"The real success in marriage is how much life people brought to each other and how well they reflected God to others outside their marriage.”— Dr. Mark DeYoung
God’s word is the sound foundation on which to ground any relationship. Accordingly,one would assume a religious background would benefit a marriage. But sometimes, interpretation or religious traditions can introduce unrealistic expectations that produce more, rather than less, marital stress. This was just one surprising observation marriage and family therapist Mark DeYoung, Ph.D., discovered in his decades of counseling
families and couples.
He explains this theory, as well as ways to apply God’s power for restoration in his book, Revolutionary Marriage, published in April 2020. While the book is a new release, Mark is no novice at helping couples overcome obstacles or crisis. He has practiced as a family and marriage therapist for more than 25 years and is a clinical fellow of the AAMFT. His doctoral dissertation was titled, "Attachment Phenomena in Foster Families: Exploring Contributions from Foster Parents’ Early Attachment Experiences,” and focused on the role of attachment in foster families including substance abuse treatment, foster care, and adoptions.
Previously notable for conducting most of his therapy via home visits, Mark, like the rest of the world, pivoted to tele-health when in-person sessions went virtual in 2020. Surprisingly, he has found Zoom consults as, if not more, productive than those conducted in person. “It is definitely here to stay,” he said and plans to continue to offer on-line therapy in his practice.
Mark began directing his counseling practice away from foster families and more toward marriage more than 15 years ago. He has completed level three training with renowned Gottman Institute in pursuit of their certification and incorporates their research and evidenced-based therapy techniques in his sessions.
He noticed the typical one-hour marriage session was not effective for couples in crisis. “We’d just get a good fight started or get to the issue, and time would be up and we wouldn’t resolve anything,” he said. Mark began developing the model for his marriage intensives, which dedicate time — a half day, a full day, 2-days back to back — to work together to get to the heart of an issue.
“I was working with a couple that dealt with a very significant infidelity situation. It was hard work! I wasn’t sure if we were going to get through it,” he said. “We stuck in there together, and I saw one of the most beautiful reconciliations I’ve ever seen in a marriage. That was 15 years ago, and they are still happily married.”
Mark expanded his crisis counseling model to design a retreat, the first of which will be offered this Labor Day weekend. The conference will accommodate just 15 couples, as it is built to offer intimate, focused time to work on deep issues in the marriages. “I want a small enough room to have some vulnerability with each other,” he said. “We’ll have time and space to practice activities so they’ll be more likely to carry them out in their houses.”
Mark begins by unpacking material from Revolutionary Marriage to describe what makes marriages broken, then moves forward to explain how couples can live out new ways of relating to each other. For example, they’ll work on a forgiveness activity where participants learn how to share hurt and then share forgiveness beyond just saying, “sorry.” Couples will talk about true repentance and model how to do things differently. He’s noted preconceived expectations as a contributing factor to brokenness in some
“A lot of women want their husband to step up and be the spiritual leader in their family,” Mark said, “but if he doesn’t feel gifted in that area and doesn’t know how, he doesn’t do it, and then he feels inadequate. His wife is disappointed and distances herself emotionally.” Mark suggests that instead of rigidly delineating male and female roles in a marriage, each spouse should lead in their area of giftedness and leave the shame at the door.
Mark views a Biblical definition of marriage through a slightly different lens. He sees both the male and female spouse as reflecting God’s glory through their marriage relationship. He pictures Paul’s words about marriage in Ephesians as a metaphor of Christ’s relationship with the church. “God wants us to be married not so we can be happy, fulfilled or self-actualized,” he said. “God wants us to represent Christ’s love for the church in a way that others witness Christ through our behavior. That’s how a marriage contributes to God’s Kingdom, We don’t love God just to get a ticket to heaven. We follow God so we can participate in his activity right now, and through unity and sacrifice, model Christ to the world.”
Mark looks for the spark that inspired a couple to make that life-long commitment. Then he builds on that foundation to encourage them to keep growing and learning, so they can help each other best reflect God to the world.
Revolutionary Marriage takes readers back to God’s creation of Adam and Eve to start the rescue mission for creation. Then Genesis 3 happens and the first couple meets up with trauma and brokenness. Mark attributes the destruction of the fall as having relational effects of:
Damage: which leads to brokenness, lies, betrayal, feeling less than, shame, distrust. Which births -
Distance: Couples engaged in those behaviors start growing distant from each other. Which ultimately leads to –
Death: Either divorce, or physical death.
Mark takes couples from this place of distress to learn how to create a marriage that is safe, stable and successful, with steps that counter each move toward degradation of the marital bond by a positive action.
Healing begins with reconciliation — the knowledge that spouses will hurt or disappoint each other often and need to become practiced at forgiving and reconciling. This involves vulnerability, willingness to admit own failings, ability to live out grace — heading a marriage into a place of safety, which builds stability, recommitting to each other every day.
Stability grows when commitment is modeled through the habit of spending regular and consistent time with each other. Time together needs to be quality time to grow intimacy, which means being engaged and emotionally present. Mark suggests taking a walk or cooking together and planning schedules so time off matches. (Put down that phone or TV remote!)
Lastly, Mark remarks that no one wants their marriage to die. The source of resurrection is Christ. Spouses live resurrected lives in their marriage by the way they bring life to each other through their words, the way the treat each other, and through the sexual relationship that creates new life and physically energizes.
When asked how he defines a successful marriage, Mark doesn’t look only at a couple’s longevity together. Rather, he is more impressed by a couple that has faced some of the harder relational issues and chosen “to live through the shame, hurt and betrayal and allow God’s work in the relationship to provide the healing and reconciliation so people can witness that.”
“The real success in marriage is how much life people brought to each other and how well they reflected God to others outside their marriage,” Mark said.
He challenged, “Where is God entering into the picture of your marriage? Where are you allowing God to change you? How are you living out grace with each other every day? When a couple’s children see that – that’s a big deal!”
Mark’s upcoming project is taking the material in Revolutionary Marriage and developing it into a curriculum for church staff to help them better relate to couples who seek marital help. He has tested his principles on students at Lubbock Christian University and will soon pilot a program at his church, The Hills, in Fort Worth, is pastored by Rick Atchley, also known as Max Lucado’s friend and college roommate. Mark hopes the curriculum will be a practical guide to help couples for ministry and
Mark’s next works include books, Revolutionary Sex, which will result in the need for Revolutionary Parenting, where Mark may draw from his expertise counseling foster families and children.
Find Mark DeYoung at deyoungconsulting.com.