12 Steps to a Great Marriage?: a book review

I am always on the hunt for resources which will help me minister effectively. The good news of the gospel is not (just) about eternal salvation; it also impacts every part of our lives: finances, relationship, family, work, etc. James Reeves has written a new book which aims at bringing about the sort of life change that will impact your marriage. Utilizing a twelve step approach Reeves urges husbands and wives to work through baggage and emotional issues. The end result is healthier, humble people who have submitted their lives to Christ. This will impact  your marriage. Life Change for Couples is a workbook which helps couples work through the personal struggles they bring into marriage.

Most of this book walks through the twelve steps of alcoholics anonymous (and other recovery programs), slightly recast in a  specifically Christian direction. Reeves first four chapters set the tone for the book. Reeves envisions that this book would be used in a group setting with other couples. Thus he lays out guidelines for ‘freedom groups,’ and talks about the need for safe, healing environment. Reeves also lays out two guiding principles: the Emotional/Spiritual Principle and the Pile Principle. The Emotional/Spiritual Principle states that your spiritual maturity will never exceed your emotional maturity (37). This means that if you want to grow in your spiritual life. You need to work through your emotional issues. The ‘pile principle’ asserts that we all carry our own pile of emotional garbage which impacts our relationship with God and others (49,ff). The rest of the book follows the twelve steps with an eye to where our marriages are impacted.

In Reeves parlance, the twelve steps are:

  • “A” Admit Powerlessness
  • “B” Believe the Truth
  • “C” Commit to Christ
  • “D” Discover Responsibility
  • “E” Expose Secrets
  • “F” Focus on Faith
  • “G” Go Get Right
  • “H” Heed the Weeds
  • “I” Increase God Contact
  • “J” Just do it.

This modification of the traditional twelve steps emphasizes a biblically revealed understanding of God. God is not just ‘a higher power,’ but the God revealed in Jesus Christ. This is an important difference because Reeve challenges popular deficient views of God (see chapter six). Also there are only ten steps by Reeves’s reckoning. The substance of the twelve steps is there, but it isn’t actually ‘a twelve step journey.’

While this is a workbook intended to help couples and is designed for a group setting, its focus is on personal healing. When husbands and wives submit to the process laid out here, there is an opportunity for emotional healing and a deepening faith, which leads to personal responsibility, forgiveness and active reconciliation.. This is the sort of resource that will set people free to love and honor their spouse. This is good stuff.

However I offer two words of caution. First, there are no guarantees in marriage or life and I would be careful of overpromising. Ideally both wife and husband would work through their issues, have a healthy, growing faith and a deepening love for one another. But reading this book or any other and trying to practice it, is not a formula to get what you want out of your marriage. God may deepen your dependence on Him and your spouse may still leave, cheat or remain emotionally distant. This book will help you process through your own issues but it is not a ‘silver bullet’ for successful marriage. Secondly, I would demur from Reeves on his emphasis on “facts” and reason and mistrust of feelings. He reproduces the familiar diagram of a train where the engine (Fact) pulls faith behind it, which is followed by feelings (183). I agree with Reeves that feelings are fallen and should not be trusted. People with emotional baggage create a world of hurt. Yet our reason is also fallen and sometimes God works in our hearts in surprising ways. I can point to numerous experiences where feelings drove my faith to healthy places (and only later did I have an intellectual account). I like Reeves’s approach and commend it, but the privileging of reason is overly simple.

These two cautionary words should not dissuade you from making use of this fine resource. I think it will be a great tool for small groups, pre-marital and marital counseling. The twelve-step approach puts an emphasis on personal responsibility which will contribute to healthier, happier marriages as we submit ourselves one to  another. I give this book four stars.

Thank you to Kregel Ministry for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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