Hope-Focused Marriage Counselingby Everett Worthington
Length: Approximately 11 hours. To read (311 pages)
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Many couples seek advice, counsel, and wisdom from their pastor about how to overcome marital struggles. In Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling, Everett Worthington presents a plan for pastoral counselors to help couples restore hope in their marriage by faith working through love.
Who should read this book?
This book is for pastors and pastoral counselors who want a clear and simple guide to marriage counseling based on biblical truths and principles. It is helpful if the reader has at least a foundational background knowledge in pastoral counseling. However, the author does spend time orienting the reader to the basic principles behind this counseling strategy.
Everett Worthington’s book, Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling (HFMC), is a well-written book that presents a model of marriage counseling based upon the Bible and Worthington’s personal experience in counseling. It is an update of an earlier book he wrote called Marriage Counseling: A Christian Approach.
The focus of the book is on promoting hope that positive change can occur within a marriage when the couple works hard at loving one another better. The author proposes a three-part strategy of building hope by “fostering motivation (willpower to change), showing couples tangible ways to change (waypower to change), and strengthening their resolve to wait on God’s work in their marriage (waitpower).” The book is divided into two overall parts. The first part outlines the theory behind hope-focused marriage counseling. The second part presents interventions for specific issues.
The theory behind this counseling approach is covered in four chapters. Chapter one presents brief marital counseling. Hope-focused marriage counseling is usually done in less than 10 sessions. Chapter two gives an overview of hope-focused marriage counseling.
It has six major aspects: therapeutic relationship between counselor and each partner being counseled, the goal of producing stronger marriages, the focus is to promote hope, the strategy is to correct weaknesses in valuing love, faith, and work, the target for change is based on an assessment that directs the counselor toward interventions.
Chapter three is entitled “Using the Strategy to Promote Hope.” It presents that the causes of most marital problems are loss of love, faith, or work in the marriage. To help people overcome these losses, the couple needs help valuing one another and the marriage better. Chapter four presents how to apply the strategy to nine areas of marriage: central beliefs and values, core vision, confession and forgiveness, communication, conflict resolution, cognition, closeness, complicating factors, and commitment.
Part two shares specific interventions for different problems. Like a good Christian presenter, Worthington has alliterated the interventions with “C” words: central values, core vision, confession and forgiveness, communication, conflict resolution, changing cognition, closeness, cementing commitment, and couple commencement from counseling. Each chapter includes discussion about a specific problem to be resolved and its solution.
Then it provides suggested interventions to help the couple work through the problem. The interventions include activities to do in a counseling session as well as homework of the couple to work on apart from the session.
The book ends with two helpful pieces of information. First, chapter sixteen concludes the body of the work with a reminder about the essentials of this counseling strategy. It includes discussion of the combined theories it presents as well as Scriptural support for its counseling position. Second, the appendix shares a case study of HFMC being used to help a young professional couple.
I believe most pastors have a biblical understanding of what marriage is, how God has designed it to function, and how it benefits individuals and society. However, not all pastors feel equipped to handle difficult marital problems nor do they have a succinct strategy to address a broad spectrum of issues. Worthington provides pastors and pastoral counselors with such a strategy in a simple format that is not bogged down with technical counseling jargon or confusing competing theories.
The goal of HFMC is to produce stronger marriages and decrease the amount of divorces that happen. Instead of focusing on all of the potential problems within marriages, Worthington focuses on biblical solutions that promote hope in the marriage and have the byproduct of also solving the problems found in marriages. Hope is defined as (willpower to change) + (waypower to change) + (waitpower even if change is not happening yet).
Another way of stating this is hope is the desire for things to get better plus the ability to help things get better plus the patience to wait for things to get better. This hope is obtained by increasing love, faith, and work.
The overall strategy is to correct the weaknesses in love, faith, and work that each couple may experience in their marriage. Love is defined as the willingness to value and the unwillingness to devalue your spouse. Faith is defined as believing that things hoped for will come about. Work is defined as intentional energetic effort to help the situation. The strategy is based on Galatians 5:5-6 where Paul writes, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.”
I found this book to be refreshing and informative. As I read it, I could see myself and my own marriage in it. My wife, Amy, and I have been married for 17 years and have a great marriage, but we struggled through the first two years of our marriage. Many of the suggestions and skills that are offered in the book we learned the hard way through studying Scripture, learning from mentors, and seeking God direction for us.
While my wife and I do not have a perfect marriage and we often remind ourselves and each other of the right focus and goals for our marriage, there is at least one area that I remember vividly as a major obstacle in our marriage. When we learned to navigate through it, our marriage greatly improved. It is confession and forgiveness. I grew up in a family where no one admitted they were wrong. The phrase, “I’m sorry,” was rarely heard and when it was muttered under someone’s breath, it was not to express guilt, repentance, or a promise to change, it was done to end an argument.
When Amy and I got married, I came to the marriage with the mentality that everything I did was right. If something upset Amy, the problem, in my mind, was with her perception, not with my actions. This led to many arguments. And naturally, I followed the example that was set for me early on. I would apologize, but not because I really meant it, but because I was tired of arguing and I wanted Amy to stop being upset.
Through Bible study and prayer, God convicted me about my insincerity in apologizing. He showed me that apologizing did not make me weak, but took great courage. It was during this time that Amy and I developed our understanding of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. We committed ourselves to being completely honest with one another, even when it hurts.
We would rather trust the wounds from one who loves us than be comforted by falsities. We made up a saying about apologizing that we now teach our children. We say, “When you say, ‘I’m sorry for…,’ you are saying, ‘I’m not going to do that anymore because I know it hurts you.’” I wish we would have had some of the tools that are presented in this book early in our marriage, but then again, we were both so stubborn and prideful that we probably would not have listened to them.
On the other side of the coin, when someone confesses and repents when they have hurt us, we offer true forgiveness. We choose to not hold the hurt over the other person’s head. We do not keep a record of wrongs with which we conveniently wield as weapons during the next argument.
While I do not believe that God forgets our sin, I do believe that He intentionally refuses to recall them. I think this is more powerful than the idea that God forgets our sin. Amy and I try to follow this example. We are teaching our children what true forgiveness looks like. They are still learning, but they see the difference in the way our family operates and how un-forgiveness tears other families apart.
I believe the greatest strength of this book is its simplicity. It provides great definitions of love, faith, and work as they pertain to marriage as well as a step-by-step strategy to guiding couples on the path to reconciliation and healing. The book also has solid biblical foundations that guide and powerfully propel the whole counseling process. Any pastor or pastoral counselor can find great encouragement for being able to help most couples.
While I agree with the underlying principles and the simplicity of its presentation, the counseling strategy is presented in a formulaic way that could lead to frustration for the counselor and couples being counseled. Worthington calls the book a “blueprint for marital counseling” (p. 18) which conveys a one size fits all mentality.
If a pastor or pastoral counselor adopts this one size fits all mentality then he or she could become legalistic about its application. I believe this is a great tool for the counselor to have in his/her toolbox for helping others, but he/she still needs to have other tools for different situations they may encounter while counseling.
There is one other weakness. This book was written with pastoral counselors in mind. Many pastoral counselors are not clinical professionals and may encounter situations that may require a different, more informed approach. The author would have done well to have included situations in which the counselor should refer a couple to a more experienced professional licensed Christian counselor. There are times when a ill-equipped, well-meaning pastor has done more harm than good by trying to counsel situations beyond their depth.
Overall, Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling is a great addition to any Christian counselor’s library. Its biblical foundations are solid and its presentation is simple, albeit, formulaic. The tools and teaching in the book will benefit any person wishing to help others who are experiencing marriage difficulties. Above all else, the book glorifies God’s design for marriage and His way of providing reconciliation, redemption, and restoration to marriages.
- “The opposite of love is not fighting; it is noninvolvement.” (p. 56)
- “Happiness is performance divided by expectation.” (p. 111)
- “What distinguishes good marriages from troubled ones is whether couples reconcile after inevitable hurts and how well they do it.” (p. 128)