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Comments on marriage in contemporary culture: five models that might help families.

Questions are answered in relationship to innovative theoretical models derived primarily from the author's teaching experiences in family theory and methodology. Implications of the models for marital interventions by local community and church leaders as well as marital therapists are discussed.


Can you briefly describe what kind of work you are currently doing in support of Christian marriages?

Since 1979, I have been teaching about marital interaction, contemporary family theories, family research methodology (Schumm, 1993; Schumm, 2001), family intervention program evaluations, and premarital counseling (Silliman & Schumm, 1999, 2000) in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. I also have served as a research consultant on issues concerning military families, especially the impact of overseas deployments and related risk factors (Schumm, Bell, & Gade, 2000; Bell & Schumm, 2000), in addition to a project on the causes of Gulf War illnesses (Schumm, Webb, Jurich, & Bollman, 2002). I have served as a consultant to Ken Canfield's National Center for Fathering (Canfield, Schumm, Swihart, & Eggerichs, 1990) and to the Army's Chaplains programs on building strong families, as well as studying intrinsic religiosity among military personnel (Schumm, 2000). During this time I dealt with many families as a senior staff officer and commander within the U. S. Army Reserve, retiring in July 2002 after more than 30 years service (Schumm, Polk, Bryan, Fornataro, & Curry, 1998). One of my career goals has been to develop visual models to explain complex issues in ways that are easier to understand. My father had a professor at the Naval Academy in 1924 who used to say that "the picture works the puzzle." That is why much of what I have to say will revolve around five simple models that I have found useful while teaching over the years. Of course, all models are simplifications of a more complex reality; therefore, these models should be starting points for discussion, not ending points.

Although models may be interesting, we should be focusing on "Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12: 2). The models are not a substitute for professional marriage counseling or crisis counseling (Swihart & Richardson, 1987).

A number of dangers to the institution of marriage have been proposed, including cohabitation, increased religious heterogeneity, dual career issues, modern mobility, increases in the length of life, and others. Over the next decade, what do you believe will be the greatest risks to the institution of marriage? Follow up: What do you believe is the cause of high levels of divorce in the Christian community today?

There are a number of dangers to Christian marriage. In contrast to many others, my chief worry is not about the effect of "outsiders" on Christian marriage; I am worried most about the effect of "ourselves." Healthy organisms usually resist disease but unhealthy ones often succumb. In other words, I can understand why a non-believer would divorce his wife for a younger "trophy," but I am more distressed when Christians do the same thing and--more dangerously--rationalize their behavior as not only Biblically appropriate but as positively good. If we can't solve our own problems with divorce, are we not being presumptuous to tell non-believers how to solve theirs?

I have tried to develop integrated models of morality and marital interaction rather than mere lists of what is wrong. To cover the issues of dangers and the reasons for divorce, I will present two theoretical models. The first model (the "Moral Transformations" Model, see Figure 1) is about the Christian life. This model has been touched upon in a couple of previous articles (Schumm, 2001; Schumm, 2002) but is developed more fully here. Imagine a rectangle with five vertical divisions, numbered 1 through five, from left to right. The box on the far left, #1, represents total evil. The box on the right, #5, represents total good. Since none of us are totally evil all the time nor totally good all the time, the "human" boxes are #2, #3, and #4. Jesus taught us that morality was more than the difference between boxes 2 and 3, which are separated by law (e.g., do not murder, do not steal). A person can think they have followed most of the laws but still be far short of a high quality relationship with God (Matthew 19:16-30). While those who live by the moral principles in boxes 2 and 3 may appear to be very powerful or very good people, in this model they are spiritually dead. Jesus' teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-48) separates box 3 from box 4, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Essentially, life in box 3 is a social exchange model (Hamon, 1999) in which decisions are made on the basis of perceived rewards and costs, without taking eternal consequences into consideration. Unfortunately, when such rewards and costs determine your decisions, you are inherently vulnerable to temptation whenever the apparent benefits of sin outweigh the perceived long-term costs (part of what I think it means to be a slave to sin, John 8: 34). In box 4, life is a moment by moment response to the Holy Spirit where you are enabled to do what God wants, regardless of the apparent outcomes for yourself at the time. Life in box 4 also involves a lifelong process of spiritual growth and maturation beyond the experience of the "2-4" or "3-4" transformation, involving how one grows closer to God intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, as well as responsiveness (obedience) and trust. Those who are spiritually alive normally will struggle with moral issues on the "3-4" boundary (Romans 7: 14-25) while others who feel they are trying to be good, apart from God, may struggle more along the "2-3" boundary. For some, getting saved and growing in faith may be quite separate matters, but in this model, the transition to a box 4 lifestyle is expected to be a "package" deal. With respect to comparative religion, the model shows how many religions deal one way or another with ethics along the "2-3" boundary but I think that the "3-4" boundary and the spiritual transformation and process associated with box 4 is unique to Christianity.

The implications of the model are many with respect to Christian life and marriage. First, divorce would be much less frequent if both partners were living "in box 4". Secondly, many disputes would be resolved much more satisfactorily because downward spirals of recrimination would be interrupted early on. Communication would be improved because more authentic sharing and listening, with patience and kindness, would occur. Furthermore, hardships and trials would be interpreted more positively, as an essential part of Christian growth rather than mere inconveniences that should be evaded or minimized at all costs (Hebrews 11: 13-39; James 1: 2-4; I Peter 4: 12-13). With respect to this model, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5: 17-18). In other words, the commandments that separate box 2 from box 3 remain in effect and should not be dismissed--but God wants us to live even more righteously (Matthew 5: 20) with Him and each other. In box 4, the focus is on pleasing God first and then your spouse rather than worrying about how well your spouse is pleasing you.

A second model--I call it the "Marital Pyramid" Model, (see Figure 2)--that I have found to be simple but important is merely a pyramid with three levels. The levels of the pyramid are important for all marriages, but I suspect that secular marriages tend to fail more often for problems in the lower level while Christian marriages tend to fail more often for problems in the upper two levels, especially the top level. One often might ask, what does it take to have a great marriage? I think many Christians fail to achieve great marriages because they get stuck in the wrong box in this model. The lowest level features personal, foundational values and worth ascribed to self and others--being honest, being dependable, avoiding drugs, earning one's own living, being civil to people. I would include commitment to marriage, religious faith, and having a high sense of worth for people in general in this level. A few Christians believe that all you need are such values or high self-esteem or salvation for your marriage to automatically work out well. However, one can have those values and yet not be very good at relating to others in intimate relationships, even though it is less likely one will relate well if one does not value others or hold certain moral values regarding human life and relationships. In the long run, the lower levels of the pyramid are necessary but not sufficient for success in the higher levels. At the same time, in the short run, a person can be very successful at the higher levels though less successful at the lower levels. I suspect that wives are more appreciative of the peak of the pyramid than are husbands, on average; on the other hand, I suspect that some women undervalue the foundations of the pyramid when looking for a good husband.

The middle level concerns general interpersonal Skills--being able to communicate well, to negotiate, to listen, to resolve conflicts, to enjoy another's company, to do things as a team whether for fun or work, to "edit" your thoughts and actions rather than impulsively saying or doing hurtful things to others, to forgive and to accept forgiveness. Many more Christians believe that all you need for a great marriage are good values and adequate interpersonal skills. However, I have known many people with at least average character and good interpersonal skills who ended up divorced or who appear to be working hard at enduring their difficult marriage. In some cases, couples have a great foundation for a terrific marriage but they stop at the middle level, not sure if there is any hope for anything better.

The peak of the pyramid, however, is where one applies character and interpersonal skills to the specific, day by day needs of one's spouse as they pertain to that spouse's unique characteristics and needs (Swihart, 1979, 1997). In other words, do you fine tune your marriage or would you pretty much operate the same no matter to whom you were married? Life in the top level means looking enthusiastically for creative ways to meet the very time and personality specific needs of your spouse--and enjoying it! Each partner should try to do "small" (quick, inexpensive, from the heart) things geared to the daily and romantic needs of the other (what pleases them, not simply a projection of what you'd like) on a regular basis to remind each other that one is thinking positively, uniquely, and creatively about the other throughout the day even in the midst of many pressing issues. Stress and busyness are the mortal enemies of success in the peak level--if prolonged, they can so damage the processes represented by the peak level that the lower levels are adversely affected.

The model "explains" why some women fall for men with suspect character--some of them excel at the peak as "charmers." It explains why some "solid" Christian marriages typify so-so happiness, because the couples neglect the peak. It explains why courtship seems so pleasant--because there is more focus on the peak of the pyramid and why marriages often turn sour--because spouses think they no longer need to worry about such things or they simply become so stressed and busy they lose heart and energy for them (again pointing to the value of the Sabbath). One might say that before marriage, there is often too much focus on the peak and after marriage, too little. The model highlights the importance of making time for family.

David Blankenhorn recently suggested that a shift in how partners see marriage has occurred. He noted that couples today often see the partners as bigger than the marriage. In the past, partners saw the marriage, and faith or community-based commitments to marriage, as bigger than themselves. What are the consequences of this shift in values away from faith or community-based covenants?

My short answer is that we should be doing all things, including the way we love and serve our families, to glorify God, encourage others, and strengthen our communities rather than to please ourselves. My mother used to say that happiness should be a by-product of what you do good for others, not an end in itself. I would argue that the greatest threat to the institution of marriage, as well as to our culture in general, is a growing failure to "take the long view." Is marriage a limited contract to promote one's own self-interest, a contract easily terminated, often in a short period of time, when one experiences disappointments? Or it is a covenant, oriented toward the promotion of the interests of the other, children, and the community over a long period of time? To picture the model used here, imagine a square box (this will become the "Moral Decision-Making Model", see Figure 3). On the left side, from bottom to top is a time line from zero to infinity. On the bottom, from left to right, is a "personal space" line, running from self, spouse, family, neighbors, community, nation, world, universe, to God. Each of us have to make many choices and decisions in life, whether we are Christians or not. Each decision must take into account the consequences of that decision over time and over personal space. For example, an egocentric person would make decisions over a very short time period with respect to only immediate consequences for self (shade in a small square area in the lower left hand corner of the box). A more careful but egocentric person would make decisions only with respect for self but would take into account a longer time frame (a thin column on the left side of the box). The pattern for a sensitive person with a focus on short-term concerns would be represented by a short row along the bottom of the box. A more mature, socially responsible person's pattern would be a quarter circle that expanded upwards and to the right as they made decisions taking into account a wider range of the needs of others over longer periods of time. The model highlights the logic of depending on the Lord for decision-making, because only God knows the medium and long range consequences for the full range of personal space (Galatians 5: 16-18; 6: 8). In contrast, one of Satan's primary tactics (temptation) is to use short-term, self-centered "bait" (James 1: 1215) to lead us into making decisions with adverse long term consequences for ourselves and hosts of others. Marriage and, yes, civilization depends on a majority of people making decisions that take into account a reasonably long time frame and a reasonably large personal space; religion is one key sociological element for sustaining such decision-making.


Another key to the Moral Decision-Making Model is an assumption that external stress can have an impact by causing the time and personal frames of reference to collapse back toward the lower left corner, especially in the immature. Recall how Satan tried to break job's righteousness (making long view decisions) through a pile-up of severe personal stressors; one of the glories of our Lord Jesus Christ is that He endured truly maximum affliction and continued to obey His Father's will. In contrast, we tend to grow weary under much lighter stress and become more self-centered and short-term in our focus (Galatians 6: 9; Hebrews 12: 3). I believe that one reason for the Sabbath was to mitigate the impact of stress and prevent deterioration of "long view-taking."

The philosophy of "if it feels good, do it" captures the lower left corner of that moral decision-making model very well. A wife who is irritated or disappointed with some mistake or insensitivity on the part of her husband may feel better in the short run if she "chews him out" for his error, but what long term damage is being done to the relationship and to other relationships (children, neighbors, etc.)? The husband who is thinking about building his career in the long run may feel he is taking the "long view" for himself, but if he neglects his family and only responds to their short term needs, he may find himself divorced or despised down the road nor only by his family but by his neighbors and the community.

In contrast, enjoying an intimate relationship with God naturally draws one into making decisions that take into account eternity, not to mention shorter periods of time, and the welfare of a range of other people, in addition to one's own welfare (Galatians 5: 22-25). Jesus was very clear about the importance of thinking long term (Luke 12: 38; 16: 8, 25), about loving a wide range of neighbors (Luke 10: 36), and about the importance of eternal life (John 4: 14; 6: 27; 17:3). The patriarchs of old clearly tended to take a long term view of life (Hebrews 11), considering the needs of a wide range of family members and their neighbors as well. While the law can tell a person what not to do, it may offer less guidance about what decisions to make. The law of love, by contrast, suggests making decisions that provide maximum rewards and the least unnecessary costs for the most "persons" over the longest periods of time so that one and one's family and neighbors gain the most emotionally and spiritually.

Many immoral behaviors make "sense" if you accept the lower left corner of the box as your primary decision-making space. Even promiscuous male homosexuality or premarital heterosexuality may appear to make "sense" if you consider only short-term outcomes for oneself, having an exclusive focus on immediate individual gratification. Some will say, "What's wrong with a little pleasure?" Too much focus on pleasure, only one of several aspects of positive affect (the others being satisfaction, happiness, and joy; Schumm, 1999), obscures the long-term consequences of decisions and increases the chances of making unwise decisions, as well as depriving one of as much chance for experiencing deeper types of positive affect, such as true joy. The heroes of faith (Hebrews 11) often gave up short-term pleasures and a comfortable lifestyle for the sake of very long-term and/or eternal rewards, often for others far into the future.

The Bush Administration, under Wade Horn, is searching for ways to support marriages in America today. Marriage interventionists have tried to assist marriages in a variety of ways including church-based marriage enrichment, pastoral counseling, professional counseling, marriage mentoring, and pre-marital counseling. If you could make a recommendation to Wade Horn today, what would you recommend his office attempt to make a difference in marriages? Follow up: What should churches be doing to support marriages in their congregation and community?

Policy is not my forte. I do not have great solutions for the Bush administration. To the extent the church fails to adopt more constructive models in its teaching about family, additional financial support may only perpetuate false and ineffective models. I think the government's primary interest should be justice in ensuring that divorcees, widows, and children are not penalized financially. However, I recognize that the government's heavy hand may simply drive some ex-spouses underground as a way of avoiding their court-ordered obligations--so there are limits to what the government can do. Some programs that help delinquent fathers find jobs or better jobs may have been useful at increasing support payments to children. It might be useful for the government to sponsor a web site where couples could inexpensively seek some preliminary marriage assessment or guidance as well as referrals to religious and non-religious counseling agencies in their local area; that way, some marital breakdowns might be prevented. However, it may be that such assistance is already available, at no expense to the taxpayer, through Focus on the Family and other groups.

What can churches be doing? I think they need to convey a greater emphasis on God's enthusiasm for people as a model for our own lives. However, that is not an enthusiasm based on our moral goodness or worthiness but on God's decision to love us in spite of the many reasons that He could propose for not caring one whit about any of us. I think sermons should shift in focus from the boundary between box 2 and 3 in the Moral Transformations Model to the transition from box 3 to box 4. Another angle might be to consider "What is getting in the way of your having a closer relationship with the Lord? Let's work on those things, whatever it takes." I think there should be more focus on all the levels in the Marital Pyramid Model. I would prefer to see drama in which church members role play people interacting with freeze frames in which the congregation guesses at what each party is likely to be feeling, thinking, and planning to do next--and how that would differ depending on their level of dependence on the Holy Spirit at the moment (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24).

John Gottman has proposed that training couples in communication skills is not as effective as marriage interventionists have believed. For example, he found that "master" couples who have demonstrated the ability to create a strong marriage only use the skill 4% of the time. Consequently, there is a debate among marriage interventionists about the utility and efficacy of communication skills training. Where do you fall on the current issue?

When I taught a class on marital interaction in the fall of 2002, we worked on summarizing what Gottman and others had been reporting in their research (Bradbury, Fincham, & Beach, 2000; Glenn, 1990; Gottman & Notarius, 2000, 2002; Karney & Bradbury, 1995). Although many other issues are important (Adler-Baeder & Higginbotham, 2002), four core principles comprise the Marital Research Model (See Figure 4). The most important principle was "Maximize positive affect," which isn't that far from saying maximize the genuine unique ways you show love towards each other (Swihart, 1997), taking advantage of every opportunity (Galatians 5: 10) to do others good (e.g., Romans 12: 9-10; 15: 3; I Corinthians 13: 4-8; Galatians 5: 14; Ephesians 5: 2; I Peter 3: 8; James 2: 8;I John 2: 10, 4: 7-11; Hebrews 13: 1). Within this principle, I would include the idea of doing whatever it takes to convince your spouse of your emotional and spiritual responsiveness to them (the opposite of the complaint "he never listens to me, we never consider spiritual issues"). The second principle was to "Regulate negative affect," which means avoiding what Gottman calls "negative start-up" (Gottman, 2002; James 1:19-20; 3:5-18) and escalating sequences of negativity, also known as negative reciprocity (returning evil for evil)(Romans 12: 17-21; Galatians 5: 15, 26; Philippians 4: 5--"Let your gentleness be known to all," this no doubt includes the members of your own family!). This negative reciprocity tends to lead to withdrawal and ultimately, bitterness (Colossians 3: 19; Hebrews 12: 15). Scripture seems to discuss this principle in terms of not being easily provoked (Proverbs 14: 29; I Corinthians 13: 5) nor prone to provoke others to anger (Ephesians 6: 4), as well as avoiding evil, false words, or accusations about or to others (Ephesians 4: 29-31; Titus 2: 3; 3: 2; I Peter 3: 10-11; James 4: 11; I Corinthians 4: 45; Romans 14: 13). Underlying the regulation of negative affect is probably an aspect of humility associated with having realistic expectations of others and realistic beliefs about close relationships in a fallen world. It is interesting that God is slow to anger (Nahum 1: 3) with our faults; it would seem sometimes that we think we need to compensate for His slowness with our quickness--though we have much less right to take offense at others' faults. We didn't say to minimize negative affect because it is probably not realistic to eliminate all negative affect from a close relationship (Hebrews 12: 1, I John 1: 8)--there are too many opportunities to miscommunicate or otherwise offend the other person, even if unintentionally. But a ratio of 5 or 10 to 1 for positive versus negative affect seems to be best for marriage. The third principle was "Exit escalating cycles of negative affect as soon as you recognize them," seen in Scripture as not returning evil for evil (Colossians 4: 13; I Thessalonians 5: 15; Romans 12: 17). It is very difficult to not return a negative for a negative (I Peter 3: 9). Minimizing the negative affect in such a cycle is also important--be angry but don't sin (complaining versus condemning in Gottman's terms; Ephesians 4: 26). For most people, returning a neutral for a negative is probably "success" (Proverbs 15: 1; I Peter 3: 2). However, Jesus modeled returning positive affect in the face of negative affect (Luke 10: 38-42), a process we should learn through the Spirit's guidance (Romans 12: 1421; I Corinthians 2: 9-16; 4: 12; Galatians 5: 16, 22; I Peter 3: 8-12; I John 4: 13). I am aware that many therapists believe that couples regulate their emotional distance in order to maintain a certain limited degree of emotional closeness--they have conflict in the service of their closeness objectives. This model is not complex enough to capture that sort of process. The fourth principle is to guard against the development of contemptuous or bitter attitudes (negative attributions) towards others, attitudes that manifest themselves in specific facial expressions, emotional withdrawal, and predict eventual divorce. Happier spouses tend to attribute even better intentions than their partners may actually deserve while embittered spouses tend to attribute even worse intentions than their partners deserve. Furthermore, the four principles are interrelated. Success at the first should help with the second, since positive affect tends to minimize negative affect (I Peter 4: 8; I John 4: 18). Success with the second should reduce the opportunity for negative escalations to begin in the first place. Reducing the frequency and intensity of escalating cycles of negative affect will reduce the temptation to develop bitter, cold attitudes toward others. Conversely, failure to regulate negative affect will tend to foster more and more negativity (through escalations) and will tend to undercut motivation, or at least enthusiasm, for loving others (Matthew 24:12--love growing "cold").

What about communication skills training? I think it has its place, but from the above models and principles it should be evident that it is only one part of the picture. I think that Scripture portrays selfish, "heart" attitudes and negative attributions (Matthew 12:35-36; Philippians 4:8; see Proverbs throughout) as the root cause of communication difficulties rather than poor communication skills or techniques (Romans 12:3, 16; Ephesians 4:32; 5:2; Galatians 5:13; James 3:13-17; 4:1-8; I John 4:711), attitudes that probably are manifested more in "affect" than communication skills in research on marital interaction. My personal view is that many communication "techniques" are primarily useful as guidelines, ground rules, or cues that help couples avoid or exit from escalating cycles of negative affect. However, I must admit that escalating cycles of negative affect can be so destructive that almost anything that dampens them has at least some potential usefulness.

Explain to the readers how you integrate your faith/theology with your approach to marital intervention. How do you approach marital interventions and marital research in respect to your faith?

In general, I have been slowly developing a "pre-scientific theory" of family life, a theory that would be similar to other contemporary family theories (Boss, Doherty, LaRossa, Schumm, & Steinmetz, 1993; White & Klein, 2002) in structure but with Scriptural content, a task that has proven far easier to attempt than to complete! The models presented here largely reflect that effort. With respect to family life education, my goal is to present material that is true to the principles of Scripture and takes advantage of the best research in marital interaction. For example, Scripture says for us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and not to judge/accuse others rashly. When John Gottman found that "negative start-up" was a problem in some marriages, I realized that his concept was what happens when you combine being slow to hear, fast to speak, judgmental, and accusatory all at the same time, a condition he said was more common among wives than husbands. It is probably an important sub-category of the opposite of how a wife should respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33). On the other hand, he found that "stonewalling" and emotional withdrawal were more of a problem for husbands, in contrast to Peter's advice to know your wife well and honor her (I Peter 3:9). Scripture is the ultimate truth, but current research can highlight which problems are most prevalent now and provide anecdotes that can help us understand practical applications of Scripture more readily in our own time and culture.

With respect to integration and therapy, I believe that the pyramid model has useful implications. Couples could be evaluated as to the status of each level. It would make sense to focus intervention on those levels that need support rather than a "shotgun" approach that spends equal time on all three levels. Strength in the lower levels would bode well for the stability of the relationship while strength in the upper levels would bode well for the happiness of the relationship. Work in the lower levels would take more time but have the potential to produce longer lasting results. Work in the upper levels might be quicker but success might be degraded over time by shortcomings in the lower levels or excessive stresses placed on the relationship from external sources or serious health problems.

With respect to faith, I used to think it was the process of psyching yourself to believe in something that didn't make sense or was not visible, as in believing in an invisible God who didn't seem to care. Over time, I realized that it was a relationship concept. If I expect favorable treatment from someone, then I will look forward to meeting with them, spending time with them. If not, I won't. In part at least it is the expectation of future joy from being with someone. With this kind of faith in God, a person will look forward to prayer, worship, reading His word, and to heaven, just as a groom looks forward to spending time with his new bride. Related to this is a frequent lack of enthusiasm towards our Christian responsibilities. I recall a story in which one Christian apologized to another, to which the other said that he figured he had to forgive if God could, though he didn't really want to. My sense is that if we had half a clue about how much God has forgiven our sins, we would rejoice, rather than grumble, at the chance to forgive our brothers in Christ. Likewise, we often love our spouses or children with so little enthusiasm that it would seem to betray a terrible lack of appreciation of God's many mercies and great goodness towards us.

A fifth model--my Relational Theology Model--i illustrates another problem in the church. Most people seem to think that theology and relationship science are totally separate areas, as shown in Figure 5. Because of this division, many people think you can be a great Christian teacher even though you are without love (I Corinthians 13:1), or that you can love God even though you hate men (I John 4:8). I would argue that from God's perspective, there is only one box when it comes to relationships, whether with God or other people. The key concept here is that of faith. Most people think of faith, I suspect, as a theological concept, one in which a person overcomes intellectual doubts about God's existence to accept a belief in some kind of supreme deity. However, I would argue that such a concept is misleading at best. Rather, faith is a relationship concept, whether applied to God or to others. For example, my wife is not going to be impressed if I state that I believe that she exists. Nor is God particularly impressed that someone merely believes that He exists, as even demons so believe (James 2:19). The Bible assumes that people (Romans 1:18-24) believe that God exists.

Variations in "faith" revolve much more around the qualitative nature of God than the quantitative issue of His mere existence. In particular, faith involves more than believing that God exists; it also includes the extent to which one trusts in the utterly complete goodness of God, that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). The opinion I hold of my wife matters far more to her than whether I think she exists. If you expect good from another, you have faith in them. If you interpret most of what they do in a negative light, regardless of their intentions, then you are demonstrating you lack faith in them. Thus, faith is, in my view, really a relationship term, more than a religious concept. Likewise, prayer is really communication and terms like "root of bitterness" refer to outcomes of dysfunctional relationship processes, processes that John Gottman and others have been observing scientifically. The two greatest commandments are, after all, relationship commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).

With respect to integration of faith and research, I have been trying to use statistics to highlight truths of the Scripture. In one study, we showed how Proverbs 30:9 played out in the survival rates by social class and gender on the RMS Titanic (Schumm et al., 2002). In another study, the differences in styles of violence between the Qur'an and the New Testament were evaluated statistically (Morgan-Miller, 2002; Schumm, 2002). More recently, I have been working on a statistical analysis of Hebrews to try to determine its (human) author(s).

Empirical study of Christian marriage and religious marital interventions is seriously lacking. In your opinion, what are the most important studies that need to be conducted to advance our understanding of Christian marriages and Christian marriage interventions?

I would love to see more studies on how couples integrate their faith in their significant relationships, particularly how they allow the Holy Spirit to direct their moment by moment thoughts and responses during romantic, ordinary, and conflictual moments in their marriages. Knowing more about constructive and practical ways that occurs would make some great videos that would be useful for evangelism and for marriage interventions, whether educational or therapeutic. I would particularly like to see work done along those lines for premarital education. I think it would be useful if empirical tests of some of the models proposed here were undertaken with evangelical Christian couples. Perhaps we should study barriers to deeper intimacy within couples and with God as a preliminary step to developing effective strategies for overcoming such barriers. I think it would be useful if studies were done on the impact of divorce among evangelicals on their children's religious faith and future relationships, so that pastors could advise prospective divorcees of the specific damage they might be doing to their children either through the divorce or through their unresolved conflict (whether they divorce or not).

If you were to give advice to someone who is training to work with marriages, what is the key piece of advice you would like to share?

My advice for those training to work with couples is that the models for what works with couples depends on the location of each person in the Moral Transformations Model, as shown in figure 1 (regardless of whatever labels they might attach to themselves), because the moral operating principles in each box are very different. Many secular training programs will assume no one operates in box 4 and that box 2 clients are hopeless; therefore, they may be based largely on social exchange or systems theory, which may work well with box 3 clients--but not necessarily with others. Work with couples in which the individuals are operating from different boxes would be especially challenging because of the vast differences in their assumptions, goals, and moral operating principles (2 Corinthians 6:14). For counselees in box 2, perhaps the initial approach would be to emphasize consequences of decisions over longer periods of time. Changing the environment would be recommended if the environment was so risk-laden that such considerations didn't seem relevant. A second level would be to raise the issue of "what goes around, comes around." That is, considering the needs of others should help the self gain what it wants. Some in box 2 may be more amenable to considering spiritual change than those in box 3--they have less to lose and perhaps less pride to defend. What I call a "2 - 4" transformation is possible, though many will only be transformed after a "stint" with the law in box 3. Clients in box 3 should be motivated to improve by appeals to social exchange theory principles since the theory governs their decision-making. Unfortunately, so much worldly success can be obtained through assiduous use of social exchange principles (Colossians 2:8 perhaps) that human pride is often exalted, creating a major barrier to the "3 - 4" transition or transformation that is dependent upon humility and awareness of sin. If something seems to be working, a person has much less reason to consider abandoning it. There are things that "work," for clients in boxes 2 and 3, but they may not lead a client in the direction of box 4. For clients in box 4, a substantially different set of principles would be appropriate. First, such clients should be reminded that suffering is not only expected but critical to spiritual development (James 1:2-4), with guidance on how to "use" painful experiences in that direction. Clients should be exposed to narratives (written or personal) of others in similar situations and how they responded. Clients should be connected with others who are walking with God through the Holy Spirit on a daily basis, for the sake of encouragement and sustenance beyond the confines of the church or counseling office. If I were counseling couples, I would try to focus on how each person might grow by allowing the Holy Spirit to direct their thoughts, plans, interactions, and responses to each other, with enthusiasm as opposed to any morbid sense of duty and how they would support each other in living out their relationship accordingly.

For all clients, a handout on the differences in how those in the three boxes might respond to a given situation might awaken those in boxes 2 and 3 to the potential existence of box 4 while it would help clients in box 4 better understand some of the details of what they might experience while "walking in the Spirit." I have used a class handout with about fifty such examples in my theories course-each one by itself could be the start of a challenging sermon!
Figure 1. Moral Transformations Mode.

Box #2 (Clear Box #3 (How the Box #4 (How God wants
anti-social behavior, religious leaders of us to Live)(Kingdom
often criminalized for Jesus' time thought it of God, as Jesus
the sake of society) was OK to live) described it, Living
(Kingdom of Criminals) (Kingdom of Civilized Intimately with God
 People Distant from through the Holy
 God) Spirit)

Take care of Number Love your friends but Love all, including
One, yourself, hate your enemies your enemies
regardless of the
needs of others, even
your "friends"

Lie whenever it is Don't lie when you are Always tell the truth
convenient for your under oath (but it's without equivocation
own individual OK at some other (in love, of course)
purposes times)

Divorce whenever it Don't divorce, unless Focus your attention
feels appropriate your marriage becomes and love on your
 really difficult, but spouse, don't even
 be civil about it think about the
 allures of others and
 whether a divorce
 would improve your

Do whatever bad things Do not murder others Return insults and
you want to do to physically but offenses with love
others insulting or accusing rather than
 them falsely is instigating or
 reasonable under some returning your anger
 circumstances back at them

Note: The moral Law (e.g., Ten Commandments) serves as a boundary
between boxes 2 and 3 while Jesus' teachings serve as a boundary
between boxes 3 and 4.

Figure 2. Marital Pyramid Model




Figure 4. Marital Research Model.





Figure 5. Relational Theology Model


Faith Prayer Root of Bitterness


Expecting Good Communication Expecting the worst from the other


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Glenn, N. D. (1990). Quantitative research on marital quality in the 1980s: a critical review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52, 818-831.

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Gottman, J. M., & Notarius, C. I. (2002). Marital research in the 20th century and a research agenda for the 21st century. Family Process, 41, 159-197.

Hamon, R. R. (1999). Social exchange theory and the Christian faith: Is a satisfactory marriage possible? Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 18, 19-27.

Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: a review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 3-34.

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Schumm, W. R. (1993). On publishing family research using 'sophisticated' quantitative methodologies. Marriage and Family Review, 18, 1/2,171-175.

Schumm, W. R. (1999). Satisfaction. In D. Levinson, J. J. Ponzetti, Jr., & P. F. Jorgensen (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Human Emotions: Vol. 2 (pp. 583-590). New York: MacMillan References.

Schumm, W. R. (2000). Intrinsic religiosity among military personnel. The Army Chaplaincy, Summer/Fall, 63-66.

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Schumm, W. R. (2002). Commentary on Morgan-Miller's'An exploratory study of different types of violence presented in early Christian and Islamic historical documents.' Psychological Reports, 91, 571-574.

Schumm, W. R., Polk, B. B., Bryan, J., Fornataro, E, & Curry, J. (1998). Treating prisoners humanely. Military Review, LXXVIII, 1, 83-93.

Schumm, W. R., Webb, E J. Jurich, A. P, & Bollman, S. R. (2002). Comments on the Institute of Medicine's 2002 report on the safety of anthrax vaccine. Psychological Reports, 91, 187-191

Schumm, W. R., Webb, E J., Castelo, C. C., Akagi, C. G., Jensen, E. J., Ditto, R. M., et al. (2002). Enhancing learning in statistics classes through the use of concrete historical examples. Teaching Sociology, 30,361-375.

Silliman, B., & Schumm, W. R (2000). Marriage preparation programs: a literature review. The Family journal, 8, 133-142.

Silliman, B., & Schumm, W R. (1999). Improving practice in marriage preparation. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 25, 23-43.

Swihart, J. J. (1997). How do I say I love you? 8 languages of love. Manhattan, KS: Author. (Formerly published in 1977 by Intervarsity Press; republished at author's expense. Contact Cornerstone Family Counseling Center, 1408 Poyntz Avenue, Manhattan, Kansas 66502 or (785)776-4105 for copies]

Swihart, J. J. (1979). How to treat your family as well as you treat your friends. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.

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White, J. A., & Klein, D. (2002). Family theories. (Second Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.





Figure 4. Marital Research Model.


SCHUMM, WALTER R. Address: School of Family Studies and Human Services, Justin Hall, Kansas State University, 1700 Anderson Avenue, Manhattan, KS 66506-1403. Title: Professor of Family Studies. Degrees: B.S., College of William and Mary (Virginia), M.S., Kansas State University, Ph.D., Purdue University. Specializations: Family theories, research methodology, program evaluation, military families, religion and family life, premarital relationship development and counseling, Gulf War illnesses.

WALTER R. SCHUMM School of Family Studies and Human Services Kansas State University

Address correspondence to Dr. Walter Schumm, Professor of Family Studies, School of Family Studies and Human Services, Justin Hall, Kansas State University, 1700 Anderson Avenue, Manhattan, KS 66506-1403 or e-mail ( Appreciation is expressed to Dr. Farrell Webb for his very helpful assistance in the preparation of this article.
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Author:Schumm, Walter R.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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