Angie Pyatt told the small group, “I really don’t love Mark anymore. I don’t care if we get a divorce. I wouldn’t even care if he had an affair. It wouldn’t impact my feelings for him.” Her love was gone.
Mark and Angie Pyatt’s fellowship group sat in stunned silence as Angie vented her frustrations for the first time. The pressures had been building in the first few years of their marriage. As a deacon in their church, Mark’s work schedule went well beyond overtime every week. Angie had recently given birth to their second child after a trying pregnancy. Also in the mix was the financial strain of building a house. Through it all, Mark became distant and uncommunicative.
But in the weeks and months after Angie dropped that bombshell in front of their friends, the Pyatts found a still-glimmering ember of the love that had drawn them together. They embarked on a road of healing. Along the way, they encountered a team of experts in their hometown of Branson, Missouri, who were developing a strategic blueprint for marriage-crisis intervention. Eventually, when their own relationship was back on track, the Pyatts joined that outreach, known today as Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored marriage intensives.
A rich heritage
The roots of Hope Restored trace back to the work of relationship expert Gary Smalley. Gary founded the Smalley Relationship Center in Branson in the early 1990s to expand on his writings and seminars. He was soon joined by his son Dr. Greg Smalley and other skilled professionals including Dr. Bob Paul. The facility was subsequently renamed the National Institute of Marriage (NIM).
The team dug deep into existing research on relationships while working with hundreds of couples. They discovered that traditional marriage counseling can often only scratch the surface of the more complex difficulties that many couples experience. By 2002, Greg and Bob had led the team in developing what they called the “marriage intensive” — a process in which specially trained therapists guide a struggling couple through an immersive multiday deep dive to identify and address the core issues that impact their relationship.
Greg and his wife, Erin, joined Focus on the Family in 2011 to head up the ministry’s marriage efforts. Focus leaders quickly recognized the life-changing potential of the marriage intensive model. In May 2014, Focus acquired NIM and the Branson property. Two years later the initiative was renamed the Focus on the Family Marriage Institute. The therapy program itself became Hope Restored: A Marriage Intensive Experience.
Today, couples can choose from three retreat-center locations — Missouri, Michigan and Georgia. Work is currently underway to establish a fourth location in the Southwest, with eventual plans calling for multiple retreat centers spread across the country. Focus on the Family Canada has also picked up the Hope Restored model with centers in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
A different kind of counseling
In a traditional counseling model, a couple attends a series of sessions with a therapist or pastor, most often about an hour at a time once a week. Much of each session may be spent unpacking experiences from the previous week, and then the couple return to their daily routine. This model is certainly helpful in treating troubled marriages, but progress can be slow and week-to-week distractions can interfere.
By contrast, a Hope Restored intensive brings a struggling couple into a nurturing, focused environment for several days with external distractions minimized. Caring teams of hosts, hospitality staff and therapists welcome the intensive participants to top-notch private accommodations at a secluded location. Everything is geared toward discovering and addressing the core issues impacting both husband and wife. Initiating individual healing as well as renewed connection as a couple is the goal.
Getting the help you need
Hope Restored attendees receive interactive guided work together and — in the program’s four-day intensives — transparent discussion in group settings with a few other couples. While some people express reluctance about the group aspect, it’s actually one of the more impactful elements of the experience. Many couples report that they experience a sense of empowerment in hearing others openly share the same challenges and realize they’re not walking the road alone. Attendees often form lasting friendships with the peers who take those first steps of the healing journey alongside them.
Additionally, Hope Restored doesn’t end when the few days at the retreat centers are done. A detailed aftercare program provides further support, including multiple calls with a trained marriage coach and a 15-week application study. Couples who desire future care have the option to continue coaching with a view toward long-term relational stability.
Over the past 20 years, nearly 9,000 couples have participated in one of these intensive options. Most have already tried other forms of counseling and view the program as a last resort; a high percentage of attendees have already filed for divorce. But research shows that 80% of couples who complete Hope Restored intensives remain married two years later. They also report a much higher level of satisfaction in their relationship.
Opening the door
Mark Pyatt now serves as the chief of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family. As he watches couples come to Hope Restored, he identifies with the struggles of the couples who arrive.
“Something has been missing in the relationship for a long period of time,” Mark says. “In some ways, one spouse feels like they’re dying emotionally.”
He compares the chaos within these marriages to the desperation of a drowning victim. In an attempt to “get air,” one spouse might move out, ask for a divorce or have an affair.
“At Hope Restored, we’re not interested in putting you back under the water,” Mark explains. “We want to bring the whole marriage to the surface. Our goal is to see you both whole, healthy, fully attended to and excited about moving forward in your marriage.”
A clinical perspective
Dr. Bob Paul, architect of the Hope Restored program, offers a clinical perspective.
“When couples come to an intensive, a husband, wife or both might say, ‘I don’t feel love anymore toward my spouse.’ They think that’s the end of their marriage because the love is gone.”
To Bob, hearing that there’s a “lack of love” in the relationship doesn’t translate into a lack of hope.
“The only reason the love isn’t there at that point is that the door to their heart is closed and the love is not able to come through,” Bob says. “If we want to experience the fullness of love for our spouse, we start by asking the Lord to let us see through His eyes and feel with His heart. That helps open the door.”
Bob points to the question they ask all couples before coming to a Hope Restored intensive: “If God was to work a miracle in your marriage, would you accept it?” Couples must answer “yes” in order to take part in the program.
Devoted to unity
When both husband and wife are flourishing in who God made them each to be, and working together as a couple, powerful things happen. As Bob puts it: “Marriage is a team sport by God’s design. When you’re on the same team, you either both win or you both lose. There is no such thing as a win-lose outcome in marriage, ever.”
The Hope Restored staff understands that God is devoted to unity. By inviting Him to work in marriages, they’ve seen how He can take an otherwise hopeless situation and reorient a husband and wife to a path of healing and reconciliation.
The bottom line of the equation is simple but powerful:
Unity Renewed + Purpose Refreshed = Hope . . . Restored