Academic journal article Family Relations

How Religiosity Helps Couples Prevent, Resolve, and Overcome Marital Conflict*

Academic journal article Family Relations

How Religiosity Helps Couples Prevent, Resolve, and Overcome Marital Conflict*

Article excerpt


This study reports on in-depth interviews with 57 highly religious, middle-aged married couples representing the major Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) residing in New England and Northern California. The study uses grounded theory methods to create themes and a model describing the ways that religiosity influences marital conflict. Couples reported that religiosity affects the conflict in their marriage at three phases of the conflict process: (a) problem prevention, (b) conflict resolution, and (c) relationship reconciliation. Practitioners may assist religious couples that are struggling with marital conflict by encouraging them to look to religious beliefs and practices.

Key Words: conflict, marriage, prevention, reconciliation, religiosity, resolution.

Conflict between people in meaningful human relationships, such as marriage, is inevitable (Canary, Cupach, & Messman, 1995). Scholars have suggested that "religion offers couples theologically grounded guidelines for methods to handle marital conflict when it erupts" (Mahoney, Pargament, Murray-Swank, & Murray-Swank, 2003, p. 223).

Indeed, research findings have generally concluded that there is a strong, positive relationship between religiosity and reduced marital conflict (e.g., Curtis & Ellison, 2002). The purpose of this study was to discover the "hows and whys" of this relationship (Dollahite & Marks, 2005).

Hackney and Sanders (2003) noted that there exist several definitions of religiosity. For the purposes of this study, we define religiosity as a person's spiritual beliefs, religious practices, and involvement with a faith community. Examples of spiritual beliefs include belief in the eternal nature of marriage; examples of religious practices include prayer and study of scripture. Aspects of religious involvement include attendance at religious meetings, participation in other faith community activities, or making financial contributions to a faith community.

The two research questions that directed this study were (a) Do highly religious couples perceive that their religious beliefs and practices influence conflict in their marriage? and (b) To what extent and, specifically, how does religiosity affect marital conflict?

Background and Significance

The existing literature on marital conflict is enormous; yet, only a few studies have specifically measured the impact of religion on marital conflict (Brody, Stoneman, Flor, & McCrary, 1994; Curtis & Ellison, 2002; Dudley & Kosinski, 1990). In addition, extant research has tended to be limited in scope because it typically provides only a "distal" (i.e., more superficial) measure of religiosity and conflict (Mahoney et al., 1999) yielding limited insight regarding aspects involved in the process of the relationship between religiosity and marital conflict. Qualitative data, focusing specifically on religious couples, are needed to elucidate specific ways that religiosity may help couples effectively manage marital conflict.

Thomas and Cornwall (1990) remarked that research examining religious practices and their specific effects in relationship systems was needed. More specifically, Curtis and Ellison (2002) noted that the possible role of religious factors in shaping long-range trajectories of marital conflict, quality, and disruption remains woefully understudied. Also, little research on religion has discussed how and why religiosity impacts marriage and family relations (Dollahite & Marks, 2005).

Religiosity and Marital Conflict

Religion can be a source of significant marital conflict if couples are not united in religious matters. Curtis and Ellison (2002) found that disparities in religious attendance patterns were consistently linked with more frequent marital disagreements. Call and Heaton (1997) reported that the risk of marital dissolution was nearly three times greater when the wife regularly attended religious services but the husband never attended. …

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