Why Religious Couples Thrive in a Pandemic
It may seem that in the grips of an international pandemic – a time when hope and meaning are in greater need and even shorter supply – that closing the doors of places of worship would have greatly damaged the faith of individuals and couples seeking refuge within their homes. However, a recent study suggests a religious recipe for relationship realization that can work whether religious gatherings happen or don’t.
The survey of more than 16,000 people across 11 countries sought to discover how patterns of home worship – praying individually and as a family, reading holy writ, and talking about faith in the home – were linked to more satisfying relationships.
While just 8% of our sample consistently engaged in each of these activities themselves with their romantic partner (a group we call shared home-worshippers), these couples reported the highest quality relationships. Interestingly, women from the shared home-worshipper group were twice as likely to report high relationship quality compared to those in the shared secular group, where respondents and their parents engaged in none of these activities. In the United States alone, home-worshipper couples were about twice as likely to report being in a high-quality relationship compared to shared secular couples.
These findings are consistent with a report from Pew Research, also published earlier this year, which found that some 25% of survey participants reported that their faith actually increased amid the pandemic when most churches were not holding in-person services.
Why does religiosity in couples seem to have a significant effect on relationship quality? In an effort to explain why home-worshipping couples reported higher relationship quality – and consequently higher relationship satisfaction, stability, and commitment – the report analyzed other responses from the home-worshipping couples in order to try and explain the correlation.
Home-worshipping couples reported higher levels of relationship commitment and that they felt “close and engaged in [their] relationship.” Commitment is a big component of relationship satisfaction. In fact, in a recent study that surveyed 43 data sets in an attempt to determine the most important components of marital satisfaction, the variable that was shown to be the most influential was perceived partner commitment. In other words, if you perceive that your partner is committed to your relationship, you will be more satisfied with the relationship.
Commitment to religious worship in the home is the key difference between the home-worshippers group and the attenders group, made up of couples who attend church on a weekly basis but do not engage often in personal and family prayer, study of holy writ, or religious discussions. Therefore, it is logical to see that couples who have the capacity to make firm commitments to home-centered worship practices would also be most likely to keep commitments to their partner, ultimately leading to greater overall relationship satisfaction.
Interestingly enough, in that same study, sexual satisfaction was found to be the third most influential variable of relationship satisfaction. It is no surprise therefore that home-worshipping couples were significantly more likely to be highly satisfied with their sexual relationship, compared with couples in a shared secular relationship. Women in shared home-worshipping relationships were found to be twice as likely to be sexually satisfied from the international data, and three-times as likely to be sexually satisfied from data gathered in the United States. These are numbers that cannot be ignored.
Even more interesting was the fact that the shared secular group was not found to share the higher levels of sexual satisfaction that were enjoyed by the home-worshippers group. This important fact suggests that religiosity within couples strongly correlates with relationship satisfaction. Why? It may be that the participatory nature of home-centered ritual reflects greater relationship communication. This isn’t necessarily true when couples attend a religious service together – depending on the congregation, the experience be a more passive or social, but either way, it’s unlikely to focus on having couples communicate directly with one another.
Shared Decision Making
One other important aspect that can affect relationship satisfaction, especially for women, is the act of shared decision making within the relationship. Women from the shared home-worshipping group were noted to be significantly more likely to report joint decision making, as compared to women in the shared secular group.
The effect of shared decision making on marital satisfaction, especially for women, is not a new finding. In a longitudinal study that followed married women for 15 years during their midlife marriages (about 35 to 50 years old), researchers concluded that women who reported more perceived equality in their marriage also reported higher levels of happiness. The results of the study are consistent with previous findings and demonstrate that a few of the immediate marital benefits for women are strongly correlated with equality in marriages. As Naomi Schaefer Riley and Hal Boyd observed recently in the New York Post, “It isn’t surprising, then, that when both partners are participating in these home-based rituals, women are more satisfied. Indeed, it probably means that the men in these relationships are following their lead.”
Additionally, it seems, a more personal dedication to living the pro-social elements of one’s faith can’t help but bring great benefits to both a couple’s relationship satisfaction and their overall happiness. Commitment, sexual satisfaction, shared decision making, and overall relationship satisfaction represent just a fraction of the benefits that were correlated with the shared home-worshipper couples.
While comparing the highly religious and the highly secular serves as a study in contrasts, there are also important distinctions between church attenders and church worshippers – between those who are engaged in processes that enhance domestic relations beyond just their experience in church pews. Whereas religiosity has often been seen as a combination of various religious practices, most often marked by church attendance, it is now evident that when private commitments and practices are teased out, we see powerful differences, since what is happening in the heart and in the home may be more impactful than church attendance alone.
Liz HoChing recently graduated from BYU with a Bachelors in Family Studies. Her favorite pastimes include reading, eating Oreo cookies, and spending time with her family.
Spencer L. James is an Associate Professor in the School of Family Life and a Wheatley Institution Fellow at Brigham Young University. His research focuses on global family relationships and how those relationships influence the wellbeing of children, adolescents, and adults.