Real Life Love

Saying Goodbye to the Fairytale and Hello to True Relationships


By Michael Gibson

Foreword by Les Parrott

Read by Michael Gibson

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From the grandson of world-famous marriage expert Gary Smalley comes a practical and hope-filled guide to building great relationships.

No one in history has seen a world like this. Never before has information been so accessible. Never before have people lived as long, enjoyed fuller bank accounts, or been more connected. Yet, we live in a world where relationships remain unfulfilled. People aren’t happy. Marriages are falling apart. And the so-called “strongest relationships” we have are built on a simple swipe to the right.

So, what’s the problem? If anyone can answer this impending question, it’s Michael Gibson. Growing up with a front row seat to the life and marriage of his grandfather, best-selling author and speaker Gary Smalley, Michael witnessed firsthand what it truly takes to build a life filled with great relationships. Providing a modern take on time-tested wisdom for a new generation, Michael challenges us to push past the fake, heal the pain in our hearts, and move into a love that is real through 7 practical principles:
  1. Honor others
  2. Identify anger
  3. Forgive
  4. Celebrate in the midst of trials
  5. Understand the power of God’s Word
  6. Be second in a world of firsts
  7. Identify the personalities of others to foster understanding
By the end of REAL LIFE LOVE, you will learn to love and be loved like never before, understand why you’ve been holding back on experiencing amazing relationships from the beginning, and ensure that the love of your life won’t just come into your life but stay in your life.


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Love as Real as a Tiger

… Love in its natural habitat. Love with its cage wide open and ready to be experienced.

Whether you like it or not, you currently star in a classic love story that has defined who you are. It’s a crazy thought. In your love story, there are supporting characters and antagonists. Kings and queens. Knights, princesses, and villains. It’s a timeless story that’s been told countless times over the centuries.

I’m sure some of you are thinking: But I’ve never even been in a relationship. How can this be possible?

The surprising truth is that you don’t have to be involved in a romantic relationship to be part of a love story. At the moment we came into this world, our love story began. For some, your story line is like your classic Disney movie: great parents, comfortable life, hardly any tough moments. You met (or will meet) Prince Charming or Cinderella and get married. And your love story becomes your kid’s love story. You’ve been a part of generational love.

Or maybe your story looks more like the original Brothers Grimm fairytales. Stories in which good doesn’t always prevail. Stories in which the villain always wins one way or another. Instead of growing up in love, you grew up in the castle on the other side of the tracks. Your parents gave up on you. Or they didn’t seem to care if you succeeded or failed. You met what seemed to be Cinderella, but she just ended up being closer to the Wicked Witch of the West, emasculating and defeating. Or instead of Prince Charming, maybe he was Jafar from Aladdin. Suave on the outside. Dark and twisted on the inside. And you’ve found this to be true over and over.

While I know that every love story is different, I’m blessed to have grown up in a family that was greater than a Disney classic. And it was through my family life that I discovered the secrets to love at the tender age of ten. The secrets that men and women search for all their lives. The secrets that have inspired poems, Greek tragedies, Shakespearian plays, and Hollywood blockbuster movies.

Now, before you resent that statement and gather your pitchforks and villagers to form an angry mob, let me give some more context. No, it wasn’t that the archangel Michael came down from heaven and whispered these secrets in my ear. And no, I didn’t uncover some lost tablet written by Moses or Elijah from biblical times. These secrets came to me by way of my mentor, one of my biggest influences and also my best friend. His name was Gary Smalley.

Gary was my grandfather and also a world-renowned marriage expert. When I was ten, he gave me an ultimatum. It happened one day after I’d had yet another argument with my mom. I literally ran to his house, which sounds more impressive than it really was. We were actually next-door neighbors.

I flew through his front door and found him typing something, probably his latest book on marriage and family at the time. I plopped down in his big armchair and started sharing what was on my heart: that my mom and I had another argument about my cleaning abilities (or lack thereof), and that I couldn’t take it anymore. I was officially moving out, and into his upstairs bedroom.

My grandpa just smiled and asked me if I would like to discover a way to end all arguments with my mom. And not just that, but live in harmony with my siblings, friends, family members, and even strangers for the rest of my life. He asked me if I wanted to learn to love for real. It was there, sitting on a La-Z-Boy chair in my grandpa’s study, that I learned the secrets to loving well. The secrets worth a thousand suns. The secrets to wholehearted, vibrant, committed, ride-or-die relationships. And honestly, I didn’t realize what I had until I became much older.


Love is such an elusive word. It can mean so many different things. Love can mean the genuine affection you have for cookie dough ice cream or Chinese food. Or maybe the favorite place you “love” to sit in church. Or that sweater that you “love” to slip on during a cold, wintry day. It blows my mind that in the English language we use that same word to describe our most meaningful relationships too.

I use love to describe the way I feel about my mom, whose unrelenting and unwavering encouragement got me through my darkest of days. Or my dad, who worked hard my entire life (and still does) to put food on the table and give my sisters and me the best shot in life we could possibly have.

It’s the same word I used to say goodbye to my grandfather when he passed away on March 6, 2016. And it’s the same word I’ll say someday to my bride as we rock back and forth on the front porch of our future home as two old people, watching the sun set on our golden years and the life we built together.

That little four-letter word has many identities. If it were a person, it would probably have a case of multiple personality disorder. When you think of the word love, you probably automatically think of the most well-known face love wears, which the Greeks called eros. This word literally means “sexual love.” C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, describes eros as “being in love.” Or “that kind of love which lovers are ‘in.’” While, yes, this is a legitimate personality of love, and one that creates those “butterflies” when we start a new relationship, that’s not the only face love wears.

Love can also be identified with another word the Greeks used: philia, the type of love friends share. In fact, it literally means having a genuine fondness and a friendly regard toward someone. While this type of love is good for lunching with your best friend on Tuesdays or giving your work buddy a friendly fist bump in passing, that’s really the extent of these relationships. Philia exists in the root of society. It’s a neighbor-helping-neighbor type of love. Nothing deep. Just a pat on the back, or a smile in passing.

The love I’m talking about is not eros or philia. It’s not some Hollywood, hot-pink, roman-candle, Leonardo-DiCaprio-raising-a-glass-of-champagne-with-fireworks-exploding-behind-him type of love. It’s not the secret to attracting the opposite sex in such a manner that they fall into your arms just from looking at you. Nor is it a way to get the phone number of every eligible bachelor or bachelorette you come across, or a love that is no deeper than the casual “Hi, how are you” at church. If you think that’s what this book is about, then I would encourage you to keep reading. Because while those types of relationships are pleasurable or comfortable at the time, they’re about as deep as a puddle.

These superficial “loves” will tear your marriage apart, keep your parents at arm’s length, and produce friends who are only cool to party with on the weekends. While these loves will satisfy you temporarily, they’ll leave you feeling like you’re missing something, like there’s something more. Something that life is hiding away. If you’re chasing eros and philia loves, after a while you’re going to wonder why your relationships have no meaning. And you’ll find yourself wishing for relationships that are deeper than the world’s oceans and as strong as an ox and that have zero blind spots. You’re going to desire a love that’s as true as this book you’re holding in your hands or listening to on your earphones.

The love I’m talking about is the kind of love the Greeks called agape. The Apostle Paul describes agape love so beautifully in his letter to the early church in Corinth. But before he told them about it, Paul made sure his readers knew how important loving this way is. It turns out that without this type of love, we’ll never be able to be effective in what we do.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–2)

So what is this type of love? What is this love Paul so fervently believes we need? Luckily, he answers this for us in the very next passage:

… Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7)

That is the type of love we’re focusing on. The kind of love that fills your soul with the light of a thousand sunrises. The kind of love that makes the twists and turns of life worthwhile. That, my friends, is real life love.


That kind of love seems a little far out there, doesn’t it? I’m sure you’re thinking, Wow, Michael, this is great and all, but that’s just not possible. But is it? Part of my discovery process of understanding love and how to do it well came during a meeting with world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf. To give her the proper introduction she deserves, Dr. Leaf has dedicated her life and research to answering one question: What is the brain’s primary purpose? Her work has been groundbreaking for researchers trying to learn more about the way we think.

During our meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, Dr. Leaf told our group that the brain is designed to do just one thing. This one thing becomes the essence of who we are as humans and is vital to our survival. Can you guess what it is? If you guessed it’s to get food and shelter like I did, you’re wrong. It’s to love.

No wonder the Apostle Paul ends his letter in 1 Corinthians 13 with these words: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13 NLT). You are literally designed for this type of love. Love sustains our well-being, nurtures our minds, and gives us the strength to keep pressing on!

So if we are literally made to love, then don’t you think we’re destined for the love Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 13? You bet. We are on this earth to have great relationships. To give love and receive love with open arms. Relationships might be one of the greatest gifts (outside of salvation) that God gave us. And I’m not referring to just your relationship with your spouse or significant other. We engage in so many different relationships each and every day. When your mom calls you on your way to work, that’s engaging in a relationship. Smiling and saying hi in passing to the guy at your workplace who seems a little rough around the edges—that’s being in a relationship. Life is relationships, and the rest is just details. So if life truly is relationships, then shouldn’t we put mastering how to love on the top of our to-do list?


So many of us put relationships on the bottom shelf. Like that old battleship replica you thought you’d build in your spare time, it just sits there, collecting dust and never realizing its full potential. It’s tempting to invest all of our time in creating wealth, climbing the corporate ladder, and “making” something of ourselves. Or it’s easy to imagine the perfect fairytale love story. You see your wedding, getting married, going on a honeymoon, buying a house, getting a dog, cooking dinners, traveling around the world, having all the money you need, and finally living your happily ever after. No room in this story for conflict. No room for difficult times. Just smooth sailing and long walks on the beach. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Well, let me press stop on that mental movie that looks and sounds like something straight from the Hallmark Channel. If that’s the way you see your life and relationships panning out, then you are in for a wake-up call. In that “perfect” scenario I just mentioned, I conveniently left out the parts about the hours that go into planning that wedding, the time you spend working through the issues you and your future spouse both carry, dealing with the change of living with someone new, the spontaneous pregnancy that comes out of nowhere, your new puppy that pees constantly around the house, the rising cost of groceries, the fear of losing your job from all those missed days “seeing the world,” the sudden expense of fixing your broken transmission in that car you’ve had since high school.

Those are two very different scenes, aren’t they? One paints a beautiful picture, the other just pulls back the curtain to reveal the 360-degree view. Life is complicated. And can you imagine how all of those things take a toll on our relationships?

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to provide for yourself or family, or with envisioning the best for your future, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what life has to offer. I believe that true happiness and joy are rooted in our relationships. If your relationships are healthy, that means the roots of your life are capable of producing a tall, strong tree. On the other hand, if your relationships are in shambles and you never fully grasp how to truly love for real, your roots will wither and your tree might sprout just a few inches out of the ground before dying from the harsh conditions life has to offer.


You might be wondering what gives me the authority to take on such a Goliath of a topic. I mean, there aren’t any letters in front of my name or behind it. If you looked at my bio, chances are you noticed that I don’t pastor a megachurch. I didn’t graduate from Harvard Divinity School as a master theologian. I’m not Dr. Gibson. In fact, I failed psychology my freshman year of college. I’m not writing as a master of love who knows all the secrets to happy relationships. Instead, I’m writing as a fellow struggler just like you. A struggler who has failed over and over in relationships. A struggler who, at the writing of this book, isn’t even married yet. A struggler who also thought at one time that my relationships were going to be awesome no matter what I did.

That’s why I wrote this book. To share what I’ve been learning. To share what has worked for me and what hasn’t. To pass on the wisdom given to me by my grandfather, which I have tested and implemented in my life. It’s time we learn how to love for real.

During the writing of this book, I was often asked why I chose to write about relationships for my first book. These friends wondered why, right out of the gate, I chose to speak on this topic of love. And I’m sure you might be wondering about the answer to that one too. I mean, after all, there are a lot of other things to focus on.

But you see, I don’t think there is a more important topic to spend our precious time working on than relationships. That’s why I started here. Because I’ve seen firsthand how healthy relationships have the incredible power to take someone to new heights. Good relationships move you into more. More love. More intimacy. Less stress. Greater success. And an overall better outlook on life.

During the past few years, I’ve been discovering what works. Like a scientist, I’ve been testing and trying the various love skills I learned from my grandfather and family. I was taught that love works when it’s working right. But how do we know what works? Just like Liam Neeson in the movie Taken, we need a particular set of skills in order to succeed at something. And this book is going to let you in on what I’ve discovered to be the most effective means of creating real love in any relationship. Throughout this book, I’m going to give you seven principles that I’ve found most effective in my pursuit of real life love:

Principle #1: Honor. You highly honor everyone in your life.

Principle #2: Anger. You keep your anger levels low.

Principle #3: Forgiveness. You find every way possible to forgive.

Principle #4: Celebrating Trials. You take personal responsibility for finding God’s blessing in every trial.

Principle #5: Memorizing God’s Word. You learn and understand the teachings of Jesus.

Principle #6: Servanthood. You lay down your life as a servant.

Principle #7: Understanding Personality. You discover and understand the way people tick.

When my little sister Zoie was four years old, I took her on a “French-fry date,” just the two of us. We sat together at McDonald’s and ate our French fries (her favorite food) with pure delight. I told her that she could pick anything she could possibly imagine to do on our date. So with a big smile, she said that she wanted to go see the tigers. Luckily, I knew where we could find some.

To a four-year-old, the city zoo is a place of wonder and amazement (and for some adults too, me included). Suddenly, you come face-to-face with the creatures and animals you only read about in picture books or see on television. And what a glorious moment that is.

From the moment we walked through the gates of the zoo, Zoie’s eyes got as big as saucers. She looked around in sheer delight and wonder at the monkeys dancing in their cages, the tropical birds singing tunes in sync, the elephants parading around with authority, and, of course, the tigers. As they paced back and forth, their orange bodies and black stripes mystified my little sister.

After staring at the pacing tigers behind the glass, she looked up at me and asked if the tiger was “real life.” It hit me: She probably thinks this glass is just a giant television screen and that she’s just watching a video. I told her that those tigers were as real life as she and I were. And that if that glass wasn’t there to protect us, we’d be in trouble. But she still didn’t believe me.

Luckily, we got the chance of a lifetime. One observant zookeeper noticed my sister’s infatuation and asked if we wanted to watch the feeding crew give the giant cats their lunch. The zookeeper led us behind the cage and into a back area where the tigers were fed their meals. Zoie and I watched as they opened the slit in the tigers’ cages and slid in their food. The giant cats devoured their lunch with loud chomps.

“I’ve always wanted to see a tiger in real life,” Zoie said, fascinated.

How would you like to see love in real life? Are you ready to get behind the glass and experience true, real love for yourself? No fairytales, no singing characters or lovable animal sidekicks. No three-step, five-step, or ten-step programs. And no three easy payments of $39.99. Just love in its natural habitat. Love with its cage wide open and ready to be experienced.

Before you turn the page, I have just one question. And it’s the same question my grandpa asked me all those years ago:

Are you ready to learn to love for real?


Growing in Love for Yourself



The beating heart of our relationships is honor. Without honor, real life love cannot take place.



  • "So honest, and incredibly practical. This book is perfect if you want to learn how to have relationships that count." —Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., Best-selling author of The 5 Love Languages
  • "The time to learn to love for real is now. This easy, practical, but powerful message from Michael Gibson will breathe life into all your relationships."—Christine Caine, Founder of A21 and Propel Women
  • "The world could use more love these days-or at least a better understanding of what loving others means. That's Michael Gibson's goal in Real Life Love. He's seen firsthand what happens when we love like God loves-and he's sharing those lessons with you."—Dave Ramsey, Best-selling author and nationally syndicated radio host
  • "If you really want to learn to win with people, you need to first learn to win in your relationships. Real Life Love takes readers into the details of how to do just that."—John C. Maxwell, Author, speaker, and coach
  • "One of the greatest decisions you can make is to live a life dedicated to building something that will stand as a testimony for the generations ahead. Without question, Gary Smalley's legacy continues in the lives of his family, friends, and all those his incredible ministry has impacted over the years. His grandson Michael Gibson is a carrier of this legacy-inspiring readers afresh to embrace relationships and love as God created and called us to."—Brian Houston, Global senior pastor of Hillsong Church
  • "There's not much that our culture is more confused about these days than true love. With down-to-earth wisdom, relatable anecdotes, and a faithfulness to Scripture's teaching, Michael Gibson examines what it looks like to enjoy thriving, healthy relationships rooted in genuine, Christlike love."—Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family
  • "Books, if they do their job right, challenge us and move us toward a brighter future. Real Life Love goes a step further. This impactful book challenges us to take a deeper look at our relationships. You will never be the same."—Chris Hodges, Senior pastor of Church of the Highlands and author of Fresh Air and The Daniel Dilemma
  • "In Real Life Love, Michael Gibson provides a practical blueprint for developing truly authentic relationships."—Michael Hyatt, New York Times best-selling author

On Sale
Aug 27, 2019
Hachette Audio

Michael Gibson Author Photo

Michael Gibson

About the Author

Michael Gibson is an Emmy® Award-winning television personality, author, and communicator. His popular blog and podcast help thousands learn how to have relationships that count. As the grandson of relationship expert and bestselling author Gary Smalley, Michael uses his knowledge and experiences from speaking alongside his grandpa at his conferences since he was ten years old and growing up as the son of marriage pastors to call others into deeper, fuller relationships. He calls the Ozark Mountains of Missouri home.

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