The Denver Post put on its brave pants and asked the question, “How important is religion in your relationship?” The variance in answers reflects the complexity of the question and ultimately the answer… it depends on who you ask. It also proves… there’s no easy answer.
An atheist answered the question like this:
The reason my marriage is really great is because we share so much, especially our values when it comes to morality and what we want for our family… We are both very civic minded…
We talk, we talk about everything – even religion… We used a lot of Buddhist philosophy when we raised our babies. (They are 18 and 20 now, neither of them drink or smoke.) …If my husband were to suddenly become a Muslim or Christian or Jew, I do not think our marriage could survive because a basic value would then be changed.
I would advise against marrying anyone who does not have a world view compatible with your own…
I truly wish for each and every one a relationship and marriage like mine because we are just so darn happy. We have been married for 21 years. We are looking forward to our retirement and to grandkids. We still hold hands…
Feeling equally as convicted, a Christian answered the question like this:
I knew before I got married that I would raise my children as Christians, and that my husband had to be Christian too. It was a deal-breaker…
One of the things I’ve discovered about having kids is that I’ve had to re-evaluate my own faith life in the process of introducing them to God. And sometimes that self-evaluation is a little painful.
…Like a lot of things, it is a journey.
It’s plain to see that both comments spring from a tender and passionate place, a place where the belief that a relationship either is or is not helped out by the presence of religion… is truly fundamental.
But the question can’t be condensed to an all-or-nothing assessment, a grand debate between two opposing forces. If you think the answer depends simply on whether or not a person is a “believer” or practices religion, consider a third viewpoint, also an answer to the complex question – “How important is religion in your relationship?”
Moderately. I wish we were more religious. A few years ago, we began a concerted search to find something that fits us but we’re still looking. On Sundays, I just feel remiss, like something is missing, and my husband feels the same way.
It’s not uncommon for laypeople to disagree. Ask three of your neighbors a question about – well, anything really – and you’ll likely get three different answers. We then look to research for answers. Perhaps something scientifically “provable” can wrap up a neatly packaged answer to this multifaceted question for us. In a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology that set out to answer the very question raised by the Denver Post, researchers found that “Greater religiousness appeared to decrease the risk of divorce and facilitate marital functioning…” Additionally, the study suggested that “greater parental religiousness relates to more positive parenting and better child adjustment.” However, the complex question regarding the importance of religion in a relationship still is not reduced to simple answers. The same study found that increased religiousness correlated with greater corporal punishment in children prior to adolescence. In other words, religious folk spank more. This raises an entirely new set of questions about the role of religion in relationships (ones that can’t likely be answered in this or any, one blog article). The study also acknowledged its own limitations.
Dr. Patrick Fagan, Research Fellow in Family and Cultural Issues at the Heritage Foundation, will argue (and rather persuasively) that couples must have religion as an integral part of their marriages. The practice of Religion, says Fagan, “is a powerful antidote to many of our nation’s pressing social problems…” But why? Dr. Fagan cites a study led by Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia which revealed:
…the more frequently husbands attended religious services, the happier their wives said they were with the level of affection and understanding that they received and the amount of time that their husbands spent with them.
The study went on to report that 60 percent of married couples who attended religious services at least monthly perceived their marriages as “very satisfactory.” This contrasted with 43 percent of couples who attended religious services fewer times or not at all and felt their marriages were happy.
Religion. Great for… the Bedroom?
Dr. Fagan says, “yes.” He cites earlier research, as well, that found a strong link between religious practice and marital sexuality. In the study, “very religious women had greater satisfaction in sexual intercourse with their husbands than did moderately religious or non-religious women.”
Various research does – and rather convincingly – suggest that there’s something about religion and marriage.
What is it about Religion?
In the argument “for religion” with marriage, Dr. Patrick Fagan also points to research conducted by Christopher Ellison of the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues. They found that couples who acknowledged a divine purpose in their marriage were:
- More likely to collaborate
- More likely to have more successful marital adjustment
- More likely to perceive the benefits of marriage
- Less likely to use aggression or to come to a stalemate in their disagreements
Also, adds Fagan, “earlier research found that couples whose marriages lasted 30 years or more reported that their faith helped them to deal with difficult times, was a source of moral guidance in making decisions and dealing with conflict, and encouraged them to maintain their commitment to their marriages.”
So the question that still remains can be answered like this: There are undoubtedly positives to sharing core beliefs and values with your spouse or partner. There are also undoubtedly positives about having a set of guidelines that help to lead couples when life gets fast, complicated, and – at times – downright harrowing. Whether core beliefs, values and guidelines can only be derived from religion is another matter.
If you’re truly struggling with the question of whether or not a difference from your partner with regards to religion may lead to your eventual downfall, it just may. The takeaway? Trust your gut about the importance religion plays or will eventually play in your own relationship. Other people’s opinions, as well as their relationships, don’t really matter in this case. Yours do.
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