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A Critique of a Theoretical Counseling Model

Boundaries In Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Patrick King

ID # L22702933

Liberty University

Coun507_ B04_ 201020 Spring

Sub-term B
Deadline: 2/21/10
Instructor’s Name – Dr. James Eisenhower
Date of Submission 2/28/10
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A Critique of a Theoretical Counseling Model

Boundaries In Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

In their book, Boundaries In Marriage, the authors, Cloud and Townsend, present a

theoretical model for maintaining healthy relationships, specifically marriage relationships. This

examination of Cloud and Townsend’s approach to maintaining healthy relationships

summarizes both the theoretical and theological orientation of their proposed model, compares

their approach to the model proposed by Sandra Wilson in her book, Hurt people hurt people,

considers the model in the context of Dr. Hawkins concentric circle theory of personality, and

presents a critique with regard to some of the perceived strengths and weaknesses of their


Overview of theoretical orientation and process

Although much of Cloud and Townsend’s (1999) approach to relational health could be

easily applied to most human relationships, as the title of the book implies, marriage is the

context from which their thesis is explained. Marriage, they contend, is “first and foremost

about love” (Cloud & Townsend, 1999, p. 9). However, as they are quick to point out, love by

itself is simply not enough for a marriage to thrive. They suggest love is assaulted and

effectively weakened when freedom and responsibility problems are present within the marital

relationship. Additionally, they assert that freedom and responsibility are two vital elements

necessary for a healthy and loving marriage relationship. When freedom and responsibility are

present within a relationship love is able to flourish. However, the absence of freedom and

responsibility fosters fear, resentment, self-centeredness, and an imbalance of power and control,

all of which drives love out of the relationship. They suggest, “when we do these three things-

live free, take responsibility for our own freedom, and love God and each other- then life,

including marriage, can be an Eden experience” (Cloud & Townsend, 1999, p. 25). The basic

thesis of their approach to healthy relationships is that love is effectively strengthened when

freedom and responsibility are fostered by the presence of clearly established boundaries.
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A boundary, in the simplest of terms, is the point at which one thing ends and another

begins. When applied to relationships boundaries fulfill several functions. They establish

ownership, clarifying to whom feelings, attitudes, and behaviors belong. They determine

responsibility and issue a call to action. As the authors state, “each spouse must take

responsibility for… feelings, attitudes, behaviors, choices, limits, desires, thoughts, values,

talents, and love” (Cloud & Townsend, 1999, p. 21). The process of change, they contend,

“always begins with taking responsibility for your own part of the problem” (Cloud &

Townsend, 1999, p. 22). Boundaries also serve to clarify freedom, those we have and those we

do not have. Additionally, boundaries offer protection, allowing the good to come in while

guarding against the intrusion of the bad. Finally, boundaries are about self-control. Although

when misused, boundaries can be punitive, manipulative, and controlling, the authors are

suggesting a much more noble intent for the establishment of marital boundaries. In fact, Cloud

and Townsend directly state, “Boundaries in Marriage is not about fixing, changing, or

punishing your mate… it is more about taking ownership of your own life so that you are

protected and you can love and protect your spouse without enabling or rescuing him or her”

(Cloud & Townsend, 1999, p. 11-12).

Cloud and Townsend (1999) offered several examples of some of the most basic types of

boundaries including language (directly verbalizing a line, “I will or will not do this or that”),

integrity (operating on the basis of truth and honesty), imposition of consequences, emotional or

physical detachment, and time. While these are examples of some of the types of boundaries that

can be utilized in the development of a loving relationship, they suggest that there are ten laws

that are critical to the establishment of these boundaries. They suggest that living in accordance

with these laws will foster success while rebellion against the laws will produce consequences.

The ten laws, “1) sowing and reaping, 2) responsibility, 3) power, 4) respect, 5) motivation, 6)

evaluation, 7) proactivity, 8) envy, 9) activity, and 10) exposure” (Cloud & Townsend, 1999, pp.

37-58) define Godly principles of relationships.

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Additionally, the authors assert that the values we hold have enormous implications for

the establishment of boundaries. They state, “your values make sure that certain bad things are

not present in the marriage and that certain good things are” (Cloud & Townsend, 1999, p. 107).

As this is the case Cloud and Townsend (1999) identified six values that are promoted in

scripture and that they believe produce great boundaries in marriage. Those values include,

“love of God, love of your spouse, honesty, faithfulness, compassion and forgiveness, and

holiness” (Cloud & Townsend, 1999, p. 112).

Strengths of Cloud and Townsend

In many ways Cloud and Townsend’s (1999) approach to developing and maintaining

healthy relationships is comparable to the model of change proposed in Dr. Wilson’s book, Hurt

people hurt people. Although Dr. Wilson (2001) takes a much more etiological approach to

addressing dysfunctional behavior, it could be argued that in many ways her model of change is

also a system of establishing boundaries. Like Cloud and Townsend (1999) Dr. Wilson (2001)

emphasizes the importance of responsibility, ownership, and choice. Dr. Wilson’s asserts, “we

must each take responsibility for own choices” (Wilson, 2001, p. 99). Cloud and Townsend

(1999) agree stating, “ when you cease to blame your spouse and own the problem as yours, you

are then empowered to make changes to solve your problem” (Cloud & Townsend, 1999, p. 61).

Additionally, as boundaries in many ways are about self-preservation (Cloud & Townsend, 1999,

p. 11), Dr. Wilson (2001) suggests that dysfunctional behavior is born out of a real or perceived

threat to an innate survival instinct (Wilson, 2001, pp. 73-83). Consequently, from Wilson’s

(2001) perspective, addressing dysfunction behavior requires establishing a boundary, in a sense,

with regard to choices, thoughts, and perceptions.

Like Dr. Wilson’s (2001) model Cloud and Townsend (1999) bring a certain amount of

credibility to Dr. Hawkins concentric circle theory of personality by addressing and validating

the impact of that which Dr. Hawkins calls “Temporal Systems” (Hawkins, 2009b). Although

the temporal system is the circle of primary concern for Cloud, Townsend, and Wilson, a case
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could be made that they are advocating a great deal of work in the circle Dr. Hawkins calls the

soul. As one pays particular attention to established thought patterns and brings them into

alignment with scripture the foundation is laid for healthier functioning among the various agents

of the temporal system.

One final strength worthy of mention is the degree to which Cloud and Townsend’s

(1999) model effectively strengthens the three elements of spiritual and psychological health that

McMinn identified (McMinn, 1996, pp. 45-58). McMinn (1996) suggests that there are three

primary elements that are integral to psychological and spiritual health; an “accurate sense of

self, an accurate sense of need, and healing relationships” (McMinn, 1996, pp. 45-58). As

freedom and responsibility are established by the presences of clearly established boundaries,

one cannot help but maintain an accurate sense of self and need while at the same time grow

healing relationships.


In spite of the practicality of Cloud and Townsend’s (1999) approach to developing and

maintaining healthy relationships, the model is not without a few minor shortcomings. Unlike

Dr. Wilson’s (2001) approach, Cloud and Townsend do not address the historical context of

maladaptive behaviors. Dysfunction, in the context of their model, could be explained as

behaviors unrestrained by healthy boundaries. However, they do not directly address the

psychological or the spiritual etiology of dysfunction. Dr. Wilson (2001) suggests that

neglecting the historical context of dysfunction could prove to be somewhat unproductive. She

asserts, “we must be willing to indentify and reevaluate our childhood fantasies (perceptions and

conclusions) and our childhood choices so that we will better understand our adult way of life.

That reviewing process gives us a more complete context in which to make new choices”

(Wilson, 2001, p. 92).

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One additional minor critique of Cloud and Townsend’s (1999) approach to developing

and maintaining healthy relationships is the relative complexity and apparent internal

contradiction of the model. Establishing healthy boundaries is a tricky task. Cloud and

Townsend (1999) are clear that boundaries are about self-control and self preservation. It seems

very apparent that they would in no way suggest that boundaries are meant to be a manipulative

means of controlling another individual. In fact they directly state, boundaries are “…not about

fixing, changing, or punishing your mate. It more about taking ownership of your own life so

that you are protected and you can love and protect your spouse without enabling or rescuing

him or her” (Cloud & Townsend, 1999, pp. 11-12). It could be argued, however, that setting a

boundary has as its byproduct control of another individual. Cloud and Townsend somewhat

concede to this reality when they suggest that the secondary function of boundaries is to change

and motivate your spouse (Cloud & Townsend, 1999, p. 229). As this is the case, the well-

intentioned establishment of boundaries is an activity that can fairly easily be misapplied.


In spite of the previously mentioned weaknesses of Cloud and Townsend’s (1999)

approach, the model stands as a powerful means of building and maintaining healthy

relationships. I thoroughly appreciate the fact that Cloud and Townsend’s (1999) model is a call

to personal responsibility. As their approach effectively strengthens all of the elements that

McMinn (1996) suggested are crucial for spiritual and psychological health, I can find no valid

excuse for not incorporating their model into a personal theoretical approach to counseling.
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Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1999). Boundaries in marriage. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Hawkins, R. (Speaker). (2009b). Hawkins model for guiding the counseling process.

McMinn, M. R. (1996). Psychology, theology, and spirituality in counseling. Carol Stream:

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Wilson, S. D. (2001). Hurt people hurt people: Hope and healing for yourself and your

relationships. Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers.

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COUN 507/PACO 600 Theology and Spirituality in Counseling
The following represents an additive template for grading. Instead of beginning with 100 and
losing points for errors, you begin with a 0 and earn points for your work In determining your
grade, three questions will be asked.


HOW DID IT RUN THE COURSE? Question Value: 35 Points

 Submitted with correct cover sheet located on Blackboard and
Grading Guideline for Theory Critiques pasted correctly? Score: 5 points
 Evidence of proof reading? Score: 15 points
(Minimal typographical, grammatical, punctuation errors, no
unnecessary pages, paragraphing/sentence structure is proper and
without awkwardness, body length is not more than 4 pages)

 Followed current APA Guidelines (headers, margins, spacing,

numbering, font, referencing titles correctly with initials, italics,
and appropriate use of lower case letters, etc.)? Score: 15 points

HOW DID IT HANDLE THE SOURCE(S)? Question Value: 15 Points

 Citations are properly referenced? (A minimum of 4
appropriate citations per author under review) Score: 10 points

 APA Reference list? Score: 5 points

DOES THE WRITING HAVE FORCE? Question Value: 50 Points

 Content reveals an organized interaction that specifically
addresses the assignment with clarity and coherency? Score: 30 points

 Clear, insightful, rich interaction with subject matter? Score: 10 points

 Conclusion reveals thoughtful summarization and application? Score: 10 points

Grade: ____________