but rather a beautifully constructed design by God. Neither sex has true weaknesses and neither is stronger than the other but rather both have this unique ability to fit together harmoniously if you understand how it works.

What are my main takeaways from this reading?

  • Women have to understand that men literally do not have the resources to handle us and they aren’t trying to be insensitive towards us. Their brains are wired so differently from ours that we have to be willing to explain ourselves and not just expect them to “know”. The reassuring thing from this book is that most men seem open to learning if the information is presented correctly.

  • Admiration is to a man what romance is to a woman which means both partners are going to have to be intentional because it is not what comes natural to the other. Letting him know that you genuinely value and respect him is a huge confidence booster.

  • God did not create women to be a doormat but rather a vital, life-giving part of the home that men desperately need. We’ve somehow taken the concept of “submission” and turned it into a dirty, bullying tactic which is not God’s way.

  • Men are like buffalos and women are like butterflies. That should explain a lot of the challenges we face. Imagine how a stiff breeze affects both creatures. The same is true of men and women. Both are amazing animals with incredible strengths but neither view or interact with the world in the same way.

  • Women need more time to adjust to change because we see the ripple effects of decisions. Men make direct decisions but may not see the final outcome. Both are essential and can benefit the relationship if used in conjunction with each other but may seem bonkers at first glance. .

  • The physical differences between the sexes runs DEEP, like deep, deep! Understanding these differences will make finding true fulfillment a lot easier but it requires intentionality and gentleness on both sides.

  • Light up for him. Nonverbal communication is so important and lighting up for him is huge and can say more than your words will ever accomplish. That sparkle and beam will in turn light up the room. It’s a ripple effect.

  • A woman’s greatest qualities are courage, persistence, gratefulness, calmness, a quiet spirit, gentleness, unselfish love and virtue. I feel like in the modern age we are taught that these things are weaknesses and women are taught to put aside their tenderness to protect themselves and get ahead in the world but in a Christ-centered relationship where two partners are trying to honor God and each other, she doesn’t have to fear those things and can be what she was created to be.

Life and marriage is hard no matter what so why would you do everything possible to understand and care for the one you love so dearly? Especially, if you know it will benefit your family, yourself and every aspect of life that you touch?


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