As I reread the Ellison study on “Couples Who Pray Together” in the Journal of Marriage and Family, and which we referred to in the August 6th post, I was struck by something I had missed in my first reading. I was so intrigued by the findings related to praying together and reading the Bible together that I missed an important piece of information.
What I saw was that when a couple shared core religious beliefs and values, they reported an even higher level of marital satisfaction, even, than sharing religious practices together at home. Sharing beliefs and values were also seen as predicting increased marital satisfaction.
The opposite is also true. In couples who did not share religious beliefs and values, this dissimilarity predicted the frequency and types of conflict the couple would experience, and also predicted an increased risk of marital failure. These results were reported as being consistent across race and ethnic factors.
An example of shared beliefs and values can be seen in couples who share an evangelical faith. Core beliefs, such as the inherency of scripture, and the authority of the Bible have been found in many other studies to predict family-related attitudes and practices, such as childrearing and child discipline.
Why is this true? The authors addressed this issue and suggested that when couples share beliefs and values, they each have a great tendency to live by the Golden Rule, and to understand the teaching of Jesus on forgiveness. They suggested that shared beliefs and values included a deeper awareness of appropriate conduct in different situations and a better understanding of how to handle conflict in a constructive manner. In addition, these shared beliefs and values typically include a common understanding of marital roles and responsibilities.
So what does a couple do when they don’t share these beliefs and values? I remember a secretary that worked for me years ago. She and her husband did not share religious beliefs, but they did share a number of values. But the key to their marital satisfaction was, according to the wife, that her husband respected her beliefs, and encouraged her in her faith. He did so even though he had no apparent interest in discussing her faith beliefs.
So it is more important to share values, at least. If there are questions about whether or not you and your spouse share the same values, it’s time for a conversation. Take what is important to each of you, in terms of your values–not your beliefs–and have a thoughtful discussion about what you perceive to be differences. It may take more than one discussion. Then move to a discussion of your beliefs later.
How would you define your values? How are they different from your beliefs?