Divorce

For Better Findings - Can Relational Spirituality Help Coping with Divorce & Uncoupling? 

  • Yes, relational spirituality can be a resource. “For better” refers to specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors that can help with recovery from a divorce or relationship dissolution. We and other researchers have begun to publish peer-reviewed, scientific studies that directly measure specific spiritual resources to help parents and their offspring cope well with a family divorce, or help young adults cope well with their own relationship break-ups. Below is one example of a spiritual resource. Related studies include people who are involved in organized religion to the same degree or less than their peers.     

For Worse Findings - Can Relational Spirituality Harm Coping with Divorce & Uncoupling?

  • Yes, relational spirituality can be a problem. "For worse” refers to specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors that can harm recovery from a divorce or relationship dissolution. We and other researchers have begun to publish peer-reviewed, scientific studies that directly measure specific spiritual problems that can intensify difficulties coping with a family divorce or a relationship break-up. Below are two examples of spiritual problems. Related studies include people who are involved in organized religion to the same degree or less than their peers.

 

General Findings on Involvement in Organized Religion and Preventing Divorce? 

  • Scientific evidence suggests that higher involvement in organized religion is relevant to preventing divorce in contemporary families, much like religion is relevant to the lives of individuals, at least in the US. (See Defining Religion and Spiritualty)
  • Approximately 4 studies from 2000-2009 studies relied on 1 or 2 general questions about the prevention of divorce and one or both spouse's religiousness. Examples of general questions on religiousness include how often people say they attend worship services or how important they say religion is to their daily life. 
  • Like studies from earlier decades, higher levels of these studies found that 
    • greater importance of religion and attendance at any place of worship by married individuals decreases their risk of getting divorced over time. 
    • greater similarity between spouses in how often they attend religious services or interpret the Bible decreases the risk of divorce over time.
  • Several limitations exist about findings about the prevention of future divorce based on general questions about religiousness.  
    • Higher religiousness is statistically but only weakly linked to lowered divorce rates.  
    • We don’t know much about WHY or HOW higher religiousness is tied to lower divorce rates. General questions about religiousness make it impossible to untangle specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors about divorce that may increase or decrease the future risk of divorce. 
    • Studies on the future risk of divorce provide no insights into how religiousness may help or harm recovery from a divorce when it occurs. General questions about religiousness also make it impossible to untangle specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors that people may use to cope when divorce. For example, a therapist who learns that a divorcing or divorced client attends a theologically conservative or liberal church twice a month would have few clues about specific spiritual beliefs the client holds about divorce that could be part of the problem or the solution in individual, co-parenting, or family difficulties after the divorce.  

General Findings on Involvement in Organized Religion and Coping with Divorce?  

  •  Sizable percentages of Americans who are involved in organized religion have been divorced. For example, one 2008 national survey found that 28% of Catholics, 34% of Protestants, and 33% of "born again" Christians had experienced a divorce in the past (http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released). These figures do not count the significant number of people who exit from organized religion after a divorce but still believe in God.
  • Surprisingly scarce research using general questions about religiousness and post-divorce adjustment exist, despite how often this family transition happens. These studies show that 
    • adults who divorce and youth whose parents divorce are more likely to switch from one denomination to another. 
    • youth whose parents divorce are more likely to decrease or stop their involvement organized religion, especially if they were previously moderately or highly involved.
    • divorce does not typically decrease adults or their offspring's overall belief in or sense of closeness to God.
  • Very scarce research exists on general questions about faith and adjusting to the dissolution of a cohabiting or romantic relationship. 
  • However 6 peer-reviewed scientific studies were published from 1999-2009 on specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors about recovering from a divorce. These initial studies show that many people do turn to God to cope with divorce in helpful ways (see Spiritual Resources in Coping with Divorce).  But people can also experience spiritual problems that undermine post-divorce adjustment and can intensify personal or family distress (see  Divorce as a Sacred Loss and Desecration, Spiritual Struggles in Coping with Divorce).

 

Additional Suggested Readings

  • Mahoney, A., Krumrei, E. J., & Pargament, K. I. (2008). Broken vows:  Divorce as a spiritual trauma and its implications for growth and decline. In S. Joseph & P. Alex Linley (Eds.), Trauma, recovery, and growth:  Positive psychological perspectives on posttraumatic stress, pp. 105-124.  Hoboken, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Krumrei, E.J., Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. I. (2011). Spiritual stress and coping model of divorce: A longitudinal study of a community sample. Journal of Family Psychology, 25, 973-985. doi.10.1037/a0025879.
  • Krumrei, E. J. , Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. I. (2011). Demonic dimensions of divorce: The prevalence of demonization of divorce and links to adult post-divorce adjustment. Family Relations, 60, 90-103. doi: 10.1111
  • Mahoney, A., Warner, H. L., & Krumrei, E. J. (2010). Broken vows and the next generation: Recognizing and helping when parental divorce is a spiritual trauma. Counselling and Spirituality, 29, 99-125.
  • Krumrei, E. J.,  Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. I. (2009). Divorce and the Divine: The role of spirituality in adjustment to divorce. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 373-383.
  • Warner, H. L., Mahoney, A. & Krumrei, E. J. (2009). When parents break sacred vows:  The role of spiritual appraisals, coping and struggles for young adults' adjustment to parental divorce.  Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 1, 233-248.
  • Krumrei, E. J., Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. P. (2008). Turning to God to forgive: More than meets the eye. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 27, 302-310.

Related Readings

  • Mahoney, A. (in press). The spirituality of us: Relational spirituality in the context of family relationships. K. I., Pargament, J. J. Exline & J. W. Jones, (Eds.) APA handbook of psychology, religion, and spirituality: Vol I. American Psychological Association.
  • Mahoney, A. (2010). Religion in families 1999-2009: A relational spirituality framework. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 805 – 827.
  • Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Swank, A., & Tarakeshwar, N. (2001). Religion in the home in the 1980s and 90s: A meta-analytic review and conceptual analysis of religion, marriage, and parenting. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 559-596.    

Technical note: To enlarge the text that you see, go to your web browser's View button & click Zoom to increase the font displayed.