Shared Religious Faith Helps Uphold Belief in Married Life: Spiritually Offers Support System to Carry Couples through Troubles
Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Last of three parts.
Married to a Coast Guard lieutenant, Linda Niemiec remembers the midnight crisis of 1994 in Puerto Rico.
With family plans pending, he was deployed on short notice to pick up Haitian boat people, his return date uncertain.
It's enough to sink some marriages.
But in addition to knowing the strains of service life, this Dumfries, Va., couple - now eight years married with three children - had a shared faith to lean on.
"I was trying very hard to be calm," Mrs. Niemiec recalls. "I went to church the next morning, and I shared this whole burden with my extended family."
Marriage can be a leap of faith for many Americans, and religion can be one more support for couples who want their marriage to survive in inhospitable waters.
More than 70 percent of Americans today are wed in a church or synagogue, and 85 percent of marriages report having some spiritual element in them.
But the spiritual side of marriage only seems to make a difference when it reaches a certain threshold of intensity, or when it balances relationship skills, in a spouse or couple.
Regardless of the clarity of a couple's beliefs, spiritual issues intensify when children arrive.
The Niemiecs believe that prayers helped them get through the night when Jack was deployed for the high seas. He returned just a day before a transfer that could have split the family between Virginia and the Caribbean.
Now they have volunteered to teach a marriage course at Grace Baptist Church in Woodbridge. "We both believe in Jesus Christ and his supernatural power," Mr. Niemiec says.
"When we have conflicts, we do look prayerfully at what can change in each of us," his wife says.
Such introspection, as well as reflection on how to treat others, often is cited as a key advantage for marriages joined in sincerely held spiritual values.
In more general terms, however, religion is said to play its most important role in giving modern marriage its ultimate sanction. The marital pledge "until death do us part" was born of religious traditions.
"There are a lot of things involved in marriage, but to me the biggest one is commitment," says H. Norman Wright, a marriage counselor in Tustin, Calif., whose 55 books sell mostly in Christian bookstores. "It's that statement that I will be with you forever, no matter what we might go through, even the suffering."
This transcendent pledge, Mr. Wright and others say, is what separates the religiously motivated marriage from those counting on the wisdom of the humanistic psychology.
In a more secular society, where churches and synagogues have become merely pretty places for weddings, the religious sector has realized that marriage cannot stand on theology alone.
Take the Roman Catholic Church, which married 305,000 couples in the United States in 1994.
A new study of couples who took the church-required marriage-preparation course between 1987 and 1993 found that 66 percent felt it was helpful.
It was most helpful, however, when it covered all six C's of marriage, only one of which is church. The others are communication, commitment, conflict resolution, children and careers.
"People think that spirituality, properly defined, is an important part of a relationship," says David Olson, a marriage researcher at the University of Minnesota.
On his scale of 12 aspects important to marital relationships, he says "religious orientation" is sixth in importance.
Usually ranking ahead in marriage satisfaction are personality, family and friends, communication, leisure, and finance.
In Judith Wallerstein's "The Good Marriage," a study of 50 mostly middle-class couples in Northern California, 10 said religion was very important in their lives. "A greater number had joined religious institutions to give their children a religious education," she reports. …