Introduction: reflections on the current status and future of Christian marriages.
If you've stepped into a local Christian bookstore lately and looked for a book on Christian marriage, you likely found a plethora of self-help materials from a variety of authors. Not only are self-help books available, but most cities in the United States have regular marriage enrichment courses that couples can join at local churches or community groups. With marriages struggling in large numbers, resources for improving or "saving" a marriage are extensive, particularly for Christian couples. The enthusiasm for prevention and interventions in marriages are broad-based and largely occur within church community contexts.
For this special issue seven experts in Christian marriages were invited to submit answers from their extensive experiences with marriages along with three submitted articles on the topic of Christian marriage. The experts come from a variety of backgrounds offering us diverse perspectives on the problems and future of Christian marriages. The perspective of empirical researchers are discussed by Scott Stanley, Walter Schumm and Everett Worthington, Jr. Each of these are University-based researchers actively involved in contributing to the scholarship on religious marriages. Scott Stanley and Everett Worthington Jr. also have created Christian approaches to marital interventions that have had some empirical investigation (Stanley et al, 2001; Worthington et at., 1997). In contrast, Michael and Harriet McManus speak from their extensive ministry experiences on the front lines of Christian marriage intervention through the Marriage Savers program. Several experts have contributed significant books and theories of Christian marital interventions. Les and Leslie Parrotts' "Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts" (SYMBIS) program has been widely used among churches and Christian engaged and newlywed couples. Tim Clinton contributes to the field through his authorship of books and directorship of the American Association of Christian Counselors, which has a strong commitment towards supporting marriages. Finally, Keith Edwards offers his expertise in many years of training future marital therapists as a professor at Biola University.
Current Research on Religious Marriages
The current literature on religious marriages, and Christian marriages in particular, is sparse with almost no replication. The scholarly basis for the enthusiastic marital interventions borrows almost completely from the research on non-religious marriages. There have been several beacons of hope to increase scholarly production such as the special issue of the Journal of Family Psychology on religious marriages in 2001 which introduced several high-quality studies of religion and marriage, and the introduction of Marriage and Family: A Christian journal in 1997 specifically targeting Christian marriages. However, overall the production of scholarship on religious marriages is not increasing as a survey of articles on religious marriages from 1991-2001 found (Ripley et al., 2002).
Does religiosity matter in marriage? The current literature on this topic is limited to a sparse and scattered collection of studies. In a review of the literature on Christian marriages, Ripley and Worthington (1998) found a small amount of literature on the topic of religious marriages in general but little to no research investigating what processes or aspects of the Christian faith might be protective of marriage. In addition, religious marital interventions had no empirical testing or basis. Since then, only a small handful of studies have investigated religious marital interventions with varying methodology (Ripley, Parrott, Worthington, Parrott, & Smith, 2000; Stanley et al., 2001).
Sullivan (2001) proposed that while some relationship between religiosity and marital outcomes does exist, theory is lacking to explain what processes are creating this relationship. In addition, methodological rigor for the studies is sorely lacking. The Sullivan (2001) longitudinal study methodologically forged well ahead of other studies finding that religiosity does have specific effects on some aspects of marriages, especially attitudes towards divorce, seeking help especially through religious interventions, and general commitment. However, their simple 4-item measure of religiosity was a weak predictor of marital outcomes as measured by the Marital Adjustment Test (MAT; Locke & Wallace, 1959) and the Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF; see Gottman & Krokoff, 1989). Although religiosity was a weak predictor, not contributing significantly to the variance of marital outcome, the importance of neuroticism as a moderating variable, particularly for husbands, was a strong finding that is important for researchers. Her study continues to be limited by a simple measure of religiosity and a broad-based sample rather than a sampling from religious marriages.
Sullivan's (2001) study in combination with other studies of religiosity and marriage have shown persistent enigmatic results. One study showed religious behaviors such as conjoint church attendance to be predictive of good marital outcomes (Wilson & Musick, 1996). Other studies showed belief in the sacred nature of marriage (Mahoney et al., 1999) and religiosity tended to correlate with marital stability (White & Booth, 1991). However, two longitudinal studies with good methodological standards have found little to no relationship among these variables (Booth, Johnson, Branaman, & Sica, 1995; Sullivan, 2001).
The guest authors in this special issue have commented on a variety of issues related to religiosity and marital outcomes. Their contributions are varied from concerns about pre-marital cohabitation to societal changes such as the lengthening of life to a lack of spiritual transformation in the lives of Christians. These experts propose many intriguing ideas specifically from the Christian perspective. The status of the field is that scholars in religious marriages are needed to share ideas such as those shared in this special issue to create hypotheses towards a model of understanding what is different about religious or Christian marriages. Are Christian beliefs and practices protective of marriages? Are there any beliefs or practices that are harmful to marriage? Relating back to the plethora of interventions for Christian marriages, what beliefs and practices can be improved through marital interventions that will make religious marriages more durable? This is the holy grail of the study of religious marriages that is still untested, waiting for energetic researchers to discover.
What should be done now for Christian marriages?
Clinicians and community interventionists may be discouraged by these results, concerned that their work is essentially a "shot in the dark" when it comes to effectively working with Christian couples. The guest experts in this special issue make specific recommendations to the government and church communities on what should be done at this time. The recommendations of experts in the field is important as it is the current basis of interventions. However, it is hoped that many of these recommendations will be tested to discover what circumstances and what types of couples might most benefit from their suggestions for interventions. The current interest of the Federal government in partnering with religious community groups to provide services coupled with their interest in encouraging durable marriages may be one key component. However, religious communities and groups could also invest in creating strong and effective marriage outreach programs, and in supporting the type of research necessary to significantly strengthen the mission of good scholarship in Christian marriages. Religious marriage initiatives should consider spending a portion of their resources on research, partnering with researchers who can evaluate their work. In addition to the suggestions offered by the seven authors, included are additional recommendations I would like to propose that must be done to further the study of Christian marriages in the coming decade.
Basic research. There is a need for several lines of basic research investigating what Christian beliefs, behaviors, community norms and processes are protective of or detrimental to marriage. This research must use good measures of religiosity, operationalize the aspects of Christian marriages to be studied, and use the latest techniques in marital outcomes, particularly physiological and observational measures of marriages. The following may be rich areas of basic research: the belief that marriage is sacred; the belief that one's commitment to marriage is larger than to one's spouse but also to one's God and Christian community; covenantal beliefs about marriage; the impact of prayers and spiritual disciplines on marriages; the influence of involvement in a church community as supportive of marriage; pastoral and ministry-related teaching on marriages within a community; community norms of sexual exclusivity within marriage; and religious rituals relevant to marriage and family life. Other factors are likely rich for investigation as well.
Program evaluation. Researchers and interventionists should partner to create programs of outcome research on popular Christian interventions with increasing methodological rigor. This would move many widely popular programs such as Christian PREP and SYMBIS to rise in scholarly respect beyond the small amount of research performed thus far. In particular, longitudinal research to investigate issues of prevention and relapse is needed. This type of research would require some commitment from the Christian individuals or communities to resource this type of research.
Communication between the front line and scholars. One gap in the field is a lack of communication of current findings on marriage to community and church-based groups. The gap between researchers and the front lines of intervention is a common problem but becomes more difficult with this area of study. Those with scientific training and those with resources and a heart for service have the opportunity to partner and make a long-standing difference that can benefit Christian marriages for years to come. The typical marital interventionist is often a minister or lay person who is charismatic and gifted. If research and clinical experts can pair with these interventionist in a strong coalition the efficacy of community outreach efforts can be greatly influenced. Conferences such as the American Association of Christian Counselors which attracts many clergy and lay-helpers and the yearly Smart Marriages conference have the potential to be places where this type of exchange can happen. Further on-going efforts are important.
Training effective marriage interventionists. There is a need for strong training in marital intervention in Christian colleges, seminaries and Christian mental health programs. It is not uncommon for those in ministry to feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of marital counseling or prevention work. Yet those with marital problems are highly likely to seek help from Christian leaders. In addition, with the commitment towards marriage and family that the Christian religion holds, excellence in the training of Christian mental health professionals is extremely important. The community leaders and mental health professionals are both the preventive force and safety net for marriages today.
In conclusion, this area of study and intervention is rich with opportunity. There are innumerable directions that aspiring researchers, program developers, and local interventionists can take to make a difference in supporting religious and specifically Christian marriages. Not only that, but religious institutions are often ideal places for cost-effective marital interventions for broad-based communities.
Marriage as an institution has faced challenges throughout history, from polygamy in the Old Testament era, to the challenges faced by teenage marriages through most of history, to the current sociological challenges in the Western culture. In particular, the clash between Western values and other cultures around the world has created increased strain on marriages around the world. There is a mission for the Christian community in this area of outreach that must be met with excellence. The authors in this special issue have blazed a trail of excellence that others can follow to complete this mission. I hope that their words will inspire readers to take up this mission wherever they are.
Booth, A., Johnson, D.R, Branaman, A., & Sica, A. (1995). Belief and behavior: Does religion matter in today's marriage? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57,661-671.
Gottman, J.M., & Krokoff, L.J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47-52.
Locke, H.J., & Wallace, K.M. (1959). Short marital adjustment prediction rest: Their reliability and validity. Marriage and Family Living, 21, 251-255.
Mahoney, A., Pargament, K.L, Jewell, T, Swank, A.B., Scott, E., Emery, E., et al. (1999). Marriage and the spiritual realm: The role of proximal and distal religious constructs in marital functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 13, 321-338.
Ripley, J.S., Kemper, S., Reiners, B., Cunion, A, Albach, K., Valdez, S., et al. (2003, March). Empirical literature in religious marriages: A decade review. Presented at Division 36 of the American Psychological Association mid-winter conference, Timonium, MD.
Ripley, J.S., Parrott, L., III., Worthington, E.L., Jr., Parrott, L., & Smith, C. (2000). An initial empirical examination of the Parrotts' marriage mentoring: Training the program coordinators. Marriage and Family: A Christian journal, 4, 77-93.
Ripley, J. & Worthington, E.L., Jr. (1998). Marital counseling with religious Christians: What the pastor, clinician, and researcher can learn from extant journal articles. Marriage and Family: A Christian journal, 1, 375-396.
Stanley, S. M, Markman, H. J., Prado, L.M., Olmos-Gallo, P. A., Tonelli, L., St. Peters, M., et al. (2001). Community-based premarital prevention: Clergy and lay leaders on the from lines. Family Relations: Journal of Applied Family & Child Studies, 50, 67-76.
Sullivan, K.T. (2001). Understanding the relationship between religiosity and marriage: An investigation of the immediate and longitudinal effects of religiosity on newlywed couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 15,610-626.
Wilson, J., & Musick, M. (1996). Religion and marital dependence. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 35, 30-40.
White, L.K., & Booth, A. (1991). Divorce over the life course: The role of marital happiness. Journal of Family Issues, 12, 5-21.
Worthington E.L., Jr., Hight, T.L., Ripley, J.S., Perrone, K.M., Kurusu, TA., & Jones, D.R. (1997). Strategic hope-focused relationship enrichment counseling: Investigations of outcome and process. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 44, 384-394.
RIPLEY, JENNIFER S.: Address: Regent University, 1000 Regent University Dr, CRB 171, Virginia Beach, VA 23464. Title: Associate Professor of Psychology. Degrees: BA, Nyack College; MS, PhD, Virginia Commonsealth Univesity. Specializations: Marriage Values and Intrventions, Forgiveness, Group therapy, Technology in teaching.
Correspondence concerning this article may be sent to Jennifer S. Ripley, PhD, Regent University PsyD Program, 1000 Regent University Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23464. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Author:||Ripley, Jennifer S.|
|Publication:||Journal of Psychology and Theology|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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