Belief in the sanctity of marriage is a strong predictor of marital quality, according to research published May 24 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
The findings suggest that religious and spiritual beliefs can act as a mental buffer against marital distress. The Judeo-Christian religious tradition in particular teaches that marriage is a sacred institution, providing couples with a divine imperative to protect and value their holy bond.
The study was conducted by Laura Stafford of the University of Kentucky and her colleagues, Prabu David and Sterling McPherson of Washington State University.
The study of 342 married heterosexual couples found belief marriage was “a reflection of God’s will” or “an expression of my spirituality or religiousness” was associated with better marital quality. Belief in the sanctity of marriage was also associated with higher levels of forgiveness and self-sacrifice.
“Previous research has shown that perceived sanctity of one’s marriage is an important contributor to marital satisfaction, which has led to various speculations on the potential mechanisms through which it might operate,” the researchers wrote in the study.
Stafford and her colleagues hypothesized that belief in the sanctity of marriage increased marital quality by increasing forgiveness and self-sacrifice. But using a statistical method known as factor analysis, they found no evidence that forgiveness and self-sacrifice acted as the conduit for belief in the sanctity of marriage.
Instead, belief in the sanctity of marriage appeared to directly effect marital quality.
“Overall, our findings raise the question as to whether sanctity of marriage is a mindful phenomenon that leads couples to reframe negativity and helps them manage negative attitudes or events better,” the researchers explained in the study. “Furthermore, if partners believe that their marriage is sanctified, perhaps, such a belief is inherently linked to satisfaction regardless of the forgiveness or lack thereof (or the engagement in sacrificial behavior) by one’s spouse.”
Stafford and her colleagues cautioned that the scope of their study was limited due to their sample, which contained a disproportionately large number of highly educated, high-income white couples. Roughly two-thirds of the couples were Christian.