The Psychology of Spirituality & Family Relationships
For Better Findings - Can Relational Spirituality Help Marriage/Couples?
- Yes, relational spirituality can be a resource. “For better” refers to specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors about a marital/couple relationship that can help the relationship. We and other researchers have begun to publish peer-reviewed, scientific studies that directly measure specific spiritual resources for couples. These studies involve samples of people who are involved in organized religion about the same as other Americans who are in similar types of romantically exclusive relationships (married, cohabiting, or dating). Below are three examples.
For Worse Findings - Can Relational Spirituality Harm Marriage/Couples?
- Yes, relational spirituality can be a problem. "For worse” refers to specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors about a marital/couple relationship that can harm the relationship. We have begun to publish peer-reviewed, scientific studies that directly measure specific spiritual problems for couples. These studies involve samples of people who are involved in organized religion about the same as other Americans who are in similar types of romantically exclusive relationships (married, cohabiting, or dating). Below are two examples.
- Spiritual One-Upmanship - openly align with God and spirituality against spouse or partner
- Spiritual Struggles in Coping with Marital Problems - having spiritual conflict with God, self or others about relational issues
General Findings on Involvement in Organized Religion for Marriage/Couples?
- Considerable scientific evidence indicates that higher involvement in organized religion is relevant for modern marriages/couples, much like religion is relevant to the lives of individuals, at least in the US. (See Defining Religion and Spiritualty).
- Approximately 80 peer-reviewed scientific studies were published from 1999-2009 on the role of faith for marriage/couples' relationships. About 23 of these studies involved unstructured interviews with small samples of couples, most of whom were highly engaged in a religious community (qualitative data). Another 57 of the studies asked highly structured questions via surveys with community or nationally representative samples of couples, most of whom lived the US (quantitative data).
- About 75-80% of the quantitative studies relied on 1 or 2 general questions about one or both spouses' religiousness. Examples of general questions include how often people say they attend worship services or how important they say religion is to their daily life.
- The following general findings have been established about marriage from studies using single, broad questions about religiousness:
- Greater importance of religion and attendance at any place of worship increases the chances of getting married and being satisfied with one’s marriage.
- Greater depth of involvement in religion decreases the risk of divorce, infidelity, and domestic violence.
- Several limitations exist about findings based on general questions about religiousness.
- Higher religiousness is statistically but only weakly linked to marital outcomes.
- We don’t know much about WHY or HOW higher religiousness is tied to marital functioning.
- General questions about religiousness make it impossible to untangle specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors focused on marriage that can be helpful or harmful for traditional and non-traditional couples. For example, a therapist who learns that a client attends a theologically conservative or liberal church twice a month would have few clues about specific spiritual beliefs the client holds about marriage that could be part of the problem or the solution in the client’s relationship difficulties.
- For more on general findings on religious involvement and marriage, see http://www.changingsea.net/essays/Mahoney.pdf or readings at bottom of this page
- For more information on relational spirituality, see Current State of Science and Relational Spirituality Framework.
Additional Suggested Readings
- Mahoney, A. (in press). The spirituality of us: Relational spirituality in the context of family relationships. K. I., Pargament, J. J. Exline & J. W. Jones, (Eds.) APA handbook of psychology, religion, and spirituality: Vol I. American Psychological Association.
- Mahoney, A. (2010). Religion in families 1999-2009: A relational spirituality framework. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 805 – 827.
- Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Swank, A., & Tarakeshwar, N. (2001). Religion in the home in the 1980s and 90s: A meta-analytic review and conceptual analysis of religion, marriage, and parenting. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 559-596.
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