Academic journal article Family Relations

Religious Faith and Transformational Processes in Marriage

Academic journal article Family Relations

Religious Faith and Transformational Processes in Marriage

Article excerpt

Leading scholars of marital processes strongly recommend supplementing the current focus on marital conflict to include research on transformative processes. This qualitative study examines the connection between religion and the transformative processes of commitment and coping in marriage. The sample for this study includes 184 married couples (N = 368 individuals), making it far larger than most in-depth, qualitative interview-based studies. Participants included Christians, Jews, and Muslims with an over sampling of minorities and immigrant families living in all eight regions of the United States. For several decades studies have shown a largely positive correlation between (a) religiosity and marital commitment and (b) religiosity and (generally) positive coping, but with little explanation regarding how and why. Findings of this study indicate that there are specific religious beliefs and practices related to how these couples approach their marriages-including several that relate to the two transformative processes of commitment and coping.

Key Words: marriage, religion, commitment, coping, transformative, processes, qualitative research.

In 2007, Fincham, Stanley, and Beach published a groundbreaking article as part of a minisymposium in the Journal of Marriage and Family, recommending supplementing the current focus in research on conflict in marriage with an additional effort to study what they termed "transformational processes" in marriage. The present article examines connections between religious involvement and the transformational processes in marriage identified by Fincham et al. Transformational processes refer to processes that occur in marriage relationships that do not require outside (professional) intervention. Fincham et al. stated that this ability to transform or change a relationship from within " is the heart of normal, marital self-regulation and the basis for transformative processes in marriage" (p. 278). Examples of religious transformative processes include forgiveness, commitment, sacrifice, and sanctification. Some couples use these processes to transform challenges and potentially negative situations in their relationship into opportunities for growth. As a result, these couples can "emerge more mutually trusting of each other than they were before (i.e., with a substantially enhanced view of the relationship)" (p. 287). If couples are unable to self-regulate and solve problems, divorce becomes a prevalent result. As Amato (2010) pointed out, divorce often puts people "on a downward trajectory from which they might never recover fully" (p. 1269). Understanding these processes more clearly may provide researchers and clinicians with knowledge that can be used to reverse deterioration in marriages as well as the negative effects often associated with divorce. Fincham et al. argued that though constructs relating to conflict are important, a successful marriage is more than a marriage with little conflict. Whereas couples with happy marriages must leam to deal with conflict in healthy ways, they must also build meaningful connections that bind the marriage together in a way that a simple lack of conflict does not.

RELIGION, MARRIAGE, AND TRANSFORMATIONAL PROCESSES

Clearly, religion continues to be significant in many American marriages. According to a 2012 Pew Survey, more than 86% of married couples in America report a religious affiliation. Around 60% report that religion is important or very important to them (McCullough Hoyt, Larson, Koenig, & Thoresen, 2000). Additionally, religion is "the single most important influence in [life]" for "a substantial minority" of Americans (Miller & Thoresen, 2003, p. 25). With such evidence of salience, few would discount the need to understand the connection between religious faith and family life. In fact, there has been a substantial increase in research on religiosity and marriage over the past two decades (Dollahite, Marks, & Goodman, 2004; Mahoney, 2010). …

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