Spiritual Resources in Coping with Divorce: Seeking Spiritual Harmony with God, Self, and Others

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Overview on Spiritual Resources in Coping in General  

  • In 1997, Pargament published The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, and Practice which documented the power and prevalence of religious and spiritual involvement in the coping process.  Since that time, hundreds of studies have examined the rich and complex roles of spirituality and religion when individuals are faced with major life traumas and transitions.
  • Terminology. Much of the research on spiritual resources is referred to as “positive religious coping,” but we and other researchers have begun to use the term “spiritual resources in coping" instead. Why? 
    • Because people who avoid organized religion have been found to rely on spiritual coping resources in times of trouble. 
    • Because people can draw on religious resources to pursue goals that they do not view as spiritually significant.
  • See Defining Religion & Spirituality for more on our approach to defining religion & spirituality.

What empirical research has been done on Spiritual Resources in Coping with Divorce? 

  • Despite considerable research on spiritual resources on other topics, scarce systematic research has focused directly on spiritual resources to cope with divorce or parental divorce. Nevertheless, the Relational Spirituality Framework highlights that people may turn to spiritual resources to respond to a divorce or the dissolution of a cohabiting or loving relationship.  
  • Prior quantitative studies on spirituality and adjustment to a divorce or parental divorce has relied heavily on indirect measures, such as frequency of religious attendance or overall importance of religion in daily life, to gauge whether divorcees or their offspring turn to and benefit from specific spiritual resources to cope with divorce. Yet in qualitative interviews, many women and children from divorced families report using faith to cope with the divorce. Below we summarize our efforts to examine specific spiritual resources to cope with divorce. In these studies, we drew on research on spiritual resources with non-family stressors. 

How do we define & measure Spiritual  Resources in Coping with Divorce? 

  • For the purposes of this web site, spiritual resources in coping refer to seeking harmony with God/Higher Power, and within oneself and other people about spirituality and religion during stressful times, like adjusting to a divorce.
  • In this web site, we distinguish three types of spiritual resources in coping with divorce: 
    • Divine coping resources - seeking harmony with God/Higher power   
    • Internal/Intrapsychic struggles-  seeking harmony within the self about spirituality & religion
    • Interpersonal/Communal struggles - seeking harmony with other people about spirituality & religion (family members, friends, clergy, community members, or the larger culture) 
  • Researchers have used various approaches over the past 20 years to define spiritual resources to cope with stressful life events. See Constructs & Our Measures for a helpful summary of different approaching to thinking about & assessing spiritual resources.

How do we define & measure Divine Spiritual Resources in Coping with Pregnancy Stressors for psychological research?

  • We define Spiritual Resources in Coping as seeking harmony with God, within the self and with others spiritually. To unpack this definition, it is useful to define harmony. We define harmony as agreement in feeling or opinion. An individual may seek harmony internally or with others when faced with stressors that threaten his or her most important goals and/or block pathways to reach those goals. When problems arise, building a strong sense of harmony internally and with others can help people rework their goals or offer useful methods to help them reach their goals despite obstacles. 
  • When a divorce occurs, people may make efforts to seek harmony internally or with other people or with God when problems arise.  For example, an individual may seek harmony with God in interpreting why the divorce occurred and in trying to respond to divorce. Seeking harmony in one's relationship with God about the divorce can lead to behaviors, emotions and thoughts that can be adaptive and helpful in some divorces. Individuals may also seek to build or repair an internal sense of spiritual harmony when divorce occurs by living up to their spiritual standards (e.g., forgiving the ex-spouse) and engaging in spiritual activities to bring an inner sense of peace and forgiveness. Individuals may also seek to solidarity with other people who share their spiritual views about how to come to terms with the divorce. 
  • Dr. Elizabeth Krumrei spearheaded a series of studies on the role of spirituality and divorce. Dr. Heidi Warner followed up with a parallel study on college students coping with parental divorce. For both projects, we used a variety of sub-scales from Pargament’s R-COPE to assess spiritual resources to cope with post-divorce adjustment. See Constructs/Our Measures for more information about the history and development of the R-COPE and Spiritual Struggles Sub-scales.
  • Sample items & Instructions to Divorcees: The following statements describe specific ways that people might cope with stressors associated with divorce. xxxx
  • Spiritual Spiritual Resources
    • Saw my situation as part of God’s plan.
    • Tried to find a lesson from God in the event.
    • Tried to see how God might be trying to strengthen me in this situation.
    • Tried to put my plans into action together with God.
    • Worked together with God as partners.
    • Tried to make sense of the situation with God.
    • Did my best and then turned the situation over to God.
    • Did what I could and put the rest in God’s hands.
    • Took control over what I could, and gave the rest up to God.
  • Spiritual struggles - a.k.a. in literature as negative spiritual\religious coping (80% of adults endorsed)
    • Defn = coping efforts to conserve or transform a spirituality that has been threatened or harmed
    •   3 types of spiritual struggles would presumably undermine divorce adjustment   
    • - Struggles with the Divine - struggles conflict in one’s relationship, thoughts, and feelings toward God. E.g.’s: Wondered what I did for God to punish me;  Questioned God’s love or power
    • - Struggles centered on a spiritual community - support from relationships with co-believers. E.g.,  Disagreed with what the church wanted me to do or believe;  Felt my church seemed to be rejecting or ignoring me.
    • - Internal struggles centered on own spiritual identity - internal questions, doubts, and uncertainties about spiritual matters separate from felt relationship with God.  E.g., Spiritual guilt or shame or unforgivability; Doubt about one’s spiritual integrity.
  • Spiritual resources - a.k.a. in literature as positive spiritual coping (90% of adults endorsed) Defn = coping efforts to draw on spirituality and\or religion to respond adaptively to a stressful life event
    • 3 types of spiritual coping that would presumably help divorce adjustment
    • - Resources centered on God - support derived from one’s relationship, thoughts, and feelings toward God. E.g.,  Looked to God for a new direction in life; tried to find a lesson from God in the event
    • - Resources centered on a spiritual community - support from relationships with co-believers. E.g., Looked for spiritual support from clergy;  Looked for love and concern from church members
    • - Resources centered on own spiritual identity - discovering, accessing, or re-establishing elements of one's own spiritual identity. E.g., See my life is part of a larger spiritual force; see how situation could be spiritual benefit
  • Spiritual struggles resources are most commonly measured by the 7-item Positive Religious Coping subscale from the Brief RCOPE (Pargament, Feuille, & Burdzy, 2011). See Constructs/Our Measures for all items on the Brief RCOPE & longer scales to more fully assess spiritual resources and struggles.

Related Articles 

Hawley, A. R., Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., & Gordon, A. K. (2015). Sexuality and spirituality as predictors of distress over a romantic breakup: Mediated and moderated pathways. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 2,145 – 159. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/scp0000034

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/j.1741-3729.2010.00635.x

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.

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.

Updated: 03/17/2021 11:15PM