Updated: Mar 31
We’ve all known someone in an unhappy marriage – a friend, a family member – maybe it’s you. Sometimes people stuck in a cycle of marital discord start to give up. They’ve been in
emotional pain for so long, they don’t think anything will help. Maybe they’ve stuffed their
feelings for the sake of the family or kids, kept their head down and just put one foot in front of
the other. Now one of those feet is almost out of the door.
What would inspire someone buried in survival mode or in a place of deep hurt to consider giving their marriage another chance? What would make it worth the risk to hope? What if that desperate person could find a better way to restore and rebuild their marriage? Something different. Something effective. Something proven to work.
The reality — marriage intensives succeed where other methods fail. More than 7000 people have taken the step to participate in one of Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored Marriage Intensives. After completing the 3-5 day intense counseling experience, 81% of participants were still married and “significantly happier” two years later, as reported in ministry follow up.
Of Hope Restored attendees, 75% reported the Intensive was their last stop on the road to divorce. 95% report already having tried some sort of marriage counseling, and in half the couples, one or both have had an affair. These people did not need marriage enrichment or a weekend to rekindle romance: they needed a relationship emergency room. Hope Restored participants gave the Intensive a 99% satisfaction rating. 92% of the couples say their financial investment was worth it.
What makes Hope Restored Marriage Intensives successful?
The Intensive format, backed up by strong research, was designed by leading national relationship experts Robert Paul and Gary Smalley. Hope Restored’s curriculum allows individuals to “get to the root of their issues quickly, with ample time to focus on resolution and growth. The extended amount of time spent within the Intensive setting gives couples the opportunity to go deeper without many of the distractions of daily life, and time to stay long enough to consider the solutions available to them,” according to the organization and Mark Pyatt, Vice President of Focus on the Family Retreat Centers. Couples choose from 3- or 5-day individual, or 4-day group sessions, which afford them 32 hours of counseling with not one, but two licensed professional counselors, selected from the staff of 25 full-time and 60 contracted therapists. The intense time spent is equivalent to the marriage counseling a couple might complete if they committed an entire year to 50-minute sessions, one week at a time. With meals and lodging provided at one of the Hope Restored Marriage retreat centers in Missouri, Michigan or Georgia, a couple can dedicate focused, interrupted time to work on their relationship.
While the concept of group counseling may seem off-putting to some, in reality, group dynamics
actually enhance Hope Restored Intensives’ success. “Folks can process things better when seeing it or experiencing it in somebody else,” said Erin Smalley. “As couples are processing within the group, the same concepts are being reinforced time and time again. You are hearing it with a different lens and can say, ‘That’s us – I get it!’” When a person is sick, they may see their regular physician. But if they are diagnosed with cancer, they’ll seek the advice of a specialist. The same analogy applies to the Hope Restored counselors, who are specialists in the area of marriage counseling and have been trained in the
Intensive counseling format to maximize its effectiveness. Couples complete an extensive assessment and questionnaire prior to arrival at the retreat center. This allows the counselor who’ll be working specifically with them to gather background information and get an idea of the best way to proceed.
Hope Restored Intensives are not a typical seminar, workshop, or marriage retreat. There is not a fixed schedule of specific lectures and presentations. The team of clinical professionals has collaborated very closely over the years to develop a personalized approach along with specific techniques that best meet the needs of each couple and encourage change in their relationship.
The unique, holistic, and scriptural-based counseling approach combines the heart, the mind, and a couple’s faith and has proven amazingly effective, according to the ministry. While Hope Restored is based on Christian principles, people of all faiths are welcome. The only requirement is that a participant be open to responding if God works a miracle in their marriage, Mark said. This approach has proven amazingly effective.
The Intensive counseling helps couples move to a right relationship with God and with others.
“The energy people in conflict bring typically is seated in hurt or fear,” Mark said. “When people feel inadequate or threatened, they start to get defensive and put up walls. People in conflict feel a million miles away from laying down their walls, but they may not realize they are just an eyelash away from the solution. All they need are a couple small tweaks.”
Mark emphasized that at no point does the wellbeing of the marriage take precedence over thewellbeing of the individuals. “Sometimes the idea of going to marital counseling feels like asking a hurting person to disregard their feelings of anguish – to ‘die emotionally.’ We want to attend to people in a way that they can be fully whole and healthy. We’re not going to browbeat them with scripture or make them feel guilty.”
After a couple completes an intensive, they are not left adrift. Alumni receive 15 weeks of after care, follow up materials and counselor calls to keep their relationship moving forward on the right track. Couples transition to being more goal oriented, Mark said, learning how to gain traction with what they’ve experienced. “If you buy an air conditioner, it doesn’t do any good unless it is installed,” he said. “They need to start implementing and applying the new skills into their lives.”
Many couples feel stuck and hopeless in their cycles of conflict and begin to believe divorce is the only way out. Focus on the Family has awarded $ 1.2 million in scholarships to Hope Restored Intensives to ensure finances are not an obstacle for couples seeking help. With the costs of divorce so high — emotionally, financially, for family, children and society — and the likelihood that a divorce won’t actually fix the underlying issues — isn’t it worth at least exploring the idea that a Hope Restored Intensive might be an option?
History of Hope Restored Ministry
In 2003, Mark Pyatt joined the Smalley Relationship Center founded by the late Gary Smalley and his son Greg. Mark left a 15-year career in hospitality, most recently running operations at Branson, Missouri’s Big Cedar Lodge. Renowned relationship experts, the Smalleys and Bob Paul, developed the Marriage Intensive Program for the Center. Along the way, they changed the name to the National Institute of Marriage, which was acquired under the umbrella of family ministry gold standard Focus on the Family in 2013, after Greg joined Focus as Vice President of Marriage.
Hope Restored Ministries Chairman of the Board, Jack Herschend (founder of Herschend Family Entertainment) challenged the leadership team at Hope Restored in 2010 to make a dent in the country’s divorce rate. His charge to get more couples into marriage intensives cast vision to expand operations from the original retreat center in Branson to open new locations in Georgia and Michigan. The ministry intends to launch 10 retreat centers nationwide so the Intensive can be within driving distance of everyone in the continental United States. Mark has eyes on a location in California, with plans for South Texas and the Northeast to follow. Last year, Hope Restored saw close to 1500 couples. The ministry was able to take precautions to remain open for the most part even during the Covid pandemic.
Couples come to Hope Restored Intensives from all 50 states and 300 different countries worldwide, Mark said. Counselors reach 100 couples a month with a current waiting list six weeks out. “We’re showing them people filled with the spirit of the living God extending the love of Jesus Christ to everyone coming through the door,” he said. “For many people it will be the first time they’ve experienced grace. When they can relax fully into the experience and let their heart open enough so they can interact with the truth, that’s where God shows up.”
The close-to 75 salaried and contract therapists at Hope Restored work together in a collegial atmosphere Mark describes as a marriage lab. “They’re playing off each other to find and articulate things to refine the model and prepare it to share.” Future projects include a seminary manual to train counseling pastors and helpful resources for churches and marriage mentors.