Periodical Reviews -- By: John A. Adair

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 177:705 (Jan 2020)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: John A. Adair

Periodical Reviews

By The Faculty And Staff Of Dallas Theological Seminary

John A. Adair


How Couples Navigate Different Beliefs about God’s Existence: An Exploratory Study among Catholics and Their Agnostic or Atheist Partners,” Lee M. Williams, Yang Jiang, and Erin Rector, Journal of Psychology and Christianity 37, no. 4 (2018): 293–304.

Unity within the marriage relationship is a central tenet of biblical teaching, in which two individuals join together to become one. The daily exemplification of this principle, however, is often influenced by variables both inside and outside the marriage relationship. Those who work with married couples frequently encounter differences that can contribute to division within the relationship, ultimately threatening this sense of oneness. One such variable that can threaten the unity of a marriage is differing religious beliefs.

The authors of this study sought to examine how couples successfully navigate the potentially difficult landscape of differing religious beliefs. Earlier studies examined the impact of religious differences on marital quality; however, the religious differences centered on denominational differences rather than differences in overall belief in God’s existence. These studies found that religious differences were connected with lower levels of marital quality, higher marital conflict, and an increased risk for divorce. The authors of this study wanted to examine couples in which one partner reported believing in God and the other reported not believing in God. Further, the authors explored what protective factors might shield the couples from potential negative impacts of differing beliefs about God’s existence.

The authors utilized a grounded theory research method in which interviews were conducted to identify important distinctions that aided the couples in navigating their differences well. Participant couples were solicited through premarital classes held by the Catholic church. Six couples agreed to participate in the study. One partner in each dyad identified as Catholic and the other partner identified as agnostic or atheist.

The findings indicated two processes that a couple had to navigate to move forward with the marriage. The couples had to first explore their personal religious beliefs and then develop and utilize strategies to address problems that arose as a result of these differences. Several salient points emerged from the research. First, the ability to converse about differences in a respectful manner, free of judgment, provided a safe atmosphere

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