Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling [i] is one of many theoretical approaches to marriage counseling proposed by Christian writers. While not advocating the particulars of the writer of this volume, I am an advocate of hope being a necessary component of marriage salvaging or reconstruction. Appropriate hope giving generates motivation on behalf of the couple to engage in the necessary work of salvaging and improving a marriage.
The partner of the man imprisoned in the tangled web of pornography is in need of hope. The moment his wife discovers his ugly sinful habit her world is shattered. Trust is broken. Betrayal is felt. Shame arises. Disgust and revolution is experienced. Her disappointment is overwhelming leaving her wondering if her marriage can be salvaged or even if she wants it to be so.
When a husband is told, “I am done. I am finished with you and this ministry business. I want out,” he sees his world caving in all round him. Not only has the love of his life destroyed their physical sanctity, but she has also immediately shattered his career and his family. There is no hope of any normalcy to his life, his family, or his work.
The woman whose aspirations from childhood upward was to marry, to have the statistical average of 2.5 children, to live in a Cape Cod with a white picket fence and to drive her own SUV, finds herself hopeless when her husband is caught by one of the Deacons of the church conducting a homosexual relationship while on a business trip.
Or, what about the wife who finds herself locked into a marriage in which the husband did not leave and cleave from his family. He works in the family business and is utterly controlled by his parents. The income upon which they have become dependent and accustomed is dependent upon her and their family not being the priority in his life, but rather his keeping his parents satisfied. She finds herself often complaining to her girlfriends that her situation is hopeless—“He will never be free until they die!”
Well, I could almost go on ad infinitum with scenarios after 40 years of sitting behind a pastoral counseling desk. But the question is how to give hope in such situations. Along the way in various graduate classes, continuing education seminars and encounters with other counselors I have found the advice and counsel to be rather hopeless for such couples. Often divorce is recommended. While this is sometimes a legitimate option, it is not a very hopeful option. It also is too often the hope too soon encouraged. In the past year we have seen a number of similar situations resolved and marriages rebuilt. Divorce would have most likely ended this option.
So, how do I give hope or how do I find hope? The answer can be given in numerous ways. I would suggest one here. It is found in the answer to the first question in the Westminster Catechism. “What is the chief end of man?” Answer. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Now obviously this takes some unpacking in a highly emotionally charge counseling situation. This cannot become a go home and take to aspirin kind of approach. A husband said today in a very difficult marriage counseling case, “I have to come to realize that my pornography was idolatry—I was not worshiping God but my own satisfaction.” A man who has come to this conclusion has made tremendous strides towards resolution and reconciliation. Sometime back, another man living in a similar manner told me, “I find that now I look forward to time alone with God and actually miss it if the demands of life interdict my daily encounter with him and I am finding that we (reaching out and taking his wife’s hand) are enjoying each other for the first time in years.”
Gain hope from the Word of God. Give hope based upon the Word of God! You will likely be amazed at the resulting attitudinal changes which in turn generate behavioral changes resulting in satisfying and enjoyable martial relationships.
[i] Worthington, Everett L, Jr. Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling: A Guide to Brief Therapy is an example.