Religion or Spirituality Has Positive Impact on Romantic/Marital Relationships, Child Development, Research Shows


Adolescents who attend religious services with one or both of their parents are more likely to feel greater well-being while romantic partners who pray for their "significant others" experience greater relationship commitment.

WASHINGTON — Adolescents who attend religious services with one or both of their parents are more likely to feel greater well-being while romantic partners who pray for their “significant others” experience greater relationship commitment, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

These were among the findings of studies published in two special sections of APA’s Journal of Family Psychology® looking at how spiritual beliefs or behaviors have appeared to strengthen generally happy marriages and how a person’s religious and/or spiritual functioning may influence that of his or her family members.

“These studies exemplify an emerging subfield called relational spirituality, which focuses on the ways that diverse couples and families can rely on specific spiritual beliefs and behaviors, for better or worse, to motivate them to create, maintain and transform their intimate relationships,” according to Annette Mahoney, PhD, of Bowling Green State University, and Annamarie Cano, PhD, of Wayne State University, who edited special sections in the December and October issues of the journal. “Hopefully, publishing these articles will spur more research on ways that religion and spirituality can help or harm couples’ and families’ relationships and encourage more interchange between family psychology and the psychology of religion and spirituality.”

The December issue features five studies that offer novel insights into how religiosity or spiritualism affect children’s development and influence the importance of religion in their own lives.

The October section comprises four studies that focus on the ways that couples can draw on religious/spiritual beliefs and behaviors to transform their unions and help them cope with adversity. “Each of the studies in the October special section moves beyond general measures of people’s involvement in organized religion or spirituality and investigates specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors that appear to influence marital adjustment and human development,” according to APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, editor of the Journal of Family Psychology. “All the studies present rigorous research into the roles that religion and spirituality can play in enhancing family well-being.”

Articles in the December issue

Religious Socialization in African American Families: The Relative Influence of Parents, Grandparents, and Siblings (PDF, 110KB) by Ian A. Gutierrez, MA, University of Connecticut; Lucas J. Goodwin, MA, New York University; Katherine Kirkinis, MA, Teachers College, Columbia University; and Jacqueline S. Mattis, PhD, New York University.

Looking at three generations, the researchers found that mothers have the most consistently positive influence on the religious lives of their children “because they are socialized to transmit critical values, beliefs and practices across generations, and because they embrace norms of femininity that reinforce such roles.” Additionally, grandparents — especially grandmothers — play a significant role in the religious socialization of grandchildren in African-American families, according to this research.

Contact: Ian Gutierrez

Neighborhood Disorder, Spiritual Well-Being, and Parenting Stress in African American Women (PDF, 98KB) by Dorian A. Lamis, PhD, and Christina K. Wilson, PhD, Emory University School of Medicine; Nicholas Tarantino, MA, Georgia State University; Jennifer E. Lansford, PhD, Duke University; and Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, Emory University School of Medicine

Low-income African-American women who were primary caregivers of children between 8 and 12 and lived in disorderly neighborhoods experienced lower levels of parenting stress if they exhibited existential and/or religious well-being, according to this study.

Contact: Nadine Kaslow

Family, Religious Attendance, and Trajectories of Psychological Well-Being Among Youth (PDF, 201KB) by Richard J. Petts, PhD, Ball State University

Attending religious services with a parent or parents in late childhood is associated with greater psychological well-being as children age, according to this study, which looked at data on 5,739 youths over 15 years. “Even though attending services with parents may not reflect youth’s own religious beliefs (as they may not have a choice in attending), it may help to increase adolescents’ feelings of connectedness to both their parents and the larger religious community,” the author wrote.

Contact: Richard Petts

Does Adolescents’ Religiousness Moderate Links Between Harsh Parenting and Adolescent Substance Use? (PDF, 95KB) by Jungmeen Kim-Spoon, PhD, Julee P. Farley, PhD, and Christopher J. Holmes, MS, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Gregory S. Longo, PhD, University of Montevallo

Adolescents with access to religious resources are less likely to engage in substance abuse when coping with harsh parenting and poor self-control, these researchers found. “Religiousness may have the potential to negate the impact of high stress levels associated with experiencing harsh parenting and improve adolescent health and well-being within families who were not involved in clinical or social services for adolescent substance abuse or parental maltreatment,” the authors wrote.

Contact: Jungmeen Kim-Spoon

Adolescents’ Relationship With God and Internalizing Adjustment Over Time: The Moderating Role of Maternal Religious Coping (PDF, 173KB), by Marcie C. Goeke-Morey, PhD, Catholic University of America; Laura K. Taylor, PhD, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Christine E. Merrilees, PhD, University of Notre Dame; Peter Shirlow, PhD, Queen’s University Belfast; and E. Mark Cummings, PhD, University of Notre Dame

Youths who had stronger relationships with God were less likely to suffer from internalizing adjustment problems, but only if their mothers used more religious coping, according to the researchers. On the other hand, teens’ internalizing problems predicted that they would feel a weaker relationship with God, the study found.

Contact: Marcie C. Goeke-Morey

Special section articles in the October issue include

I Say a Little Prayer for You: Praying for Partner Increases Commitment in Romantic Relationships (PDF, 95KB), by Frank D Fincham, PhD, FSU Family Institute, Florida State University, and Steven R.H. Beach, PhD, University of Georgia

“Partner-focused petitionary prayer” (PFPP), in which one partner prays for the well-being of his or her romantic partner, increases the level of commitment to the relationship experienced by the praying partner. “In practical contexts, it suggests that PFPP is useful to relationships by increasing one’s own relationship quality and so can provide a helpful adjunct to other relationship enhancement activities,” the authors wrote. They caution, however, that they are not recommending prayer for all couples, only for spiritual couples who already pray.

Contact: Frank Fincham

Sanctification of Marriage and Spiritual Intimacy Predicting Observed Marital Interactions Across the Transition to Parenthood (PDF, 81KB), by Katherine G. Kusner, PhD, Annette Mahoney, PhD, Kenneth I. Pargament, PhD, and Alfred Demaris, PhD, Bowling Green State University

The more spiritual intimacy couples say they share, the better they handle their top three topics of conflict, according to this study. Additionally, couples who viewed their marriage as sacred had more positive marital interactions. Couples’ ratings of their spiritual intimacy were based on how often they revealed their spiritual beliefs, questions and doubts to each other, and listened supportively to each other’s spiritual disclosures. It didn’t matter whether the spouses were blue-collar employees with high school educations or wealthy professionals with advanced college degrees — the results were the same.

Contact: Annette Mahoney

Compassionate Love as a Mechanism Linking Sacred Qualities of Marriage to Older Couples’ Marital Satisfaction (PDF, 110KB), by Allen K. Sabey, MA, and Amy J. Rauer, PhD, Auburn University, and Jakob F. Jensen, PhD, East Carolina University

Among older couples (average age 71), the perceived sanctity of their long-term unions predicted both husbands’ and wives’ marital satisfaction, according to this study. When wives reported that they viewed their marriage as suffused with sacred qualities, this tended to predict that both spouses would say they were more satisfied. The authors theorize that compassionate love may provide the motivation for couples to genuinely care for each other while minimizing the emotional costs traditionally associated with providing high levels of caregiving later in life.

Contact: Allen Sabey

Copies of articles are also available from APA Public Affairs, (202) 336-5700.

Special Section: Religion and Spirituality in Family Life: Pathways Between Relational Spirituality, Family Relationships and Personal Well-Being (PDF, 53KB), Journal of Family Psychology, December 2014

Special Section: Religion and Spirituality in Family Life: Delving Into Relational Spirituality for Couples (PDF, 55KB), Journal of Family Psychology, October 2014

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 130,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

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