The Couple that Prays Together Is Happier Together
In modern society, is it still true that “the family that prays together, stays together”? A recently published essay by W. Bradford Wilcox from the Institute for Family Studies responds in the affirmative: yes, religious married couples and families are happier than non-religious couples. In general, religious families seem to have “more happiness, greater stability, and a deeper sense of meaning in American family life.”
Drawing from research in Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love, and Marriage Among African Americans and Latinos (a book co-authored by Wilcox), the essay stated that couples where both partners attend church reported a higher marital satisfaction than couples who do not attend church. Among whites, blacks, and Latinos, 70%, 69%, and 71% of respondents, respectively, who do not attend church qualified their marriage as “very happy” or “extremely happy,” while 79%, 78%, and 80% of respondents who do attend church together qualified their marriage in the same way.
According to Wilcox, religion “fosters norms that strengthen marriages,” such as life-long fidelity and the “til death do us part” commitment of marriage. His research found two additional factors that help explain the power of shared religious beliefs in marriage, one social and one spiritual. Nearly half of religious couples form friendships with fellow church-goers. These friends, rooted in a common faith, can offer support and encouragement in tough situations, whether leading by example or having recourse to faith precepts. Additionally, shared prayer can help a marriage flourish. Prayer “helps couples deal with stress, enables them to focus on shared beliefs and hopes for the future, and allows them to deal constructively with challenges and problems in their relationship.”
More than three-quarters (76%) of couples whose friends attend religious services reported as “very happy” or “extremely happy,” contrasted with 65% of couples whose friends do not. Similarly, 78% of couples who pray together weekly marked their relationship as “very happy” or “extremely happy” against 61% of couples who do not pray together. Overall, black, Latino, and white couples who attend church together, where they can socialize with friends who share their beliefs and values, and who pray together are significantly happier than couples who do not do these things.
Shared religious attendance is also linked with less divorce. Recent research from Harvard professor Tyler VanderWeele backs this up. In a sample of thousands of middle-aged women across the US, those who regularly attend church are 47% less likely to be divorced than those women who do not regularly attend. In general, church attendance is linked with a reduction in divorce by more than 30 percent. VanderWeele offers four theories explaining how religion is connected to less divorce. One, most religions teach that marriage is sacred, a message that is reinforced by regular attendance of church services and church-related events. Two, many religions have strong teachings against divorce and adultery. Three, religions emphasize love, sacrifice, and putting another’s needs before one’s own, which can increase quality of married life. Finally, faith communities often provide support and resources for married couples and families.
This is good news for the Church. It is clear that commitment to religion is a big factor in strengthening and maintaining healthy marriages and family relationships. The results of this study are a good opportunity for members of the Church to renew their effort in strengthening family life ministry. Resources and programs can be offered that foster both the spiritual and social aspects of a parish community.
About the Author
Caty Long is a rising second year Master of Theological Studies student at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and currently an office assistant for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth at the USCCB.