A new study from the University of Georgia is giving new meaning to the popular saying “couples that pray together stay together.” According to the research, attending religious services at churches, mosques, synagogues, or other places of worship helps to strengthen marriages, especially later in life.
“Understanding ways to strengthen marriage in middle age and beyond is increasingly important as the population of older adults rises,” explained the study authors.
The research was focused on hundreds of couples, most of whom had been married for about 30 years. The experts found that partners who did not initially identify as religious, yet frequently engaged in common activities with their significant other, increased their engagement in worship and religion over the course of the study.
“I see this with many retirees – they’re sitting in retirement and sometimes it seems as though they get stuck in a rut. At times it can seem like they don’t know what to do with all this time they have now. This can be damaging not only to their own well-being, but it can take a toll on their relationship with their spouse,” said study lead author Victoria King.
“Engaging in joint hobbies and finding things that they can do together is important and can help strengthen their relationship. Perhaps that hobby might be getting more involved in church. I know that my grandparents look forward to their church related activities that they do together.”
The study measured each partner’s level of devoutness by assessing how important religion was to them, and also how often they attended religious services. The experts also weighed in the activities that each couple participated in, such as riding bicycles, trying new hobbies, or taking weekend trips solo.
The participants reported on their happiness with their partners and overall satisfaction in their marriage.
Previous studies have shown that as individuals age, religion often becomes more of a priority in their lives. King explained that because most religions emphasize the sanctity of marriage and the family unit, it makes sense that religious involvement would encourage couples to place an added value on doing things together and keeping their families strong.
“Families and couples now are always pulled in so many different directions, with jam-packed schedules, and family time is often pushed aside,” said King. “It is important to find those little times where families or couples can engage in some sort of joint activity together that they can enjoy.”
The driving factor in church involvement appeared to be the wives, who often reported being more religious or spending more time with their husbands. This indicates that women spend the most time on relationship maintenance. As a result, the wives may be more likely to suggest doing things as a couple or becoming more involved in church.
The study is published in the journal American Psychological Association.