Focus on the Family Refuses to Give Evidence for Their Claims About the Hope Restored Marriage Intensives

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About me: I'm a devout Evangelical Christian who attends church, tithes, volunteers, and serves. I've been leading divorce recovery groups in conservative churches since 1998. I have donated thousands of dollars to Focus on the Family. I've listened to their broadcasts since the 1980s, subscribed to their magazines, and gotten dozens if not hundreds of their books. I sent my kids on their overseas Brio missions trips. I am criticizing Focus on the Family's articles on abuse and divorce. I am not criticizing their other articles on adoption, foster care, politics, or other topics.


Believe it or not, Focus on the Family refuses to give evidence for their big claims about their expensive "Hope Restored" marriage intensives

Imagine that your spouse treats you meanly: sometimes belittling you, criticizing you, mocking your opinions, indifferent to you, or even hitting you or the kids. Imagine that you hear about this $6,000 marriage intensive run by the top Christian counselors around. You're so desperate, you're willing to do anything.

But is it a good use of your money? Does it really work? The president, Jim Daly, says their results are miraculous but are they?

Who knows? Focus on the Family refuses to give a shred of evidence (see their response to my email, below). They want us to take their word for their success rates, but where's the proof? Have any neutral surveying organizations contacted all their former participants? If a survey was done, why won't they share a summary with us?

Here, the president of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, calls Hope Restored "marriage ER." ER means "emergency room." In other words, he's saying this is a program for marriages that need emergency intervention. The average person knows Jim isn't talking about marriages that need a few more communication skills, or problem-solving techniques, or conflict-resolution strategies. These are really bad marriages, destructive or dangerous marriages.  It would be reasonable to assume that anyone willing to pay $6,000 is desperate.


Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family

But notice how Jim Daly describes an emergency: a marriage that is headed to divorce. Not a marriage that involves domestic violence or serial cheating or family-destoying addictions. It is simply a marriage that might end legally.

Is this just a poor word choice, or is that genuinely Focus on the Family's view—to avoid divorce, not to fix the marriage and make it safe?

Apparently, avoiding divorce is their true goal: to keep your marriage legally intact even if you are not safe. Their big fear is that you'll go to divorce court, as president Jim Daly says on this Hope Restored web page.

fotf hope restored avoiding divorce is the goal

But there are worse things than divorce. There's suicide, homicide, domestic violence, and child molesting, for just a few examples.

Yet, when Hope Restored brags about its success, it's usually about how many marriages are still together two years later. For example this 2019 statement on president Jim Daly's personal blog about Hope Restored's 80% success rate of keeping couples married for two years. (Remember, that a lot of divorces where there is abuse take more than 2 years to finalize.)

jim daly blog hope restored claim

Or Jim Daly's 2016 claim of nearly 85% of marriages saved from divorce. Note that 3 years later, they reduced that success rate to 80%.

jim daly blog hope restored claim2

Attendees who divorced to escape abuse say that this marriage intensive, run for years by the same leadership, even though it has changed ownership, pressures the wife to be better but lets the husband off the hook. Here's one woman's story about spending $16,000 and going to three 5-day programs, all at the Branson, MO, location run by Robert Paul and Mark Pyatt, and co-founded by Greg Smalley.

Notice how Focus on the Family is getting more conservative about their success claims. It used to be nearly 85%, now 80%.

But recently Hope Restored made a new claim on their website, that marital satisfaction improved too.

hope restored fotf success rate 80 in 2 years 2-27-21

When I saw the claim about improved marital satisfaction, I was curious. I had never seen that before. Surely they must have had a new survey done. If so, I'd love to know the specifics.

    • Who did the survey?
    • Did it meet scientific standards?
    • What were the questions? How were they asked?
    • How many couples did they survey?
    • Was it the entire group of prior attendees?
    • And if so, how many years did they go back? How many couples did not respond at all?

These are very important questions. You see, marriage intensives don't have a good track record for abuse situations. I have hundreds of people in my 3,000-member online group who say they attended one or more multi-day marriage intensives or retreats, such as Hope Restored or Weekend to Remember. And they didn't fix anything—at least not for long. Any "miracle" was short-term. In the end, they needed a life-saving divorce to protect their life and sanity because their spouse didn't actually become safe.

I wrote to Hope Restored, using the email on their website. And here is the reply I got. (Short version: thanks for your questions. Sorry, we are unable to give you any evidence of our claim.)

fotf hope restored satisfaction evidence

Bottom line:

Hope Restored and Focus on the Family make big claims, but they refuse to show any proof. They just want us to trust them and their reputation. They literally claim their program does miracles. Here's a paragraph from president Jim Daly's blog dated June 3, 2014. He says the results are "nothing less than a miracle." In my opinion, he sounds like a modern-day snake oil salesman.

jim Daly miracle hope restored fotf


And remember, Focus's official policy prohibits divorce for physical abuse and emotional abuse, no matter how bad it gets. The abuser can lock their family in a room, restrain them with chains, beat the children, and put a gun to their spouse's head, and Focus on the Family still does not condone divorce. Here is their own official divorce policy statement.

So if you wish to attend, that's up to you. If you want to go, and say you did everything you could to save your marriage, then, by all means, do it. If you want to give it "one last chance," you won't get any criticism from me. Some of us feel we just need to try everything. Just go in with your eyes open.

These programs fail a lot. If 1-in-5 couples divorce in less than 2 years, then how many are divorced at the 5-year point? Maybe another 1 in 5? Divorcing a spouse with a pattern of deception, cheating, or abuse is a process that might take more than two years to finalize. Perhaps it's better to use $6,000 to hire a good attorney instead.

More than 200 people in my private Facebook group (made up of mainly Christian marital abuse victims) say they've attended multi-day marriage intensives or retreats that did not do a "miracle."


Hope Restored Brings in Money

Focus on the Family's public tax records show that they added this program (tax year 2014) and brought in $2.5 million from their marriage enrichment programs. Now, 7 years later, with two more locations open, and the benefit of a big-name advertising agency (Ambassador Advertising Agency was paid more than $10 million in tax year 2014), and their million-name email list, who knows how much they bring in? Who knows how many people they lure with their miracle claims? It's a lot of money and a lot of frightened wives. We know that 1-in-4 highly religious couples have experienced interpersonal violence, so there are plenty of Focus on the Family listeners who eagerly sign up.


(Focus asked the IRS to reclassify them—from being a "nonprofit" to being a "church"—so we no longer have any public reporting on what they spend, how much income they receive, or what their executives are paid.)

But we do know this from people who've attended, Hope Restored doesn't bring up abuse, domestic violence, or anything close. The focus is on communication skills. And frankly, learning communication skills doesn't fix abusers, cheaters, or addicts. It just makes them better manipulators.


That's what one attendee discovered...

We did three week-long intensives. The first week-long intensive was court-ordered. We went right after our 2-year restraining order ended. (He had tried to kill me.) An off-duty police officer had to guard my door at night while we were there. I hadn't seen or talked to my husband, other than in court, for 2 years. Boy, did he put on an act for the staff. The therapists LOVED my husband. They encouraged me to get back together with him. Told me it was safe. They pretend to be the experts but they know nothing about how to get abusive men to stop abusing. They prohibited me from talking about the abuse we were enduring. Sure, they sometimes have tools that helped me in other relationships. Nonetheless, through talks with the founders of Hope Restored, I came to understand that every intensive, marriage weekend getaway, etc., is always a manipulative stunt used to make the organization a lot of money. They are not interested in learning how to protect and help those that come to them that are being abused.

The staff I interacted with were: Robert S. Paul, Mark Pyatt, Bob Burbee, Gary Brugman, Brett Sparks, Christine Arnzen, and Ken Bryant.

Are you considering a life-saving divorce and need support and clarity? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 4 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book about spiritual abuse and divorce for Christians, The Life-Saving Divorce: Paperback:  Or eBook:

Also, sign up for my email list below or HERE


Start Here



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