Divorce and the Divine: The Role of Spirituality in Adjustment to Divorce

By Krumrei, Elizabeth J.; Mahoney, Annette et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Divorce and the Divine: The Role of Spirituality in Adjustment to Divorce


Krumrei, Elizabeth J., Mahoney, Annette, Pargament, Kenneth I., Journal of Marriage and Family


This study examined the role of three spiritual responses to divorce for psychological adjustment: appraising the event as a sacred loss/desecration, engaging in adaptive spiritual coping, and experiencing spiritual struggles. A sample of 100 adults (55% female) was recruited through public divorce records. Most appraised their divorce as a sacred loss/desecration (74%), experienced spiritual struggles (78%), and engaged in adaptive spiritual coping (88%). Appraisals of sacred loss/desecration and spiritual struggles were tied to higher levels of depression. Adaptive spiritual coping was tied to greater posttraumatic growth. Spiritual coping and struggles each contributed uniquely to adjustment beyond parallel forms of non-spiritual coping and struggles and mediated links between viewing the divorce as a sacred loss/desecration and depression.

Key Words: adult outcomes to divorce, coping, religiosity, resiliency, spirituality, stress.

Wedding terms such as "holy matrimony," "sacred union," and "gathering in the presence of God" reflect the empirical finding that couples on average consider their marriage to have spiri- tual meaning (Mahoney et al., 1999). It follows that the termination of this sacred bond may have profound significance for individuals' psy- chological adjustment (Mahoney, Krumrei, & Pargament, 2008). This is particularly relevant in the United States, a country that is high in both divorce (Popenoe, 2007) and religious frameworks for understanding the world (Kosmin, Mayer, & Keysar, 2001). A study has shown that events that shatter sacred aspects of life are particularly stressful (Mahoney, Pargament, MurraySwank, & Murray-Swank, 2003). Furthermore, indices of general religiousness have been tied to family life (for review, see Mahoney, Pargament, Tarakeshwar, & Swank, 2001). Nevertheless, the specific adaptive or maladaptive roles that spirituality can play in a family crisis such as divorce are not well understood (Mahoney et al., 2003). Only three empirical studies were located regarding religion's role in divorce adjustment. Specifically, in one qualitative study, 1 1 out of 12 divorcing women indicated that spirituality facilitated her process of recovery after the divorce (Nathanson, 1995). Similarly, faith was ranked fourth among factors that adolescents and parents of 98 divorced families identified as helpful in the process of adjusting to divorce (endorsed by 51% of participants; Greeff, & Merwe, 2004). Finally, in a nationally representative sample, fathers with higher religiousness reported better relationships with their children after divorce, even after controlling characteristics such as traditional attitudes (King, 2003). These studies indicate that religion may promote positive divorce adjustment, but more in-depth investigation is clearly needed. The goal of the present study was to move beyond global measures of religiousness (e.g., religious affiliation) and offer insight into specific spiritual mechanisms that relate to adults' adjustment to divorce.

Theoretical Framework

The current study is grounded in Pargament's (1997) influential and well-researched theory of religious coping. Pargament augmented Lazarus and Folkman's (1984) classic stress and coping theory by delineating the helpful and harmful roles that spirituality can play in the process of appraising and coping with major life stressors. Consistent with this model, a recent meta-analysis of 49 studies indicated that adaptive spiritual coping facilitates positive adjustment, whereas spiritual struggles (also labeled "negative religious coping") exacerbate distress (Ano & Vasconcelles, 2005). Furthermore, evidence indicates that such links between religious variables and well-being/ distress cannot be fully explained through broader social and psychological stressors and resources (Ellison, Broadman, Williams, & Jackson, 2001). The current study makes use of theory described by Mahoney et al. …

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