The Psychology of Spirituality & Family Relationships
Sanctification of Marriage or Relationship: Seeing a Union as Sacred
What is the Sanctification of Marriage/Couple relationship? What do people say about the sanctity of their union?
- “It's sacred not only because I love him and he's my best friend, but because we made a vow to God to love each other and be together. That does make it special knowing that God solidified our union and that it's not just boyfriend-girlfriend” - heterosexual woman pregnant with her & her husband's first child (Mahoney, Pargament, & DeMaris, 2008).
- “Well, we believe He brought us together. You know, so He played a role in the start. And I don’t think that we’d be together anymore if we didn’t have God in the middle” - heterosexual couple in long-term marriage (Lambert & Dollahite, 2008).
- "(My partner) would always say, ‘I feel like God has given us this relationship,’ or ‘I feel like this is meant to be, that this was a gift to us......our relationship has really made me feel blessed in a way that I have not felt since I was maybe a little bitty girl’’ - lesbian woman in same-sex union (Rostosky, Riggle Brodnicki, & Olson, 2008).
How do we define the Sanctification of Marriage/Relationship for psychological research?
- We define sanctification as viewing an aspect of life as having divine significance and meaning.
- We distinguish two types of the sanctification in our research:
- Sacred Qualities of Marriage/Relationship (non-theistic sanctification) is defined as viewing one's marriage/relationship as having sacred qualities associated with divinity, including attributes of transcendence, ultimate value and purpose, and boundlessness.
- Manifestation of God in Marriage/Relationship (theistic or God-centered sanctification) is defined as viewing one's marriage/relationship as a manifestation of one's images, beliefs, or experiences of God.
- See For Researchers for list of published studies on the perceived sanctity of many aspects of life - marriage, cohabiting relationships, sexuality in and out of marriage, parenting, major life strivings, one’s physical body, the environment.
How do we measure the Sanctification of Marriage/Relationship for psychological research?
- For our transition to parenthood study, we used our Revised Sanctification of Marriage scale with married couples pregnant with their first child. Below are the 3 items that our couples most often endorsed for each type of sanctification.
- Sacred Qualities of Marriage/Relationship - Rvd (non-theistic sanctification)
- My marriage is sacred to me - 93% of wives and 90% of husbands
- My marriage seems like a miracle to me - 88% of wives and 73% of husbands
- My marriage connects my spouse and me to something greater than ourselves - 84% of wives and 78% of husbands.
- Manifestation of God in Marriage/Relationship - Rvd (theistic sanctification)
- God played a role in how I ended up being married to my spouse - 86% of wives and 79% of husbands
- I see God's handiwork in my marriage - 84% of wives and 74% of husbands
- In mysterious ways, God touches my marriage - 79% of wives and 74% of husbands
- For original and revised copies of entire Sanctification of Marriage scales, click For Researchers/Our Measures
Does the Sanctification of Marriage help?
- Yes, viewing one’s marriage as sacred can help couples.
- For both husbands and wives, greater sanctification of marriage is tied to
- Greater feelings of love for one’s spouse (self-reported & observed)
- Less negativity and hostility directed toward spouse (self-reported, partner-reported & observed)
- Better communication skills (self-report, partner-reported & observed)
- More personal satisfaction with the union
- For cohabiting individuals, greater sanctification of their relationship is tied to more satisfaction with their union.
What are new findings From our transition to parenthood study?
- New findings from our transition to parenthood project show that higher sanctity of marriage predicts more loving, positive behavior by both spouses based on direct observation of their marital interactions from the time they were pregnant to when their first baby was one year old. These findings are especially important because direct observation of marital interactions were used, rather than relying only on spouses’ reports of their communication patterns in daily life.
- In addition, longitudinal data were used, and stable, unmeasured characteristics of each spouses were controlled (eg., personality traits, intelligence, social desirability) using fixed effects modeling.
- Further, higher sanctification of marriage longitudinally predicted greater reports by spouses feeling a stronger sense of love for their mate over time.
How sacred is your marriage/relationship compared to couples in our project?
- Go to For Families/Quizzes page to find out how.
FAQs about married couples viewing their marriage as sacred
- What does “endorsed" mean in statistics listed above (e.g., 93% of wives and 90% of husbands endorsed "My marriage is sacred to me.")?
- It means that spouses rated the sanctification item as a "5" "6" or "7" on a 1-7 scale, with 4 being equal to “neutral” and 7 being equal to “strongly agree.”
- Coefficient alpha = .98.
- Sources: See Suggested Readings below; 1st study 1999
- Who was in our study of married couples having their first baby?
- These were 164 heterosexual couples from Midwestern U.S. who were demographically similar to other married heterosexual couples across the U.S. in "traditional families" where neither spouse had a child from a previous relationship and the couple married before the baby was born. For example, as a group, our couples were very similar to other American married couples having their first child together in terms of the wives' and husbands' level of education, and the couples' household income.
- Were these couples highly religious?
- No. They attended religious services about as often as other married U.S. couples with children. So, they were not highly religiously compared to other married couples in the US with young children.
- What is the overlap between theistic and non-theistic sanctification?
- These two types of sanctification tend to overlap quite a bit when it comes to marriage for heterosexual couples in traditional families. Many heterosexuals tend to endorse both kinds of questions in a similar manner. But a fair number of people will endorse the non-theistic (sacred quality) items and not necessarily the theistic (manifestation of God) items.
- The degree of overlap between God-centered/theistic & non-theistic beliefs varies, depending on what topic is being assessed. For marriage, the overlap is fairly high. But we developed both theistic and non-theistic questions to allow for the possibility that people who do not have a strong belief in a Higher Power or God, or who may not be highly involved in organized religion, might still view as aspect of life as possessing divine characteristics often attributed to a deity and positive supernatural phenomenon.
- What, if any, risks are associated with sanctification?
- If a sacred aspect of life is lost or violated, people tend suffer more emotionally, and to be more hostile toward those held responsible for the injury. For examples of research on sacred loss and desecration, go to the page on Divorce
Additional Suggested Readings
- Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., & DeMaris, A. (2009). Couples viewing marriage and pregnancy through the lens of the Sacred: A descriptive study. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 20, 1-45.
- Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., & Hernandez, K. M. (in press). Heaven on earth: Beneficial effects of sanctification for individual and interpersonal well-being. J. Henry (Ed.), Oxford Book of Happiness. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- DeMaris, A., Mahoney, A. & Pargament, K. I. (2010). Sanctification of marriage and general religiousness as buffers of the effects of marital inequity. Journal of Family Issues, 31, 1255-1278.
- Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Murray-Swank, A. & Murray-Swank, N. (2003). Religion and the sanctification of family relationships. Review of Religious Research, 40, 220-236.
- Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Jewell, T., Swank, A. B., Scott, E., Emery, E., & Rye, M. (1999). Marriage and the spiritual realm: The role of proximal and distal religious constructs in marital functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 13, 321-338.
- First systematic empirical study on sanctification