A Critique of Cloud and Townsend

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A Critique of Cloud and Townsend

A Critique of: 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, and considers the model in the context of Dr. Hawkins concentric circle theory of personality, and parents a critique with regard to some’ of the perceived strengths and weaknesses of their approach.

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 and 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

A Critique of Cloud and Townsend

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.

    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 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 match 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

A Critique of Cloud and Townsend

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), and imposition of consequences,...
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