Worthington, Everett L. (1999). Hope-focused marriage counseling. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
(Attention: use of any part of this critique requires proper citation.)
Worthington’s book is a comprehensive work detailing for the counselor most every topic and potential issue relative to the marital relationship. A three-fold marriage strengthening strategy is followed throughout and includes willpower to change which builds hope through motivation, waypower to change or the concrete ways change is possible, and waitpower or teaching couples to wait on God to work on the relationship.
The author’s goal for hope-focused marriage counseling is to strengthen marriages and reduce divorce. The goals of the couple must reflect their desire for improvement. In an era when so many couples face the hopeless end of their relationships, “Christ’s love produces faith and work which provide the basis for hope." The counselor promotes hope and unconditional love, strengthens weaknesses, and imparts healing by faith. Hope, according to Worthington, is mental willpower added to waypower in order to reach goals. Partners must commit to work on target problem areas revealed by assessments. The three-fold strategies are implemented through interventions pointed to specific areas of potential weakness and are utilized both in sessions and assigned as homework.
Issues affecting marriage are clearly defined and interventions are given to teach partners new patterns of behavior which re-inspire hope by restoring love, faith, and work into the relationship. Worthington provides the counselor with clear application and assessment tools as well as interventions. Central values and core vision are assessed and compared as “partners are guided in their actions toward each other by their core vision of their marriage. Willpower is gained through learning to respect one another’s central values and core vision.
Any two people living together will inevitably deal with hurts. Therefore, confession and forgiveness are imperative to reconciliation. Although Worthington initially states “the language of Christianity is soft-peddled” in the book, yet on the issue of forgiveness, he insists partners participate in devotions with Scripture and prayer as homework to provide willpower for partners who must rely on God for true forgiveness. Reflection on God’s forgiveness is a powerful incentive for forgiving others. Getting each partner to take responsibility for their contribution to an issue is one of the many examples of helping couples to gain waypower.
Interventions to strengthen healthy communication and teach loving conflict resolution involve helping couples become aware of faulty patterns, teaching partners to listen to one another, seeing from the partner’s perspective, and stressing how they value one another. Counselors are also given interventions to teach partners to replace negative, maladaptive thinking with positive and corrective cognition so that each one will learn to respond with acceptance rather than blame.
            Increasing closeness and intimacy is taught through Worthington’s CLEAVE strategy which includes Changing negative for positive interactions, Loving or reinventing romance, Employing time for one another, Adjusting to fulfill each partner’s intimacy needs, Valuing one another, and Enjoying one another sexually. Couples learn that their relationship still has hope regardless of the situation, and their closeness can be enhanced by increasing positive and decreasing negative actions, spending quality time together, and learning what intimacy means to each partner.
            Commitment may be considered the foundation and strength to any relationship as it concerns the long-term fidelity couples promise to each other. When commitment is strong, couples are more able to weather the storms that come against their marriage. Worthington’s interventions for cementing commitment include promoting commitment to therapy and work outside of therapy, dealing with drifting commitment, and the understanding that commitment to marriage is lifelong. Couples are made to understand that love is not concerned so much with feelings as with commitment to one another according to the wedding vows which stress going beyond life’s situations to stay together.
            Worthington gives the marriage counselor tools to assess marital weaknesses and implement hope-filled interventions that strengthen the foundation upon which couples begin their lives together. Upon commencement from sessions, the counselor encourages the couple’s independence by memorializing the progress they’ve made, ensuring they have internalized change, and suggesting they continue working with the interventions and homework they’ve been given. Leaving the door open for future sessions gives couples the assurance and hope that if there is a need, they may return for assistance.
            Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when desire comes, it is a tree of life.” Worthington regards the importance of hope and teaches counselors that one of their goals is to reestablish hope into broken and wounded marital relationships. However, he also states that counselors may “point couples toward the source of hope—sometimes without ever mentioning religion—humbly and sometimes directly."
Romans 15:13 calls God the source of hope. It is from Him and from Him alone that true hope can be realized and maintained, first in relationship with Him and subsequently with one another. As the creator of the marriage covenant, it is God that builds into that relationship the hope for strength to carry out commitment and imparts willpower, waypower, and waitpower to endure the good as well as the difficult issues that affect our relationships.
Worthington also states that once couples have hope, they are able to work on love. “Once they have love, they can renew their faith and thus find new motivation to put energy and work into their marriage." Obviously, the most important aspect of rebuilding hurting marriages is reestablishing hope for each partner. Christian counselors cannot and must not bypass the importance of the Giver of true, lasting hope if they are to effectively assist couples in restoring their relationship.
A counselor who has learned her own lessons well will be better enabled to minister restoration to her clients. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 teaches us that as we are comforted in our troubles, we are then able to comfort others who suffer the same things we’ve experienced. My marriage has survived great difficulties, yet I continue to learn and grow. Worthington’s interventions have brought readjustments that I have begun to implement. For example, we have always struggled in our ability to communicate well. Putting into practice Chapman’s five languages of love has not only strengthened lines of communication but softened both our hearts toward one another and given us a waypower for change. The five languages of love help couples understand they are valued in the eyes of their partner. Words, acts of service, gifts, physical touch and closeness, and spending quality time with one another are all ways to communicate love and value that help build hope in a marriage .
Worthington’s “Guidelines for changing communication” is also an intervention I have implemented in my own relationship with my husband. Listening and seeing from my husband’s perspective has changed how I respond to situations that may have become volatile in the past. God has used Hope-filled Marriage Counseling to build and strengthen my marriage, bringing hope that we will continue to endure the tests of time.
As these interventions and others have already proven effective in my relationship with my husband, I am able to share my experiences and encourage partners who are struggling with similar circumstances. Using the tools given in Worthington’s work to teach and impart willpower, waypower, and waitpower to couples who enter counseling with broken relationships, partners will realize that there is hope for their marriage, and that through love, faith, and work, they too can endure the test of time together.


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