Printer Friendly

Relying on god to resolve conflict: theistic mediation and triangulation in relationships between college students and mothers.

Although sociologists have clearly demonstrated that higher general religiousness on the part of a given family member (e.g., religious affiliation and attendance, private prayer) is linked to better marital and parent-offspring relationships (Mahoney et al., 2001), relatively little is known about how religion or spirituality may operate within family relationships. A few recent psychological studies show that family relationships often do possess a spiritual dimension. For example, individuals often view their marriage and parenting as having divine significance and meaning (Mahoney, Pargament, & DeMaris, 2009; Murray-Swank, Mahoney, & Pargament, 2006), and family members routinely engage in religious rituals together (Fiese & Tomcho, 2001; Smith, 2005) or talk about their faith journeys (Brelsford & Mahoney, 2008). These types of integration of religion and spirituality into family dynamics correlate with better relationship functioning. We take this line of research further by examining how mother-adult child dyads can draw God/faith into their conflicts in potentially harmful and helpful ways.

Conflict Resolution via Theistic Triangulation and Mediation

When conflicts emerge between two individuals, each party faces choices in how to resolve their differences (Kerig, 1996). Ample research with marital and parent-child pairs indicates that collaborative conflict resolution methods (e.g., listening openly, sharing ideas calmly) facilitate relationship functioning (Easterbrooks, Cummings, & Emde, 1994). However, maladaptive methods, such as verbal aggression (e.g., yelling, insulting) or stonewalling (e.g., refusal to discuss conflict), tend to undermine relationship quality (Grotevant & Cooper, 1986). In addition to these types of well-studied conflict resolution communication strategies, individuals can draw God and faith into dyadic conflict to try to resolve differences (Mahoney, 2005). Further, as Butler and colleagues (Butler & Harper, 1994; Gardner, Butler, & Seedall, 2008) point out, turning a human dyad into a divine triad (God-self-other) can be done in ways that either hinder or help peoples' relationships. In this study, we examine both types of spiritually-based conflict resolution strategies.

In the former case, God and religion/spirituality may be overtly called upon by one or both parties to back up their own position and coerce the partner to change, a process we label here as "theistic triangulation." Based on clinical observations of distressed couples, Butler and Harper (1994) referred to this as a "coalition triangle" because each party attempts to draw God into an alliance against the other partner. Individuals engaged in a theistic coalition triangle would suggest God is on their side of the conflict, God will punish the other person, or they could imply that their own position is correct because it is what God wants. In this triangle, efforts to ally with God against a partner would presumably be overt, and intensify conflict between the partners. This pattern differs from two other unhealthy, but covert, divine triangles that Butler and Harper (1994) suggest may diffuse tension between the couples: a) partner(s) displaces marital distress onto God, or b) turns to God as a substitute for an unhappy marriage, without openly addressing marital conflict.

Although Butler and colleagues have focused on married couples, we expect that mothers and adult children may sometimes also attempt to align overtly with God against the other person to deal with conflict. On a related note, Pattison (1982) has argued that parents may seek out coalitions with the transcendent to gain strength or power in family arguments, and Nelsen and Kroliczak (1984) found that one-fourth of parents in a community sample told their school-aged child that God would punish them if they were bad. Clergy and counselors who work with Christian clients would presumably be quite interested in how often adult children and parents use theistic triangulation to handle conflict. While some Christians may justify such methods to confront behavior that they view as unacceptable in a Christian value system, the overuse or misuse of such strategies contradicts other espoused Christian principles, such as compassionate love and humility (e.g., Gardner, Butler, & Seedall, 2008; Worthington, Lerner, & Sharp, 2005). Further, empirically speaking, theistic triangulation by either party may elicit higher levels of reciprocal verbal hostility within a dyad as well as trigger resentful withdrawal by one or both partners; both of these processes may undermine trust and satisfaction within the relationship.

On the other hand, two family members could draw God and faith into their conflicts in ways that could potentially be helpful, a process we refer to as "theistic mediation" (Mahoney, 2005). Theistic mediation involves placing God and faith in a neutral role about which party is correct, and operates as a constructive means for conflict resolution. For example, one or both parties might suggest God wants both partners to feel connected to spiritual resources, ask God to help them listen and understand each other (Butler, Gardner, & Bird, 1998), suggest the pair take a time out from conflict and turn the situation over to God, pray together to understand the other's viewpoints, or express that God would want the pair to find solutions together (Butler & Harper, 1994; Mahoney, 2005). Thus far, studies on benevolent prayer between married spouses (Butler, Gardner, & Bird, 1998) or by college students on behalf of romantic partners (Fincham, Beach, Lambert, Stillman, & Braithwaite, 2008) suggest that romantic couples may engage in theistic mediation strategies fairly often, particularly if they are generally more religious as individuals. Furthermore, such benevolent prayer is tied to desirable relationship outcomes, such as forgiveness and sacrifice (Fincham, Beach, & Davila, 2007; Fincham, et al, 2008).

Although we were unable to locate research on theistic mediation between parents and their offspring, clergy and counselors would presumably be quite interested in learning how often family members who are self-avowed Christians adaptively try to draw God into dyadic conflicts. Such behavior is consistent with some interpretations of the Bible and encouraged in various guides published for Christian audiences (e.g., Stanley, Trathen, McCain, & Bryan, 1998). Further, empirically, the more parents and adult children turn to theistic mediation, the more they may use other adaptive conflict methods (e.g., collaboration) and avoid destructive ways to handle conflict, such as verbal hostility. They may also feel safer sharing sensitive information and be more satisfied with their relationship (Fincham et al, 2008; Mahoney, 2005).

In summary, the first goal of this study was to obtain initial descriptive data about the frequency of two types of spiritual strategies that dyads may use to resolve conflict (theistic mediation and theistic triangulation) amongst Christian adult offspring and their mothers. The second goal was to test the hypothesis that theistic triangulation would be negatively correlated with collaborative conflict resolution strategies as well as general trust and satisfaction in the relationship, but positively correlated with verbal aggression and stonewalling. The third goal was to test an opposite pattern of correlations for theistic mediation. General levels of individual religiousness and demographic variables were controlled to help establish that any linkages reflected more than an individual's general level of Christian engagement.



Participants were 116 college students and their mothers, who both reported being affiliated with a Christian denomination. The college student participants were predominantly Caucasian (97%), female (85%), and between 18 and 20 years old (M = 18.9, SD = .71). The age and race demographics of this sample mirror the student population enrolled in psychology classes at the Midwestern University where data were collected. Most were freshman and sophomores (94%) who had lived with their biological mothers (94%) and fathers (80%) in an intact family (76%) prior to attending college. The breakdown of religious affiliation was 53% Catholic and 47% Protestant. Four items were taken from the General Social Survey (GSS) (Davis, Smith, & Marsden, 2004) to assess general religiousness (e.g., frequency of religious service attendance and prayer and self-rated religiousness and spirituality). One 6-point Likert item assessed religious service attendance with the following results: 3% never, 17% twice or less a year, 25% several times a year, 30% one to three times per month, 25% nearly every week to weekly, and 1% several times a week. A 6-point Likert item about prayer yielded the following: 8% never, 15% once a month or less, 10% a few times a month, 31% once to a few times a week, 27% once a day, and 9% more than once a day. A 4point Likert item on self-rated religiousness had a mean of 2.7 (SD = .63), based on response options of 1 (not religious), 2 (slightly religious), 3 (moderately religious) and 4 (very religious). A parallel item on self-rated spirituality had a mean of 2.9 (SD = .61). Consistent with prior research (Mahoney et al., 1999), these four items were summed for a "global religiousness" score for primary data analyses ([alpha] = .66). Compared to national norms of college students (Gallup & Lindsay, 1999), the group was, on average, moderately religious and spiritual.

Demographically, mothers were between 39 and 59 years old (M = 47.8, SD = 3.80) with a wide range of education (14% graduate or professional training, 33% college graduate, 15% two-year college degree, 15% some college, and 23% high school graduate). Mothers' reports on the four religious variables described above from the General Social Survey (GSS) (Davis, Smith, & Marsden, 2004) were consistent with national norms and were again combined for an index of mothers' global religiousness ([alpha] = .65). The breakdown of mothers' religious affiliation was 52% Catholic and 48% Protestant and their religious attendance was 3% never, 15% twice or less a year, 5% several times a year, 21% one to three times per month, 52% nearly every week to weekly, and 4% several times a week. Frequency of mothers' prayer was 1% never, 7% once a month or less, 3% a few times a month, 26% once to a few times a week, 28% once a day, and 35% more than once a day. The item on mothers' self-rated religiousness had a mean of 3.0 (SD = .65) and the item on self-rated spirituality had a mean of 3.2 (SD = .76). As a final descriptive note, correlations between mothers' and college students' global religious items were as follows: self-rated religiousness (r = .32, p < .001), self-rated spirituality (r = .15, ns), attendance at religious services (r = .62, p < .001) and frequency of prayer (r = .27, p < .01).


This study's sample was drawn from a larger study that received approval from the university's IRB. The college students were solicited from psychology classes to participate in group administration of the measures and they signed a written informed consent form that described their participation in the study (N = 273). informed consent materials also invited the college students to provide contact information for their mothers so they could be asked to participate in the study, but this was optional for students. Packets were mailed to mothers who agreed on the phone to participate; 130 mailed back materials in postage paid return envelopes.


Theistic Mediation and Triangulation by Self. New scales were developed as part of the larger project to assess an individual's report of his/her own use of theistic mediation and triangulation strategies. Twenty items with a 4-point Likert scale (1 = never to 4 = often) were developed based on available literature (Butler, Gardner, & Bird, 1998; Butler & Harper, 1994), and an exploratory factor analysis was conducted on the full sample (N =273) of college students' reports. instructions preceding these questions asked participants to think about things they might communicate to their family member when they have disagreements or conflictual interactions and indicate if they "never," "rarely," "sometimes," or "often" engaged in the behaviors described in the items. The principal factor method was used to extract factors, followed by promax rotation. Two factors emerged; the first factor, labeled theistic mediation, consisted of 9 items, had an eigenvalue of 8.18, and accounted for 40.9% of the variance. Nine other items, labeled theistic triangulation, loaded on a second factor, had an eigenvalue of 2.61, and accounted for 13.03% of variance. These items are located on Table 1; see Yanni (2004) for more details. Mothers completed the same scales about themselves. The means, standard deviations, and alphas of the participants' scores in this study are on Table 3.

Theistic Mediation and Triangulation by Partner. New scales were developed as part of the larger project to assess an individual's report of the partner's use of theistic mediation and triangulation strategies. The 20 items that were created were conceptually similar to the self-focused items but different phrasing was used with some of the 4-point Likert items (1 = never to 4 = often). Instructions preceding these questions asked participants to think about things they believe or observe that their family member does to handle disagreements and conflicts with the participant and indicate if their family member "never," "rarely," "sometimes," or "often" engaged in these behaviors. Another exploratory factory analysis was conducted on the full sample of college students' (N = 273) reports about their mothers' behavior. Two factors emerged; one factor comprised of 9 items labeled theistic mediation by other, had an eigenvalue of 2.31, and accounted for 11.57% of the variance. Eleven other items loaded on second factor, labeled theistic triangulation by other, had an eigenvalue of 10.42, and accounted for 52.12% of the variance. The items are displayed on Table 2. Mothers completed the same scales about the college students. The means, standard deviations, and alphas of the participants' scores in this study are on Table 3.

Relationship satisfaction. Mother and child relationship satisfaction was assessed with the 3-item Kansas Parental Satisfaction Scale (KPSS; James et al., 1985). Each item is rated on a 7-point Likert rating scale, with 7 being "extremely satisfied" and 1 indicating "extremely dissatisfied." This scale exhibited adequate internal consistency for mothers ([alpha] = .82) and college students ([alpha] = .80) in this study.

Self-disclosure. Personal self-disclosure about a variety of non-religious issues (e.g., major personal decisions or goals, likes/dislikes about self and other party, fears, shameful personal conduct, self-image, racial issues, and politics) was assessed with 13-items from the 15-item Self-Disclosure Scale, originally designed to assess self-disclosure by college students (GDS; Balswick & Balkwell, 1977). Each participant endorsed one of four responses for each item focusing on I would "never," "hesitate," "not hesitate," or "eagerly" talk about this topic. In this study, the revised version of the scale exhibited adequate internal consistency for mothers ([alpha] = .82) and college students ([alpha] = .90).

Collaboration, Stonewalling, and Verbal Aggression. The use of collaboration, stonewalling, and verbal aggression strategies to resolve conflict were assessed with corresponding subscales from the Conflicts and Problem-Solving Scale. Participants reported on their own use and the partner's use of all strategies. Because the measure was originally designed to assess couples' strategies to resolve disagreements (CPSS; Kerig, 1996), minor word changes were made to the 30-items to make them maximally relevant to mothers and their college-aged children. The original CPSS subscales possessed adequate internal consistency with coefficient alphas ranging from .70 to .98. See Table 3 for alpha coefficients from this study. It may be noted that the avoidance subscale from the CPSS was also included in the larger study's assessment battery but it was dropped from this study due to low alpha coefficients (< .64).


Theistic Triangulation and Theistic Mediation: Base Rates of Responses to Items

College student and mother self-reports. Table 1 provides the base rates of self-reported use of theistic mediation and triangulation. Due to space constraints, we combined the percentage of cases where "often" and "sometimes" were endorsed. Nearly all of the theistic mediation items were endorsed by 40 to 60% of the students and mothers. Theistic triangulation was less frequent as most items were endorsed by 10 to 20% of both respondents. The exception was the commonplace report of "saying the other person is not practicing what she "preaches" from a spiritual perspective," with affirmative base rates of 46% (students) and 57% (mothers).

College student and mother reports about the partner. Table 2 presents base rates for college student and mother reports about each other's use of theistic mediation and triangulation. These base rates about the other person's use of theistic mediation were on par with self-reports. In contrast, endorsement of theistic triangulation by the other person tended to be higher than self-reports, with several items endorsed by 30 to 40% of each type of respondent.

Bivariate Correlations between Global Religiousness and Primary Study Variables

For descriptive purposes, bivariate correlations are displayed in Table 3 between general religiousness and the primary study variables. The correlations of each party's scores within the predictor and criterion variables were inspected to ensure they did not exceed .30; (the matrix was omitted from text due to space constraints). The overlap between child and mother scores on the primary predictor variables were child theistic mediation (r = .36, p < .01), mother theistic mediation (r = .46, p < .001), child theistic triangulation (r = .04, ns) and mother theistic triangulation (r = .29, p < .001).

Hierarchical Regression Analysis

Separate multiple hierarchical regression analyses were conducted. Step 1 contained relevant demographic variables for the reporter (e.g. college students--gender, age, race, parent's marital status, type of female guardian, student's residence; mothers--age and level of education) and general religiousness of the reporter, and Step 2 contained each relationship functioning variable predicting to child and mother use of theistic mediation and theistic triangulation. Due to space constraints, only standardized beta weights from Step 2 are displayed in Table 4.

Net of controls, significant beta weights emerged for college student reports of child theistic mediation and their self-disclosure to mothers ([beta] = .21, p < .05), and collaboration by themselves ([beta] = .28, p < .01) and their mother ([beta] = .27, p < .01). Significant beta weights also emerged for college student reports of mother theistic mediation and college students' self-disclosure ([beta] = .18, p < .05), collaborative resolution ([beta] = .20, p < .05) and stonewalling ([beta] = .19, p < .05). Moreover, significant beta weights emerged for mother reports of child theistic mediation and mother self-disclosure ([beta] = .21, p < .05), relationship satisfaction ([beta] = .30, p < .01), and collaborative resolution by mother and child ([beta] = .24, p < .01; [beta] = .25, p < .01, respectively).

With regard to college students' theistic triangulation, net of controls, in Step 2 college students' reports of their theistic triangulation related to verbal aggression by child and mother ([beta] = .20, p < .05; [beta] = .25, p < .05, respectively). In Step 2, mother reports of child theistic triangulation significantly related to stonewalling by mother and child ([beta] = .20, p < .05; [beta] = .19, p < .05, respectively). Furthermore, college students' reports of mother theistic triangulation in Step 2 also positively related to stonewalling by child and mother ([beta] = .32, p < .01; [beta] = .28, p < .01, respectively) and verbal aggression by child and mother ([beta] = .30, p < .01; [beta] = .28, p < .01, respectively). Likewise, in Step 2 mother reports of mother theistic triangulation positively related to mother and child stonewalling ([beta] = .24, p < .05; , = .29, p < .01, respectively) and verbal aggression ([beta] = .25, p < .01, respectively) by child.


This is the first study to examine systemically theistic mediation and triangulation processes in communication patterns in parent-child relationships. These initial findings indicate that young adult females and their mothers fairly often turn to God to attempt to resolve their conflicts and this has important implications for their relationship. For example, in this study approximately 40 to 60% of college students and their mothers said both parties used positive ways to draw God into dyadic conflict (i.e., theistic mediation). Only 1015% of college students or their mothers self-reported that they themselves attempted to position God and their faith against the partner to win a conflict, which is construed as a negative theistic conflict resolution strategy. However, both family members reported that the other party resorted to some type of these tactics, at some point in time, in 30 to 40% of the cases. The two types of spiritually-based strategies appear to have opposing implications for relationship health. On the helpful side of the coin, the child's use of theistic mediation was related to greater self-disclosure by each party as well as collaborative conflict resolution strategies by both parties. Further, college students' perception that their mother used such methods was tied to college students' reports of more relationship satisfaction and their sharing of sensitive information with mothers. In contrast, child and mother theistic triangulation was related to more maladaptive forms of conflict resolution (e.g., verbal aggression and stonewalling). Furthermore, especially because theistic mediation and theistic triangulation were tied to secular conflict resolution strategies beyond commonly used single-item indices of religiousness, this study also offers insights into what it is about religion and spirituality that matters for familial relationships.

One set of salient findings center on links between college students' reliance on theistic mediation and desirable relational processes and outcomes. Both parties' reports of greater use of theistic mediation by college students related to both parties' use of collaboration to resolve conflicts according to both reporters. Thus, college students' willingness to suggest the dyad draw upon God and faith to resolve conflict was tied to both parties' ability to non-defensively express themselves and listen openly to each other's point of view when discussing a conflict (e.g., collaborative resolution strategies).

In contrast, mothers' use of theistic mediation was not consistently tied to either party's use of collaboration. In fact, maternal mediation was tied to higher stonewalling by children. This may mean that some Christian mothers who attempt to pull God into conflicts with their children fail to convey a willingness to engage in open-dialogue and instead come across as domineering, whereas other mothers do convey a genuine, collaborative spirit. Indeed, if college students had the perception that mothers used theistic mediation, then the college students viewed themselves as more likely to be collaborative.

Another finding that consistently emerged is that the polarizing form of spiritually-based conflict resolution strategies (i.e., theistic triangulation) related to both college students' and mothers' use of toxic and argumentative conflict resolution strategies (e.g., yelling, naming calling, insults). Conceptually, this suggests that those individuals who use counterproductive forms of conflict resolution do so in both spiritual and non-spiritual realms. Apparently, an inclination to use verbal hostility to deal with conflicts tends to bring out harmful and hurtful spiritually-based means to deal with disagreements, and vice versa. Ironically, attempting to use God as leverage to resolve conflict is tied to behavior that would not be condoned as a Christian way to deal with another family member.

Practically, the conceptual insights of this study suggest that family therapists and clergy may want to determine if Christian oriented families would benefit from exploring their use of theistic mediation and triangulation as potentially adaptive and maladaptive mechanisms within their families. Some Christian families may not realize that theistic mediation is a potential resource that may be a helpful tool to resolve conflict, although parents may need to be particularly sensitive in their use of this approach. Other Christian families may also not fully recognize the potential harm associated with theistic triangulation. Parental goals may be to strengthen Christian bonds in their family relationships, but parents may inadvertently erode the foundation of parent-child relationships through use of theistic triangulation. Both parents and offspring may need reminding that implying one is spiritually superior and aligned with God merely tends to escalate their conflict.

An interesting side note in this study was that higher levels of mothers' general religiousness was related to higher levels of theistic triangulation, but this was not the case for college students. However, theistic mediation was linked to general religiousness for both parties. This suggests that there may be a generational difference in what college students and mothers may have learned over time within their church community about the ways in which God and faith should be relied upon during interpersonal conflict. Also, interestingly college students' reports on their use of stonewalling were positively correlated with their reports of mothers' use of theistic mediation. This finding may suggest that certain forms of theistic mediation, albeit frequently perceived in a positive light, may be perceived by some individuals as removing oneself from a conflictual situation rather than dealing with it in a straightforward fashion (e.g., stonewalling).

The present study, although interesting and groundbreaking in certain aspects, has some limitations. Specifically, the sample consisted of mother-child dyads with predominantly female offspring. Although the sample mirrored the general religiousness of larger national samples of Christians (Davis, Smith, & Marsden, 2004), further research is needed with more demographically diverse groups, with father-child pairs, and with a larger proportion of male offspring. In addition, the cross-sectional design precludes causal inferences. Also, the reliance on self-reports raises questions as to whether theistic mediation or triangulation translates into observable differences in communication patterns. Further, we used slightly different wording to gather self and other reports of theistic mediation and triangulation. This strategy intended to capture the essence of theistic mediation and triangulation, but it also limits direct comparisons of cross-informants' reports due to variation in the items. Future studies may want to employ one set of questions for both self and partner reports to eliminate this concern. Finally, our results should be cautiously considered by clinicians because the severity of problematic communication strategies (e.g., verbal aggression) probably did not reach levels typically seen in clinical settings. This raises cautions in drawing inferences from this study for clinical practice.

In conclusion, this initial study on how dyads rely on God to resolve conflict illustrates one way that social scientists can more closely examine how families integrate religion and spirituality into family interactions, for better or worse. These findings will hopefully advance the dialogue between researchers, therapists, and clergy related to the complex interactions between religion and family life, which are often overlooked in practice and research (Parke, 2001).


Balswick, J. O., & Balkwell, J. W. (1977). Self-disclosure to same and opposite-sex parents: An empirical test of insights from role theory. Sociometry, 40, 282-286.

Brelsford, G. M., & Mahoney A. (2008). Spiritual disclosure between older adolescents and their mothers. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 62-70.

Butler, M. H., Gardner, B. C., & Bird, M. H. (1998). Not just a time out: Change dynamics of prayer for religious couples in conflict situations. Family Process, 37, 451-475.

Butler, M. H., & Harper, J. M. (1994). The divine triangle: God in the marital system of religious couples. Family Process, 33, 277-286.

Davis, J. A., Smith, T. W., & Marsden, P. V. (2004). General Social Surveys 1972-2006(Cumulative File; Computer File). Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.

Easterbrooks, M. A., Cummings, E. M., & Emde, R. N. (1994). Young children' responses to constructive marital disputes. Journal of Family Psychology, 8, 160-169.

Fiese, B. H., & Tomcho, T. J. (2001). Finding meaning in religious practices: The relation between religious holiday rituals and marital satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 567-609.

Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R. H., & Davila, J. (2007). Longitudinal relations between forgiveness and conflict resolution in marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 542-545.

Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R. H., Lambert, N., Stillman, T., & Braithwaite, S. (2008). Spiritual behaviors and relationship satisfaction: A critical analysis of the role of prayer. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 27, 362-388.

Gallup, G., Jr., & Lindsay, D. M. (1999). Surveying the religious landscape: Trends in U.S. beliefs. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse.

Gardner, B. C., Butler, M. H., & Seedall, R. B. (2008). En-gendering the couple-deity relationship: Clinical implications of power and process. Contemporary Family Therapy, 30, 152-166.

Grotevant, H. D., & Cooper, C. R. (1986). Individuation in family relationships: A perspective on individual differences in the development of identity and role-taking skill in adolescence. Human Development, 29, 82-100.

James, D. E., Schumm, W. R., Kennedy, C. E., Grigsby, C. C., Shectman, K. L., & Nichols, C. W. (1985). Characteristics of the Kansas Parental Satisfaction Scale among two samples of married parents. Psychological Reports, 57, 163-169.

Kerig, P. K. (1996). Assessing the links between inter-parental conflict and child adjustment: The Conflicts and Problem-Solving Scales. Journal of Family Psychology, 10, 454-473.

Mahoney, A. (2005). Religion and conflict in marital and parent-child relationships. Journal of Social Issues, 61, 689-706.

Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., & DeMaris, A. (2009). Couples viewing marriage and pregnancy through the lens of the Sacred: A descriptive study. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion.

Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Jewell, T., Swank, A. B., Scott, E., and 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.

Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Tarakeshwar, N., and Swank, A. B. (2001). Religion in the home in the 1980s and 90s: A meta-analytic review and conceptual analyses of links between religion, marriage, and parenting. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 559-596.

Murray-Swank, A. B., Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. I. (2006). Sanctification of parenting: Links to corporal punishment and parental warmth among biblically conservative and liberal mothers. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 16, 271-287.

Nelsen, H. M., & Kroliczak, A. (1984). Parental use of the threat "God will punish": Replication and extension. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 23, 267-277.

Parke, R. (2001). Introduction to the special section on families and religion: A call for arecommitment by researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 555-558.

Pattison, E. M. (1982). Management of religious issues in family therapy. International Journal of Family Therapy, 4, 140-163.

Smith, C. (with M. L. Denton). (2005). Soul searching: The religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stanley, S. M., Trathen, D., McCain, S., & Bryan, M. (1998). A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage. New York, NY: Jossey-Bass.

Worthington, E. L., Lerner, A. J., & Sharp, C. B. (2005). Repairing the emotional bond: Marriage research from 1997 through early 2005. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 24, 259-262.

Yanni, G. M. (2004). Religious and secular dyadic variables and their relation to parent-child relationships and college students' psychological adjustment (Doctoral dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 2004). Dissertation Abstracts International, 64, 6347.

Gina M. Brelsford, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at Penn State Harrisburg. Her research focuses on the psychology of religion and spirituality and families. Her other research interests include links between positive psychology variables and individual well-being and links between sexuality and religion.

Annette Mahoney, Ph.D., is a Professor at Bowling Green State University. Her research focuses on the psychology of religion and spirituality, particularly as applied to family life. Other research interests are links between marriage, parenting and child behavior problems. She has received research funding from the Templeton Foundation, the Fetzer Foundation, and the Ohio Department of Mental Health.

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Gina M. Brelsford, Ph.D., Penn State Harrisburg, 311W Olmsted Building, 777 W. Harrisburg Pike, Middletown, PA 17057; email:

Gina M. Brelsford

Penn State Harrisburg

Annette Mahoney

Bowling Green State University
Table 1

Theistic Mediation and Theistic Triangulation by Self: Base
Rates of Scale Items Responses

(Scale Item #) Theistic Mediation Item Rating      CS Rpt    Mom Rpt

(1) I suggest that God would want     Smt/often   26%       26%
us to come up with a solution that    Rarely      18%       30%
satisfies both of us.                 Never       56%       44%

(3) I ask us to pray together to      Smt/often   11%       8%
God to understand one another.        Rarely      19%       30%
                                      Never       70%       62%

(5) I encourage us to rely on our     Smt/often   19%       26%
spirituality to gain perspective      Rarely      20%       30%
and listen to each other.             Never       61%       44%

(6) I point out that certain          Smt/often   6%        13%
religious texts back up my point of   Rarely      24%       19%
view.                                 Never       70%       68%

(7) I suggest that my mother/child    Smt/often   9%        43%
needs to consider what God would      Rarely      17%       21%
say is the right thing to do.         Never       74%       36%

(9) I suggest that we turn to God     Smt/often   17%       18%
or our faith to be patient with       Rarely      23%       26%
each other.                           Never       60%       56%

(12) I encourage us to follow         Smt/often   12%       14%
spiritual teachings and messages to   Rarely      20%       34%
deal with our conflict.               Never       68%       52%

(14) I suggest God loves us both      Smt/often   33%       39%
even if we disagree about certain     Rarely      20%       24%
issues.                               Never       47%       37%

(17) I suggest that God would want    Smt/often   20%       24%
us to listen to each other's views    Rarely      18%       23%
about the conflict.                   Never       62%       53%

(Scale Item #) Theistic                           CS Rept   Mom Rept
Triangulation Items--Self focused

(2) I imply or say that my mother/    Smt/often   15%       22%
child is not practicing what she      Rarely      27%       35%
"preaches" from a spiritual           Never       58%       44%

(8) I point out that God would be     Smt/often   3%        14%
disappointed in my other's/child's    Rarely      12%       23%
point of view.                        Never       85%       63%

(10) I reason that I am spiritually   Smt/often   4%        10%
more enlightened than my mother/      Rarely      14%       17%
child.                                Never       82%       73%

(11) I explain that agreeing with     Smt/often   1%        6%
my mother/or child would violate my   Rarely      8%        8%
sense of spiritual honor.             Never       91%       86%

(13) I argue that my mother/          Smt/often   4%        12%
child's opinions oppose important     Rarely      12%       23%
religious or spiritual principles.    Never       84%       65%

(Scale Item #) Theistic Mediation     Rating      CS Rpt    Mom Rpt
Items--Self focused

(15) I imply that I am spiritually    Smt/Often   3%        10%
more mature than my mother/child.     Rarely      8%        20%
                                      Never       89%       70%
(16) I defend my position by saying   Smt/Often   1%        2%
it is spiritually superior to my      Rarely      10%       8%
mother/child's position.              Never       89%       90%

(18) I suggest that my mother/        Smt/Often   1%        9%
child is rejecting God's will.        Rarely      9%        12%
                                      Never       90%       79%
(19) I say that God disagrees with    Smt/Often   2%        2%
my mother/child's position about      Rarely      9%        20%
the issue at hand.                    Never       89%       78%

Table 2

Theistic Mediation and Theistic Triangulation by Partner: Base
Rates of Scale Items Responses

Theistic Mediation Items-Partner      Rating      Mom Rpt   CS Rpt
focused                                           of CS     of Mom
(Scale Item #) All items begin with
"My mother/child ...

(1) ... uses religious texts to       Smt/Often       3%        15%
support her/his point of view         Rarely          19%       19%
during our conflicts.                 Never           78%       66%

(2) ... turns to God to listen to     Smt/Often       17%       26%
my point of view.                     Rarely          33%       26%
                                      Never           50%       48%

(3) ... helps me remember that God    Smt/Often       14%       28%
would want us to come up with a       Rarely          32%       23%
compromise.                           Never           54%       49%

(8) ... turns to God or their faith   Smt/Oftenr      33%       45%
to be patient with me.                Rarely          27%       21%
                                      Never           40%       34%

(9) ... asks me to reconsider what    Smt/Often       10%       22%
God would say is the correct point    Rarely          23%       19%
of view.                              Never           67%       59%

(12) ... reminds me that God loves    Smt/Often       13%       42%
me.                                   Rarely          27%       24%
                                      Never           60%       34%

(14) ... relies on God to be kind     Smt/Often       27%       33%
and compassionate toward me.          Rarely          32%       18%
                                      Never           41%       49%

(16) ... tries to adhere to spiritual   Smt/Often       25%       22%
teachings to deal with our            Rarely          25%       23%
conflicts.                            Never           50%       55%

(18) ... prays to gain perspective      Smt/often       29%       34%
and listen to my point of view.       Rarely          28%       24%
                                      Never           43%       38%

(Scale Item #) Theistic                               Mom Rpt   CS Rpt
Triangulation Items-Partner Focused                   of CS     of Mom

(4) ... thinks that my views on       Smt/often       14%       17%
certain issues are hypocritical       Rarely          24%       16%
from a spiritual angle.               Never           62%       67%

(5) ... seems to believe that God     Smt/often       10%       13%
backs up her/his side of the          Rarely          24%       16%
disagreement.                         Never           66%       71%

(6) ... believes she/he is            Smt/often       11%       18%
spiritually obliged to hold firm to   Rarely          23%       22%
her/his position.                     Never           66%       60%

(7) ... implies that she/he is        Smt/often       3%        19%
spiritually more mature or advanced   Rarely          11%       17%
than I am.                            Never           86%       64%

(10) ... justifies her/his position   Smt/often       1%        9%
by saying it is spiritually           Rarely          11%       16%
superior.                             Never           88%       75%

(11) ... says that I am arguing or    Smt/often       1%        7%
acting against God's will.            Rarely          9%        19%
                                      Never           90%       74%

(13) ... implies that our conflict    Smt/often       9%        5%
stems from me not practicing what I   Rarely          19%       22%
preach from a spiritual               Never           72%       73%

(15) ... believes she/he is           Smt/often       4%        22%
spiritually more enlightened than I   Rarely          18%       17%
am.                                   Never           78%       61%

(17) ... often thinks that God        Smt/often       1%        8%
disagrees with my side of the         Rarely          25%       15%
conflict.                             Never           74%       77%

(19) ... explains that agreeing       Smt/often       1         2%
with me would violate her/his sense   Rarely          13%       15%
of spiritual integrity.               Never           86%       83%

(20) ... thinks that God is unhappy   Smt/often       0%        7%
with my opinion.                      Rarely          9%        16%
                                      Never           91%       77%

Table 3

Means, Standard Deviations, Alphas of Primary Study Variables,
and Correlations with Global Religiousness

Construct                                Child Reports
                               M         SD      [alpha]   r with GR

Global Religiousness           16.22     4.07    .66       ----
Child Mediation                14.16     5.79    .92       .38***
Child Triangulation            10.81     2.84    .86       .12
Mother Mediation               17.05     7.22    .94       .36***
Mother Triangulation           15.66     6.24    .94       .05
Self-Disclosure                39.65     7.11    .90       .10
Parent-Adolescent              17.96     2.91    .80       .15
Relationship Satisfaction

Collaboration by self          19.46     4.03    .81       .01
Stonewalling by self           8.80      3.82    .72       -.01
Verbal Aggression by self      6.44      3.59    .76       -.03
Collaboration by other         19.74     4.29    .84       .01
Stonewalling by other          8.23      3.86    .73       .01
Verbal Aggression by other     5.70      3.98    .82       -.14

Construct                              Mother Reports
                               M       SD         [alpha]   r with GR

Global Religiousness           19.13   4.02       .65       ----
Child Mediation                15.00   5.39       .91       .45**
Child Triangulation            13.91   3.58       .85       .30**
Mother Mediation               16.13   6.48       .93       .40****
Mother Triangulation           12.47   4.23       .89       .33*
Self-Disclosure                41.12   4.57       .82       .01
Parent-Adolescent              17.65   2.47       .82       .13
Relationship Satisfaction

Collaboration by self          22.91   2.82       .70       -.12
Stonewalling by self           8.13    3.78       .78       .18
Verbal Aggression by self      5.17    3.35       .82       .02
Collaboration by other         19.29   4.04       .81       -.12
Stonewalling by other          8.40    3.89       .81       .00
Verbal Aggression by other     5.74    3.96       .84       -.01

Table 4

Standardized Beta Weights Predicting to Theistic Mediation and
Theistic Triangulation after Net of Controls

                                          College Student's
Reporter:                                 Child           Mother

Relationship Satisfaction by Reporter     .03             .30 **
Self-Disclosure by Reporter               .21 *           .21 *
Collaboration by Child                    .28 **          .25 **
Collaboration by Mother                   .27 **          .24 **
Stonewalling by Child                     .13             -.01
Stonewalling by Mother                    .05             .00
Verbal Aggression by Child                .09             -.11
Verbal Aggression by Mother               -.03            -.14

                                          Mother's Mediation

Reporter:                                 Child         Mother

Relationship Satisfaction by Reporter     .06           .10
Self-Disclosure by Reporter               .18 *         .13
Collaboration by Child                    .20 *        -.05
Collaboration by Mother                   .17           .08
Stonewalling by Child                     .19 *         .03
Stonewalling by Mother                    .14           .07
Verbal Aggression by Child                .11           .02
Verbal Aggression by Mother               -.01          -.00

                                          College Student's
Reporter:                                 Child          Mother

Relationship Satisfaction by Reporter     -.18            .01
Self-Disclosure by Reporter               -.06           -.01
Collaboration by Child                     .02           -.07
Collaboration by Mother                   -.01           -.03
Stonewalling by Child                      .17            .19 *
Stonewalling by Mother                     .15            .20 *
Verbal Aggression by Child                 .20 *          .06
Verbal Aggression by Mother                .25 *          .12

                                          Mother's Triangulation

Reporter:                                 Child        Mother

Relationship Satisfaction by Reporter     -.10         -.15
Self-Disclosure by Reporter               -.06          .02
Collaboration by Child                    -.04         -.17
Collaboration by Mother                   -.08         -.12
Stonewalling by Child                      .32 **       .29 **
Stonewalling by Mother                     .28 **       .24 *
Verbal Aggression by Child                 .30 **       .25 **
Verbal Aggression by Mother                .28 **       .18

Note. Multiple hierarchical regression analyses were performed. Each
separate HR analysis included: Step 1-Global religiousness of the
reporter and demographics (CS demographics = gender, age, race,
marital status of parents, female guardian and student residence;
Mother demographics = age and level of education), Step 2-predictor
variable. N = 116. * p < .05. ** p < .01.
COPYRIGHT 2009 CAPS International (Christian Association for Psychological Studies)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Brelsford, Gina M.; Mahoney, Annette
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Date:Dec 22, 2009
Previous Article:The three faces of integration.
Next Article:Ethical issues in integrating Christian faith and psychotherapy: beliefs and behaviors among CAPS members.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters