What Does Google Say about Marriage?

Here is an interesting activity.  Try typing "Marital Stability and Church Attendance" into Google.  The results are fascinating. Now I get it, I am a minister. It’s my job to tell you to go to church.  And it’s my job to tell you to hold hands, say I love you, and eat your vegetables. But hear me out. Or more specifically, hear the internet out.

If you Google that phrase and just look at some of the research, it is fascinating.  Here are some of the ideas from the research that has been done on marital strength, satisfaction and stability.  And that is what you want right? The mere fact that you are on this blog page means you have a present and vested interest in marriage, weddings and long-lasting relationships.  If this stuff is not for you, trust me, Google can take you wherever you want to go.

The divorce and remarriage rates in this country are staggering and they continue to rise.  Researchers Stahmann & Hiebert observe that in the US, “for every hundred weddings, fifty-four are first marriages for both partners and forty-six are marriages in which at least one partner was married previously.”[1] This number is an incredible change from 1970, where 69% of all marriages were first marriages. In another study, researchers found that with “approximately one-fifth of all marriages are distressed at any one time and over 40% of all new marriages eventually end in divorce, the impact of failing marriages is difficult to overstate. With this high distress rate, the troubling flip side is that so few couples have sought help. Nationally, 37% of divorcing couples seek counseling, and only 19% of married couples seek help.”[2] Pretty bleak numbers. But if you are not ready to seek out help, maybe there is an easier first step.

One-fifth of all marriages are distressed at any one time!

Divorce is such a difficult issue because it affects every facet of a person’s being. It is a tsunami on the complete personhood and the entire family structure. It affects emotions, finances, mental state, everything. Usually, divorce is the result of a long process. Years of stress and pressure build up. There can be frustration, pain, jealousy, resentment, anger, pride and mind games, all of which result in fatigue, lack of focus, depression, anxiety, and can even show up in physical ailments.[3]  It is one of the largest issues I deal with as it relates to marriage & family counseling issues. It brings financial loss, shortens life expectancy, and damages the relationships with children and extended family.

The studies found a connection between church attendance and marital happiness. Couples that pray together have the same correlation as well. Each of these activities “encourages a greater focus on sustaining relationships and so increase positive behaviors in the relationship or enhance forgiveness or commitment.”[4]

Prayer and Church Attendance have a positive impact on marital quality.

Prayer and Church Attendance have a positive impact on marital quality. The studies confirm “frequency of attendance at religious services was found to be more predictive of positive couple functioning.”[5] So in simple language, going to church had huge positive benefits for couples.  When the husband is attending church, the couple is happier. One study even suggests that church and religious activity might have positive effects that go beyond any other positive interactions. This research even suggest that religious activity might have no rivals in terms of producing positive effects for couples. Few activities have been proven to be better.  Church attendance is also a barrier against other activities that lead to negative consequences for marriage such as infidelity, substance abuse, or worse.

The studies pulled up in the Google search also suggest, “religious involvement and spirituality may be associated with ‘Sanctification’ of marriage, adding additional meaning and structure to support marital relationships.”[6] This means that the official nature placed on marriage at a wedding (in a church, in front of people) adds more gravitas to the commitment. There is something the church provides that perhaps cannot be obtained in Las Vegas or at the courthouse. And most importantly, “attending religious services almost certainly means that an individual hears religious teaching on marital fidelity and the general importance of marriage.”[7]

Atkins and Kessel also look at the presence of spirituality in the marriage, specifically church attendance.[8] They suggest that attendance at religious services can predict a higher rate of fidelity. In their study, no other spiritual factors or disciplines (prayer, scripture reading) seemed to predict fidelity, but attendance does![9] So in the simplest terms, if you want a happy marriage, go to church.

Atkins and Kessel begin with a common assumption; all major religions and most people deal with and accept the idea expressed in one of the Ten Commandments that adultery is wrong (Exodus20:14). Very few married couples believe this is not the case. If adultery has happened, it is hidden, lied about, justified, or an infrequent activity. Rarely is there an attitude of acceptance toward adultery. Religious individuals are less likely to have had affairs compared to the nonreligious. The best statistics available show 23% of married men and 12% of women reported an affair at some point in their marriage, but the researchers recognize that these are conservative estimates.

They find that “the association of religiousness with infidelity was moderated by marital happiness.”[10] Religious practice and happiness fed each other but religion did not guarantee faithfulness if there were other troubling factors. In other words, if the marriage has issues in other areas, such as conflict resolution or financial burdens, religious belief is not a guarantee or fail-safe in these marriages. When belief is combined with actions such as praying together or church attendance, then there are positive results with couples.

The key for couples seems to be to participate in religious activities together (i.e. church attendance), not simply share beliefs. The simple act of church attendance together connects couples on a number of different levels. Atkins and Kessel state, “First, it is a shared activity between spouses, and past research has shown that disengagement in couples is associated with affairs.”[11] They also found that mutual attendance carried with it an assumption of agreed values and beliefs. Also, church provides a network of relationships that “may provide support to the spouses as well as social comparison.”[12] The simple idea is the suggestion to attend church for the sake of marital happiness and fidelity. It is not a belief issue at the beginning, but more about attendance that helps with marital infidelity. Couples do not have to believe the same things.  They don’t even have to hold the same beliefs as the church.  In fact, belief without attendance does not reduce infidelity. Church attendance leads to happier marriages, not necessarily beliefs.

In addition to church attendance, some researchers discussed the idea of prayer specifically,[13] even introducing prayer as a counseling tool. While not coming from a Christian perspective per se, the suggestion is tremendous.

These researchers have recognized that many Americans believe in God or practice religion. Counseling circles should leverage this recognition and acceptance. Their conclusion is that the good, the potential, simply outweighs the skepticism. If prayer works for a couple, then you should explore it. Since prayer can be a viable alternative. The counselor often needs multiple resources, and spiritual disciplines can now be seen as helpful. Prayer helps regain perspective. It can help counselees shift the focus from themselves back to the relationship, and it helps calm people.

Prayer is also a powerful new conversation partner. Beach et al feel that “Couples can be told that if they can no longer talk to each other effectively, they might consider ‘taking a break to talk to a deity.’” This allows them to unburden themselves even as they honor their commitment to take a break from discussion with the partner.”[14] Prayer also serves as a reminder to continue certain behaviors or stop others.

Simply put, prayer and church attendance can lead to real change or intimacy in a relationship. If you don’t believe me, believe what you can research for yourself. Jump on Google and read it for yourself.

[1] R. F. Stahmann and W. J. Hiebert, Premarital and Remarital Counseling: The Professional's Handbook (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1997), 3.

[2] Brian D. Doss; Galena K Rhoades; Scott M. Stanley; Howard J. Markman, "Marital Therapy, Retreats, and Books: The Who, What, When, and Why of Relationship Help-Seeking," Journal of Marriage and Family 35, no. 1 (January 2009 2009): 18.

[3] Jen Abbas, Generation Ex: Adult Children of Divorce and the Healing of Our Pain (Little Rock, AR: FamliyLife Publishing, 2006), 1. Abbas writes personally about the effects of divorce on her life, “Divorce is like a trembling earthquake. The world shakes, rumbling with rage, and all the anger, guilt, and frustrations that have been festering for so long below the surface suddenly spew upward in an inferno of hate or apathy… at times the earth calms and you think the turmoil is over, settled, stable, but then the cycle begins again, repeating, repeating, repeating, you are weary, you want to rest, and that is when you realize the shaking has stopped, but there is an eerie feeling lurking in the air. You are hesitant to believe anything anymore. You are so tired after struggling for so long and so you rest on the one last solid patch of land only to watch it split in two. Two separate distinct parts that will never come together again. Each new patch supports part of you and as you watch, they pull away.”

[4] Frank D. Fincham and Steven R. H. Beach, "Marriage in the New Millennium: A Decade in Review," Journal of Marriage and Family 72, no. 3 (2010): 640.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 630.

[8] David C. Atkins and Deborah E. Kessel, "Religiousness and Infidelity: Attendance, But Not Faith and Prayer, Predict Marital Fidelity," Journal of Marriage and Family 70, no. 2 (2008): 407-18.

[9] Atkins & Kessel continue, “Yet, in all the previous research on infidelity, religiousness has been measured solely by attendance at religious services, a very limited assessment of a rich and complex facet of life.” The article tries to see if it can find some other dynamics such as belief, prayer, ideas about God. Using the General Social Survey, they looked at questions of infidelity, marital happiness, and questions of religiousness. Through the research, “Attendance proved to be the only significant predictor of infidelity.” They continue, “only attendance at religious services proved to be significantly related to infidelity. Thus among religiousness factors attendance appears to have a unique and possibly protective relationship with infidelity.” Religion without attendance or belief without attendance was positive connected to infidelity. If a person has beliefs about faith or God, but is not in church, this was positively connected to infidelity. Attendance is a purely behavioral assessment and at the same time there is a community aspect of attendance. “By definition, attending religious services implies that the individual is participating with other people, which is likely to include the spouse.” Church attendance takes religion out of the personal and into the communal. You cannot do it alone. The personal belief structure focusing on simply what I believe, puts the person first. Church attendance is a “we” activity and increases the bond between couples. Ibid., 414-416.

[10] Atkins and Kessel, 408.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] S. R. Beach et al., "Prayer and Marital Intervention: A Conceptual Framework," Journal of Social Clinical Psychology 27, no. 7 (September 2008): 641-69.

[14] Ibid., 650.

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