Spiritual Intimacy: Talking as "Soul Mates"

What is Spiritual Intimacy? What do couples say about Spiritual Intimacy?

  • “Developing our spiritual intimacy is the foundation for a lasting marriage.....it's the feeling of freedom that you can connect at any time and in any way about spiritual matters or issues. There is no walking on egg shells about sharing or raising a question. You live your lives in the confidence that you are connected spiritually.” (pg. 164, Becoming Soul Mates" by Les and Leslie Parrott).
  • “We make a conscious effort to share some spiritual question as it relates to a family problem, a book we've been reading, a sermon in the making, a Bible study lesson, or even political issues….The point is, not a day passes when we don't connect as a couple with the bigger spiritual picture of life." (pg. 176,  "Becoming Soul Mates" by Les and Leslie Parrott).

How do we define Spiritual Intimacy for psychological research?

  • We define spiritual intimacy as revealing your spirituality to your partner (spiritual disclosure) and listening to your partner’s disclosures in a supportive and non-judgmental fashion (spiritual support).

How do we measure Spiritual Intimacy for psychological research? 

  • Spiritual intimacy is just beginning to be studied by social scientists. To measure spiritual intimacy for our transition to parenthood study, we asked husbands and wives to answer 4 questions about their own spiritually intimate behavior and 4 questions about their spouse's spiritual intimate behavior. See all 8 items below. We combined a couple's answers about the husband to get a total score about his spirituality intimacy. We likewise combined items about the wife to get a total score about her spiritual intimacy.  
  • Spiritual Intimate Behavior - Self reports
    • I feel safe being completely open and honest with my spouse about my faith.
    • I tend to keep my spiritual side private and separate from my marriage. (reverse scored)
    • I try not to be judgmental or critical when my spouse shares his/her ideas about spirituality.
    • I try to be supportive when my spouse discloses spiritual questions or struggles.
  • Spiritual Intimate Behavior - Partner reports
    • My spouse shares his/her spiritual questions or struggles with me.
    • My spouse doesn't disclose his/her thoughts or feelings about spirituality with me. (reverse scored)
    • My spouse really knows how to listen when I talk about my spiritual needs, thoughts, and feelings.
    • My spouse is supportive when I reveal my spiritual questions or struggles to him/her.
  • Note: Partners can be the same or different in their individual spiritual or religious identity, and still engage in spiritual intimacy with each other. Our way of measuring spiritual intimacy does not require partners to be spiritually or religiously identical. On the other hand, higher mutual involvement in religion tends to be correlated with higher spiritual intimac

Does Spiritual Intimacy help a marriage or intimate relationship?

  • Yes, greater spiritual intimacy by wives and husbands predicts better marital functioning
  • For both husbands and wives, greater spiritual intimacy was tied to 
    • Greater warmth, humor, and love for one’s spouse (self-reported, partner-reported & observed)
    • Less negativity and hostility toward spouse (self-reported, partner-reported & observed)
    • Greater satisfaction with the marriage (self-reported, partner-reported & observed)

What are new findings from our Transition to Parenthood Study?

  • The more couples said that each spouse engaged in spiritually intimate behavior, the less critical or hostile both acted during videotaped marital interactions from the time they were pregnant to when their first baby was a year old. More spiritual intimacy also predicted that both wives and husbands exhibited more warmth, humor, and love toward the mate during observed marital interactions. In addition, more spiritual intimacy strongly predicted spouses’ reports of their feelings of love toward each other, better communication skills in daily life at home, and greater satisfaction with the marriage across the transition to parenthood. These findings are important because both direct observation of marital interactions and spouses’ self-reports of marital quality were used. In addition, longitudinal data were used.
  • The benefits we found of spiritual intimacy could not be explained away by stable characteristics of the spouses, such as personality traits, income, education, or their efforts to make a good impression on researchers. In contrast, how much husbands and wives said that both partners possessed good communication skills did not predict how well each parent treated each other during conflictual discussions after taking into account stable, positive characteristics of the spouses.
  • To explain these findings, we suggest that couples who have a deep spiritual connection with each other may be more motivated to remain kind and resist the urge to “go negative” when they discuss their core conflicts. In other words, couples may need a deep reason, like maintaining their level of spiritual intimacy, to remain civil and engaged when they are upset with each other. In lay person’s terms, the risk of losing your connection to your soul mate may motivate you to resist the urge to try to win a given battle when you and your partner get into difficult discussions about your core disagreements. Thus, this study identifies spiritual intimacy as one resource that may motivate new parents to preserve and protect their marriage as they cope with the stresses of becoming first-time parents together.

What are prior findings on Spiritual Disclosure - one component of Spiritual Intimacy? 

  • Spiritual disclosure refers to when two people openly discuss their spiritual journeys, questions, and doubts with one another. Greater dialogue about spiritual matters between college students and their mothers (Brelsford & Mahoney, 2008) or fathers (Brelsford, 2009) has been correlated with greater use of collaborative methods to resolve conflict. These links persisted even after taking into account how much the college student & parent discussed other sensitive topics with each other (e.g., politics, alcohol or drug use), and how much each party reported religion or spirituality to be personally important.

How much Spiritual Intimacy is in your relationship compared to couples in our project?

FAQs about assessing Spiritual Intimacy  

  • How were the 8 spiritual intimacy questions rated. Each question was rated on a 3-point scale, ranging from "not at all" (0) to "a great deal" (3). We combined self reports (4 items) & spouse reports (4 items) to get a total score for each spouse's spiritual intimate behavior. In our transition to parenthood study, we obtained four scores for each spouse during pregnancy and when the baby was 3, 6 & 12 mo old. Coefficient alphas ranged from .67-.72 for wives' spiritual intimacy, and from .70-.76 for husbands' spiritual intimacy. Source: Kusner, K. G. (2012, July). Longitudinal effects of self-reported marital strengths on couples' Observed conflictual interactions across the transition to parenthood Dissertation. Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio.

For more information on Spiritual Intimacy, go to link For Researchers, go to Constructs/Our Measures page.

Additional Suggested Readings

  • Brelsford, G. M. (2010). Interpersonal spirituality between college students and fathers. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 21, 27-48. 
  • Brelsford, G. M., & Mahoney, A. (2008). Spiritual disclosure between older adolescents and their mothers. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 62-70.