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Manual for Couples Hope-focused Marital Enrichment

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Manual for Couples

Hope-focused Marital Enrichment
Everett L. Worthington, Jr.
Virginia Commonwealth University

Project funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation


from Everett Worthington, Ph.D.

Thank you for participating in our study of marital enrichment for newly married couples. We are truly grateful that you are willing to give up your valuable time to assist in this scientific study of the effectiveness of a program of couple enrichment called Hope-focused Marital Enrichment. Although we have studied this program previously and found it to be effective at helping people be more satisfied with their marriages, communicate better, and value their mates more, this study is a much larger experimental investigation than we have previously undertaken.
To study the program, you must complete tests at five times over the next year and one-half. We know that this might be bothersome for you, so we have provided payment for participating. You can celebrate each trip down to VCU by having a nice night out, or use the money however you wish. The amount we pay you for assessment increases as we move throughout the year. Your participation at each time is crucial to having a good scientific study of our program.
Besides the assessment, we are offering you 9 hours of consultation with a trained couple consultant. We typically offer such consultation through the MATE Center (Marital Assessment, Therapy, and Enrichment Center) for $250 per couple. For the study, though, instead of charging you, WE PAY YOU. The amount we offer, we hope, will offset your expense and inconvenience of participating. We think the real benefit to your marriage, though, will be the positive effects your consultation will have over the course of your marriage. When the study is complete, we hope you will agree that your time was well spent.
When Kirby and I married in 1970, we attended a marital-enrichment program within our first months. Personally, I didn’t know anything about making a marriage work before that program. Kirby and I have continued to grow closer over our 27-plus years, and I think that short marriage-enrichment group played an important part. It didn’t dramatically change our behavior—though it did make some remarkable changes. It was more like we were standing in Richmond and starting a journey toward Los Angeles. But the marriage-enrichment experience shifted our direction a few degrees of the compass. Now we find ourselves, 27-plus years later, in Seattle, which is altogether different than where we were headed. I hope that by the end of the consultation, you will feel that you love each other much more than you did when you started. I also hope that as the months go on, you will find that you love has continued to grow steadily.
At the end of the study, we will provide you with two things that I hope you will find valuable. We will make a summary available of some of the results of YOUR OWN marriage over time a brief report about the overall effectiveness for all the people receiving Hope-focused marital enrichment in comparison to a group of people who were merely tested at each of the same times that you were tested but who received no consultation. We hope to be in frequent contact with you over the next 16 months, helping you make your marriage happier and your love to grow. Thank you for helping us in this study.

Marital Assessment, Therapy, and Enrichment Center

Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University

Core Personnel

Executive Director, Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Ph.D.

Director of Programs, Jennifer S. Ripley, M.S.

Director of Training, Terry L. Hight, M.A., M.S.

Director of Research, Jack W. Berry, Ph.D.
Everett L. Worthington, Jr., has over 20 years of experience working with couples. He has published over 10 books (to lay audiences and professionals) and over 100 scientific articles. He has trained thousands of professional therapists in his method through seminars, videotape courses, workshops, and teaching at VCU. His research on hope-focused marriage enrichment has been featured on television and in popular media, such as Woman’s World (April 21, 1998).
Jennifer Ripley and Terry Hight have wide experience in both couple enrichment and therapy. Both are advanced doctoral students in VCU’s American Psychological Association-accredited program in Counseling Psychology. Both have published research articles on work with couples and both have won awards for their research on couples.
Jack W. Berry has joined VCU’s MATE Center in 1997 from his former employment as a faculty member at the Wright Institute in California. He has published widely in psychotherapy, and he has substantial experience in research and assessment methods.


We provide a thorough assessment of your marriage. This method of assessment uses 2.5 hours of interview plus numerous inventories to produce a two-page assessment of your relationship, with written recommendations about improving your relationship. These written recommendations are provided to both partners in a feedback session lasting one hour. This method of assessment of romantic relationships not only provides couples information about their relationship and suggestions for improvement, but it has been scientifically investigated and shown to enrich relationships.

Worthington, E. L., Jr., McCullough, M. E., Shortz, J. L., Mindes, E. J., Sandage, S. J., & Chartrand, J. M. (1995). Can marital assessment and feedback improve marriages? Assessment as a brief marital enrichment procedure. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 42, 466-475.
Cost: $160 (one 2.5-hour meeting with a 1-hour feedback session the following week)


Hope-focused couple therapy is a brief, active, and direct therapy. Typically, it involves 8 to 12 sessions in which partners meet with a couple-therapist. The therapist provides a brief assessment of 1.5 hours. The therapist then conducts a 1-hour feedback session in which the goals of therapy are recommended to the couple. Therapy is tailored to each couple but typically takes 6 to 10 sessions. Occasionally, therapy will take more or less time.
Worthington, E.L., Jr. (1998). Hope-focused marital therapy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, in press, due near the end of the year.
Cost: $130 for assessment and feedback plus $35 per session


Hope-focused couple enrichment. Hope-focused couple enrichment uses many of the same principles used in hope-focused couple therapy; however, it is aimed at couples who do not have substantial problems in their relationship but want to make it stronger. Couples complete a brief screening questionnaire to determine whether they will likely benefit from the enrichment consultation. Hope-focused couple enrichment is conducted in groups meeting 10 hours (two hours per week for five weeks) or in sessions with an individual consultant (9 hours spread over three weeks—2.5 hours the first week, 4 hours the second week, and 2.5 hours the third week). All hope-focused couple enrichment provides, as part of the package, a written evaluation of the relationship with recommendations about making the relationship stronger.
Worthington, E.L., Jr., Hight, T.L., Ripley, J. S., Perrone, K.M., Kurusu, T.A., & Jones, D.R. (1997). Strategic hope-focused relationship-enrichment counseling with individual couples. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 44, 381-389.
Cost: 10-hour Group $175; 9-hour Consultation as a couple $250
FREE (Forgiveness and Reconciliation through Experiencing Empathy). FREE is a couple’s enrichment program that helps couples build and maintain a more intimate marriage through promoting intimacy and good communication and learning how to forgive small (and perhaps large) hurts and reconcile quickly. This program has been investigated scientifically and found to be effective. It has been featured on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Easter, 1998). FREE is conducted in groups meeting 10 hours (two hours per week for five weeks) or in sessions with an individual consultant (9 hours spread over three weeks—2.5 hours the first week, 4 hours the second week, and 2.5 hours the third week). Couples complete a brief screening questionnaire to determine whether they are likely to benefit from FREE.
McCullough, M. E., & Worthington, E. L., Jr. (1997). Interpersonal forgiveness in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 321-326.
McCullough, M. E., Sandage, S. J., & Worthington, E. L., Jr. (1997). To forgive is human: How to put your past in the past. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Cost: 10-hour Group $175; 9-hour Consultation as a couple $250
PHONE: (804) 225-4097



Photocopies of 3 Scientific Articles and 1 Magazine Article

Benefiting From the Couples Consultation

You Are About To Receive

Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Ph.D.
Strong Marriages
Married partners can conduct their marriages either with a plan or by reacting to whatever comes along. In the first six months of marriage, many people form their plan. Over time, couples who develop a healthy plan have strong, exciting, and lasting marriages. Some couples don’t develop a plan. They react to whatever happens. They have no vision of what they would like their marriage to be and no strategy for how to bring their vision about. They might have good or poor marriages—depending on life circumstances. Good or poor, though, they are at the mercy of luck, fate, or acts of God. Developing a good plan won’t guarantee that your marriage will be free of bumps and stresses, but it will help you avoid many of the avoidable stresses.
Marriages depend on three characteristics, which I call love, faith, and work. Strong marriages actively build love; partners have faith in each other; partners work hard on the marriage. Troubled marriages have weaknesses in love, lose faith in each other or the future, and stop working on their marriage. When people go to marital counseling for marriage problems, most marital therapists (in one way or another) try to help people solve their problems in love, faith, and work, and build strengths in love, faith, and work.

In a good marriage, partners demonstrate love. They value each other and try never to devalue each other. In a troubled marriage, partners devalue each other and fail to take every opportunity to value each other.

Making a Good Marriage Better
The early months of marriage are key to a strong lasting marriage. Newly married couples have to work out the ways they are going to treat each other. Usually, they discover many things about their spouse and their life together that they did not know about when they entered marriage. That can be true even if couples have lived together before marriage.
They have to work out all those little rules about who is going to do which task around the house, how they are going to show love to each other, and how they are going to treat each other. In short, they develop a strategy for building love. If the marriage is to be a good one, the strategy needs to emphasize love, faith in each other, and work on the relationship.

To improve your marriage—even if it is already great—love your partner more by valuing him or her.

Adopt a Helpful Attitude
It is easy to look at our partner and think, we’d be happier if he [or she] would only change. The fact is, though, that if we want to make our good marriage even better, WE must be the one to change first. We cannot make our partner ever do anything differently. But we can make ourselves do things differently.

To make your marriage stronger, change what you can: your own behavior, thoughts, and (eventually) feelings. Don't worry about what your partner is or isn't doing. Be the first to change; don't wait for your partner to change.

Be patient. Changes won't occur over night. Don't expect perfection. Take it as a given that 99% of all partners want their marriage to get better. Your partner is trying to improve the marriage just like you are. Your partner's motives are almost always positive.
How To Benefit From This Consultation

  1. Realize that together you and your partner will make your marriage stronger. Your consultant can help you forge an even stronger marriage than you have now, but most of the improvement in your marriage will occur because you try to employ the strategy of love, faith, and work—not just when you are with your consultant but also at home. The consultant will give you many ideas about making your marriage better based on a program that has been shown scientifically to be one of the strongest marital enrichment programs in existence. However, the two of you working together in the privacy of your own home will make the changes that last.

  1. Be honest with the consultant.

  1. Be honest with yourself. Try hard. Every person can improve his or her marriage. Try out the suggestions with an open mind.

  1. Do the activities at home that your consultant asks you to do.

  1. Your consultant is going to show you new ways to be more intimate with each other, communicate even better than you do now, resolve differences that might pop up over a lifetime together, and stay committed to each other.

  1. Your consultant is not someone who has any magical knowledge about making perfect marriages. Rather, he or she will help you find the things that work for you and your partner in your marriage. Your consultant will try his or her best to help you meet your marital goals. We wish you well with your marriage.

The Couple's Goal
Do you want to increase the satisfaction with your marriage?
How motivated are you to work to make your marriage better? If we had an 11-point scale-- from 0=no motivation at all to make our marriage better, to 5=I want to make our marriage better but I can't devote a lot of effort to it, to 10=the most important thing in my life is to make our marriage as strong as it can be.

O His Rating:

P Her Rating:

How would you rate your communication with each other? If 0=all we do is argue and fight, to 10=we communicate as well as any two people could ever be expected to communicate. [Get both partners evaluations.]

O His Rating:
P Her Rating:

Ranking Chapman's five languages of love
People have at least five languages of love (Stanley Chapman, 1995). A language of love is a way that a person understands that someone loves the person. A language is also a way that the person shows love to others. At times, we all use each of the five languages to receive and express love. We have a preferred language of receiving love. If the partner speaks in that language, we easily hear it. It is as if I were in France. People speak French all around me, but because I understand almost nothing of French, it becomes a nondescript humming in my ears. However, if someone began to sing in English, I would immediately tune in. I focus on my primary language. Probably my second best language is Spanish. I'm not fluent in Spanish but I can understand a fair amount. If I were in France and someone were speaking Spanish, I would listen to it before I would attend to the French.

Five “Languages of Love” According to Gary Chapman

  • Words of love and encouragement _________

  • Physical touch and closeness _________

  • Acts of service _________

  • Quality time _________

  • Gifts _________

Rank yours from Rank 1 (most preferred) to Rank 5 (least preferred). Ties are okay.

Stockpiling Love
John Gottman has conducted over 25 years of research with over 2500 couples. He has videotaped the ways couples talk with each other in tasks like you did with the assessors before this session started. Using those videotapes, he has found that he can predict with 94 percent accuracy which couples are going to be together and happily married four years from the taping. He makes the prediction based simply on the ratio of positive to negative behaviors that occur in the tapes. For example, a positive behavior is being courteous, smiling, looking at the partner’s eyes while smiling, saying “I love you,” or saying things like “I want to work out our differences more than I want to win this discussion.” Negative behaviors are things like frowning, looking angrily at the partner, interrupting the partner to make a point, yelling, being sarcastic, staring with hatred, criticizing, acting defensively, making negative statements about the partner’s personality or character, and having the attitude that “You can’t get to me.” If the ratio of positive to negative behaviors is five to one or more, the chances are 94 percent that the couple will be happily married in four years. If the ratio is below five to one, the chances are 94 percent that they will be apart or very unhappily married.
A good way to stay happily married and even to increase your marital happiness is to do more positive behaviors with and for your partner and to do fewer negative behaviors with and to your partner. One purpose of the marital enrichment consultation is to build more love. We have found that a good way of thinking about John Gottman’s finding that partners need to act positively five times as many times as they act negatively with each other. Look at love as like solid gold, which you can stockpile. If you have a big stockpile of love that has built up through years of mostly positive behaviors, then you have a lot of flexibility to deal with anything negative that comes along in your marriage. The quote from the Bible, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” sums up Gottman’s research findings. When you do something that your partner thinks is a positive contribution to the marriage, it adds a gold brink to the stockpile of love. When you do something that your partner thinks is negative, it is like taking away five blocks of gold. Naturally, you’ll want to keep a large stockpile of love built up.
You especially don’t want to do less than five times as many positives as negatives because that will put you in the hole very quickly.

Identify Ways to Add to the Stockpile of Love

Direct each partner to think of many acts he or she could do to please the other--acts the other would consider additions to the stockpile of love. Give them a few minutes to complete the lists, working alone. After they slow down, get them to share the lists with each other. Through discussion, think of different ways to stockpile love for the partner. Have partners add to their lists.

After partners have generated lists of how they could deposit love in their partner's love bank, ask the partners together to suggest ways they could deposit love in their joint love bank through doing pleasant things together. Doing pleasant activities together is a wonderful way to increase the stockpile of love because those activities add to both partners’ stockpiles at the same time. Discuss with the partners what kinds of shared activities would add to their stockpile of love.

How Many Ways Can You Think of To Stockpile Love?

List as Many Things as Possible That YOU Could Do for Your Partner to Build Love

Homework #1: Writing the Statement of the Vision for the Marriage
Come up with a page description of your joint vision for the marriage. Alternatively, if you prefer to do this individually or if you can’t agree on a joint vision, each of you write a page about what you would like your marriage to be like. THIS IS IMPORTANT TO WRITE DOWN—EITHER A JOINT VISION STATEMENT OR TWO SEPARATE VISION STATEMENTS—AND BRING THIS TO THE NEXT SESSION.
Each of you write another page about how you would feel five years from now if the plan were successfully accomplished THIS TOO IS IMPORTANT. PLEASE WRITE IT DOWN AND BRING IT TO THE NEXT SESSION.
A recommended procedure for concocting the vision statement:
• Think back over our interview. Recall especially things that both of you said would make a “perfect” marriage. Those things are a large part of a vision statement.

• Picture yourself five years from now.

• Spend time together thinking about where you would like to be in five years and where you would like your marriage to be. Would five years time make any difference in the things you said would make your marriage “perfect?”

• Some people are helped if they prepare a chart showing the five-year period, broken down into six month segments. (This is not necessary, just a suggestion. However, you should think about things that might happen over the next five years.)

• If you prefer to write, then list the obstacles they expect to encounter in implementing their plan. If you prefer to talk about this instead of write, still think about the likely obstacles.

• Devise ways to deal with each challenge.

Homework #2: Write a Love Letter--The Hotter the Better
Write a letter to the other that is an ardent love letter telling what each loves in the other. Write at least two pages and try to avoid anything that is not completely positive and loving.

Homework #3: Complete handout
Have the partners each complete the Homework Assignment Sheet.
Homework Assignment Sheet

  1. What are at least three things you could that would please your spouse and would make his or her perception of your marriage more “perfect?”

  1. What are the three ingredients of a successful marriage? (The same ingredients cause problems when they are not present and are the target for increase of most marriage counseling.) Name the ingredients and write a definition of each in your own words (or use the definition suggested by your consultant).

L (name):


F (name):


W (name):


  1. Love Languages

Q Name the five love languages.

h What is your favorite love language (i.e., the one you like to have shown to you)? (ties are okay)
c What is your partner’s favorite love language? (ties are okay)

g What are three ways you can show your partner that you love him or her in his or her primary love language?

D Did you try to do one of these things this past week? Which one or ones?

4. What was the one idea from the last session that you thought would be most likely to help you have a stronger marriage than you do now?


When Marriages Fail

Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

To self

To partner

To others


Argue back in mind

Argue with partner

Expect criticism


Think Partner’s


Is Flawed

Resent Partner


Can’t Get To Me

A Rock Feels No Pain

Separate Lives

Communicating Love
Miracle Script for Perfect Communication
How would the marriage function if a miracle occurred and communication were perfect?
Consider these in your discussion:

  • How much to communicate

  • When to communicate

  • What topics to communicate about

  • How to communicate

  • Where to communicate.

Example of Excellent Communication
Choose a topic and give a demonstration of excellent communication. No one can be perfect in communication and no couple can actually have perfect communication. This exercise is merely to get you to think about what excellent communication would really be and how you could do more of it in your own lives.

Six Guidelines for Explicitly Changing Your Communication

  • Identify the difficulty, if there is a difficulty. Identify your goal, if there is no difficulty. Be specific.

  • Second, when you decide to communicate differently, don't try to change everything at once. Change a step at a time.

  • Begin with positive reminiscences--times when the relationship was going well.

  • Analyze situations carefully.

  • Don't get so involved in the issues that you lose sight of your goal--communicating with your spouse in a positive way as a demonstration that you value him or her.

  • If other attempts to change your communication fail, get a book that provides a good structure for improving marriage communication, such John Gottman and his colleagues' book, A Couple's Guide to Communication (which can be ordered from Research Press, 2612 North Mattis Avenue, Champaign, Illinois 61820).

STEPS to Good Communication
Situation, Thoughts, Emotions, Plans, Statement of Love (I want you to know that I love you more than I want to get my own way).

  • Each partner plans an issue to discuss.

  • This is not conflict resolution, so the issue should not be one that generates conflict.

  • Each partner writes notes on each part of the issue: situation, thoughts, emotions, plans, and statement of love.

  • Each partner discusses his or her issue with the partner.

Creating a Time for the STEPS to Good Communication
Arrange a regular time to share information about the day. Popular times include at breakfast, just after arriving home from work, after dinner, on an evening walk (which can keep the partners in good physical shape as well), or at bedtime.

Listening To Your Partner with Empathy

Teach Listening Skills

  • minimal encourages

  • brief statements of repetition

  • reflection of content

  • reflection of feeling

  • paraphrasing.

Important: Accurate empathy.

Dissolving Differences
Richard Stuart’s Powergram

Misunderstandings: *Teaching the LOVE acrostic

People DO Misunderstand Each Other Because of

  • The way they communicate

  • The amount they communicate (too little or too much)

  • By not communicating

  • By making assumptions

  • By trying to be understood instead of understanding


L: Listen and repeat. Break up those patterns by listening to your partner and repeating a short summary of what he or she said before you make your point.
O: Observe your effects. What we intend for a communication to say is not always the impact the communication has. When you see that your partner has responded in a way that indicates a misunderstanding, stop and say, "I feel like I didn't communicate as clearly as I would like. What I meant to say was ...." Notice the triggers that get you into conflicts or that make conflicts get suddenly worse. Avoid those triggers.
V: Value your partner. In whatever communication, always strive to value your partner and never devalue your partner.
E: Evaluate both partners' interests. Use the method of conflict resolution advocated by Fisher and Ury in Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Go beyond the statement of your position in a conflict and identify the real interests you both are trying to meet. If you both identify your interests, then you can often find several solutions that meet both of your interests--not just one person's interests.

*Listening and repeating to deal with miscommunications

*Observe your effects to short-circuit triggers

Value your partner in the midst of misunderstandings

Valuing is treating the other person with respect, with honor, as a "pearl of great value." Valuing is not devaluing by putting down, using devaluing looks (like rolling the eyes), making fun of the other, saying anything negative about the other, pointing out negative aspects of the partner's character to other people (whether the partner is present or not), making jokes at the other's expense, criticizing the other, calling names, expecting the worst of the other.

*Evaluate both partner's interests
Step 1: Define the problem. Initially, help the couple define the problem quickly and not get sidetracked from working on a single problem. One stumbling block to solving problems is failing to agree on what the problem is. When that occurs, the partners spend considerable effort and frustration trying to arrive at a single solution to two different problems.
Each partner states what he or she thinks is the main problem in no more than two sentences. Determine whether the two statements of the problem are similar or are, in reality, different problems. If the problem statements are different, address each problem separately. Both cannot be solved simultaneously.
Partners state the problem clearly and concretely rather than vaguely and generally. Instead of saying, "You've been a real pain since you got under stress at work," be specific. For example, say, "During the last two weeks, you have raised your voice, argued loudly, or criticized me at least four times. I would like for you to act that way less often." Such a concrete statement of the problem tells exactly what he is complaining of and gives a clear statement of what the person expects the spouse to do to remedy the problem.

Step 2: Couples identify each partner's position. Usually, each person will have a position about how the problem might be solved. Each partner should identify his or her own suggested solution and then summarize the spouse's solution. If partners summarize their spouse's position, both spouses are sure that their partner values them enough to have heard them. Partners may, in turn, give reasons why they believe their solution is the one that the couple should adopt, but they may not rebut.
If a proposed solution is not quickly agreeable to both partners, which it will rarely be, prolonged discussion of their positions will not help. This is especially true if the issue is one in which incompatible positions have been discussed often.
Step 3: Couples identify the interests behind their positions. Generally, people do not want to achieve the particular position that they have offered, even though they might believe that they do. Rather, they want to satisfy their needs and meet the interests behind their position (Fisher & Ury, 1981). Behind that position are interests—things the person really wants, which the person thought the position would solve.
Step 4: Couples try to think of a different solution that will meet both people's interests. Partners brainstorm for solutions that meet the needs of both. Partners suggest solutions that come to mind without evaluating the solutions until brainstorming is complete. Each solution is then evaluated against how well it meets both partners' interests.
Usually, more effective solutions will be thought up if each partner tries to think of solutions that will meet the partner's interests. People usually find it easy to suggest solutions that meet their own interests and will arrive at those solutions with little difficulty. If the partners are prompted to think of the spouse, less selfish solutions will usually be suggested and final decisions among suggested solutions will be easier.
Making things right when things go wrong
We can’t live with another person without an occasional misunderstanding, offense, or hurt feelings. Knowing how to communicate better will help you avoid many of those, but when the inevitable hurts do occur, you need to reconcile with each other.
How do you reconcile when you’ve hurt each other’s feelings?

  • Saying you’re sorry and meaning it

  • Not trying to make the partner feel guilty

  • Sincerely trying not to hurt each other again

  • Explicitly or implicitly deciding to let the matter drop and not bring it up again

Assign homework. It has three parts.

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