Academic journal article Family Relations

Sanctification, Stress, and Marital Quality

Academic journal article Family Relations

Sanctification, Stress, and Marital Quality

Article excerpt

This article contributes to recent work investigating the role of religious sanctification, that is, the process via which one's spouse or marital relationship is perceived as having divine character or sacred significance. We outline a series of theoretical arguments linking marital sanctification with specific aspects of marital quality. A recent probability sample of Texas adults is used to gauge the links between general religiousness, marital sanctification, and marital quality and functioning. Key findings include the following: (1) General religiousness bears a weak link with marital outcomes; (2) sanctification strongly predicts desirable marital outcomes; and (3) sanctification appears to buffer the deleterious effects of financial and general stress on marital quality. Study limitations and practical implications are discussed, and promising directions for future research are identified.

Key Words: family stress, marital quality, marriage, religion, sanctification, spirituality.

Throughout much of the 20th century, social scientific research indicated that the institutions of religion and family enjoyed a mutually reinforcing relationship. In recent years, investigators have reinvigorated their interest in the religion-family connection (Mahoney, 2010; Wilcox, 2005). Although studies in this area have examined an array of topics, a significant body of work has explored possible religious influences on marriage. Specific outcomes of interest have included marital happiness and satisfaction (Ellison, Burdette, & Wilcox, 2010; Wilcox & Wolfinger, 2008), marital dependency (Wilson & Musick, 1996), frequency and types of conflict (Curtis & Ellison, 2002; Ellison, Bartkowski, & Anderson, 1999), sexual infidelity (Atkins & Kessel, 2008; Burdette, Ellison, Sherkat, & Gore, 2007; Fincham, Lambert, & Beach, 2010), and risk of divorce (Brown, Orbuch, & Bauermeister, 2008; Call & Heaton, 1997; Lehrer & Chiswick, 1993).

This focus on the links between religion and marriage has been driven by several factors, including (a) the continuing vitality of religious institutions, practices, and beliefs in the lives of many Americans (Sherkat & Ellison, 1999); (b) widespread concern among scholars, policymakers, and the general public about the state of marriage as an institution in light of historically high divorce rates, delayed marriage, and rising rates of cohabitation (Cherlin, 1992; Heaton, 2002); and (c) changes in the economic environment and the nature of work that have put increasing pressure on families, especially dualearner couples (Allen, Herst, Brück, & Sutton, 2000; Brock & Lawrence, 2008). Although most studies in this vein have relied on a narrow range of religious indicators, such as frequency of attendance at services or self-rated religious salience, recent psychological work on the sanctification construct has advanced our understanding of the role of religious meaning and the degree to which it permeates (or does not infuse) the marital relationship. Sanctification, described further below, refers to the process by which a given object (in this case, one's marriage or partner) is perceived as sacred or to embody elements of the divine (Mahoney, 20 1 0; Pargament & Mahoney, 2005). A small but growing body of literature now associates sanctification with enhanced marital and relationship quality and stability in small, specialized samples (DeMaris, Mahoney, & Paragment, 2010; Lichter & Carmalt, 2009; Mahoney et al., 1999), but further research is clearly needed.

Our study augments the literature on religion and marital quality by addressing the following research questions: (a) Is overall religiousness linked with marital quality? (b) Does marital sanctification mediate the observed associations between overall religiousness and marital quality? (c) Does sanctification moderate (or buffer) the deleterious effects of financial strain and overall stress on marital quality? …

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