Do Christian couples have the same risk of divorce as those who do not attend church? The assumption of many pastors and teachers is that they do. I have heard this confidently stated countless times over the years. The assertion is often preceded by the phrase, “Well, as we all know…” But does faith make any positive difference in the strength, health and longevity of our marriages?
It most certainly does!
Remarkably, a great deal of authoritative research conducted by scholars at secular universities presents the case that faith (specifically, consistent “religious service attendance” and exposure to “religious teachings”) makes a strong, positive contribution to marriages. For instance, a 2016 Harvard study reveals that couples who regularly attend religious services together have a 47 percent lower likelihood of divorcing than couples who do not. Other studies, according to these scholars, have similar results ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent reduction in divorce risk. Happily, this holds true for husbands and wives of all races. Think about that. If someone discovered a special pill that would cut the risk of divorce by 30 percent to 50 percent, it would be among the most popular and regularly used medications on earth. All couples should know there is such a cure: It is attending church faithfully and practicing the Christian faith.
Professor Annette Mahoney, Ph.D., of Bowling Green [Ohio] State University’s Spirituality and Psychology Research Team also discovered in her decades-long research that a couple’s spiritual intimacy is “very, very important” and an undeniable factor in greatly boosting marital happiness and longevity. Additionally, professor Mahoney and her team demonstrate that marriages are stronger and happier when the husband and wife understand the deeper spiritual significance of marriage, the “why” behind what marriage means to God. These findings have remained consistent over time and across socio-economic differences. The Bowling Green team notes: “Couples who belonged to the same denomination at the time of their wedding were twice as likely to reconcile [after serious, marriage-threatening problems] as couples in religiously [different] marriages. Couples in which either partner had converted to the other partner’s denomination prior to marriage were four times more likely to reconcile” compared with those with no or dissimilar faith” (emphasis added).
The collective body of research indicates that the reasons for this are because religious belief and activity change how a husband and wife interact with each other in daily life. It helps them manage their conflicts in kinder, more forgiving and collaborative ways. They learn that while God is gracious and patient with them, they are also to be patient and forgiving with their spouses.
Other reasons given by the Harvard researchers are that consistent faith practices:
- Reinforce a couple’s understanding that marriage is sacred — larger than the couple and would ideally last for a lifetime.
- Reinforce biblical teachings (against divorce, pornography and marital infidelity, for example).
- Reinforce the nature and importance of marital love, sacrifice and attending to your spouse’s needs.
- Put couples in contact with numerous resources — encouraging friends and peers, marital education — that help them prepare for and strengthen marriage as well as resolve inevitable conflict.
Faith makes a difference in all areas of life including marriage stability. It is important that couples, church leaders and marriage counselors all know this. The finding that attending church is one of the secret weapons in marital happiness and longevity should be a secret no longer. Each of us should do our part in sharing this information.
Glenn T. Stanton is director of Global Family Formation studies at Focus on the Family.
If your marriage is in trouble, there is hope. The Focus on the Family Marriage Institute is here to help — call one of our counselors at 866-875-2915 or visit HopeRestored.FocusOnTheFamily.com.