Insights for working with struggling couples
Pastors, we are certain that you are hearing many of the same stories we are hearing: the pandemic has been very hard on stressed marriages. Couples who had a good foundation have done quite well, some even reporting strengthened relationships from increased togetherness over the past 10 months or so, but those whose marriages were already distressed have found life even more challenging.
We thought that you might find it helpful to hear from one of the senior marriage therapists from our Hope Restored program, Wayne Reed, who was a pastor for many years before becoming a counsellor. Though he was passionate about marriage as a pastor, he did not always feel equipped to help the hurting couples he saw. We asked him to share a bit about his experience then and to give us some insights into how Hope Restored can be a significant tool for those you may be serving.
Focus on Pastors: Before becoming a therapist with Hope Restored, you were a marriage pastor at a local church and you referred couples to this program. Why did you do that? What results did you see?
Wayne: When I served as a pastor and counsellor at a church, approximately 50 per cent of the people I counselled were dealing with marital distress on some level. Of this group, about 10 per cent were in marital crisis, meaning the marriage was on the brink of ending or the couple was already separated. I found that the couples in crisis were beyond my ability to help despite my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist. I was simply the proverbial “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.”
After some research I discovered that there were intensive marriage counselling programs running down in the U.S. (now called Hope Restored) that were designed specifically to help couples in crisis. After looking at the researched success rate of the program (80+ per cent together and reporting higher marital satisfaction two years after attending), I was convinced that this was the way to go. When some of the couples returned from the program, they seemed hopeful, less conflicted, and informed as to how they could restore their marriage. I was amazed.
Focus on Pastors: What does Hope Restored offer to couples that they could not receive in weekly counselling with their pastor or a registered counsellor?
Hope Restored is specifically designed to give couples a great chance to focus on what has caused the breakdown of the marriage, and provide the tools needed to rebuild a healthy marriage. Using Intensive Marital Therapy (IMT) couples who attend the Hope Restored private intensive receive 20 hours of therapy from two counsellors specifically trained to help couples in crisis. Couples who attend a group intensive receive 32 hours of therapy with two therapists who are specifically trained to help them.
When you combine this therapy within a tranquil setting, with nutritious meals and luxury accommodations provided, the couple can focus intently on their relationship without outside distractions. The impact of a Hope Restored retreat on the individuals and marriages represented is significantly more than could be achieved by a skilled counsellor seeing a couple for one hour per week for months at a time. Weekly counselling may work for regular marital issues but the couple in crisis needs a significantly different approach.
Focus on Pastors: What advice would you give to a pastor who is working with very troubled couples?
I appreciate the pastors and counsellors out there who serve couples regularly, but having worked in those settings leads me to believe that trying to help the couple in crisis can leave one feeling helpless and at times frustrated. Not to mention how the couple may feel after investing the time and money for counselling that does not seem to bring any improvement to the relationship. Sometimes the best we can do for our clients and congregants is to know when to refer them to a person or program that can offer them the help that matches the issue they are dealing with.
Focus on Pastors: Is this program biblically based? How so?
Yes! Having worked as a pastor for over 20 years and having a keen interest in theology I have examined the Hope Restored model and found it to be thoroughly based on Scripture. Interestingly, the more I delve into Scripture with the understanding I have of the Hope Restored program, the more I see the principles highlighted throughout Scripture.
1. Hope Restored is a program that values the people who are married to each other even more than we value the marriage they are in. Let me be clear, however, that the Hope Restored model places a very high value on the sanctity and permanence of marriage. However, healthy marriages are not attainable unless the people in them are healthy. This is biblical thinking because similarly God is changing our world by changing individuals.
2. Hope Restored encourages personal responsibility. God has sovereignly chosen to grant humankind the privilege and responsibility of “self will” (the ability to choose). He totally respects our choices even when they violate his laws and principles. Similarly, we encourage the couples at our retreats to take personal responsibility for themselves as they enjoy the privilege of self will in marriage. Each spouse is responsible for their own integrity within the marriage.
All too often individuals lose themselves and their integrity to build the marriage. This may be based on the “one flesh” principle (Genesis 2:24) which can lead to the false belief that in marriage there is no “you” and “me,” just “us.” Somehow, we may believe that “one flesh” means more than what Scripture teaches. Perhaps by looking at 1 Corinthians 6:16 we could see that one flesh is more about sexual union than about being one in thought and spirit with a spouse.
Scripture reminds each person to “guard their heart” (Proverbs 4:23), a principle that is foundational to this program.
3. The Hope Restored program encourages cherishing one’s spouse. We understand that our longing to be cherished is God-given but when unfulfilled can lead to conflict (James 4:1-2). Hope Restored seeks to equip couples to understand and navigate a way through conflict to establish a stronger bond between spouses in spite of the conflict. Working through conflict can be spiritually and emotionally formative and preferable to divorce.
Focus on Pastors: What do you hear from couples after they attend this program?
Couples who go through our program often report having a “eureka” moment where they discover or uncover what the blockage in the growth of themselves and their marriage has been for so long. They often appreciate that they finally feel heard by their spouse or vice versa. Others report feeling liberated from the confines that have kept them prisoner for so long. These confines could be their own misbeliefs, an unhealthy habit that has plagued them, or sadly a loss of self in the difficulty of an unhealthy marriage.
Here are a few comments some of our guests have shared after their intensive:
“I arrived thinking we would learn tools and strategies for better communication and conflict. And although that’s true – what I’m really leaving with is a heart change. An entirely different perspective on marriage and how to do it well.”
“This week greatly exceeded my expectations and I am in awe of the Holy Spirit being present and speaking into each and every person – including the therapists. We have been to countless therapists, seminars, read books, etc., but nothing compares to this experience. I have regained my wife as my best friend, but realize that my Heavenly Father/Jesus/Holy Spirit have always been here as my best friend AND will continue to be when my wife just can’t be.”
“A miracle has taken place here this week. We are leaving with HOPE for our marriage, and for ourselves. No one has ever taught us to be autonomous and heal our own hurts, wounds and hearts. [The retreat centre] is an oasis of peace, calm, faith and serenity. What a perfect spot to reconnect and heal. We are leaving with the tools, faith and hope needed to rebirth our marriage, heal our hearts and care for our dear children”.
To learn more about this program, we invite you to visit our website at HopeRestoredCanada.ca or call 1.833.999.HOPE (4673) and speak with our registrar.
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Wayne Reed is a marriage intensive therapist with Focus on the Family Canada’s Hope Restored program.