Faithful, long marriages linked to religiosity (and large, low-budget weddings)

Written by William C. Duncan

June 11, 2021

High-profile divorces can invite introspection about what makes marriage last. Those who seem to have everything going for them but still split can make others feel that marriage success is random or out of reach.

There are factors, however, that are associated with faithful, lasting marriages. One of these is religious commitment.

As Naomi Schaefer Riley recently noted in the Deseret News, “Religious ceremonies, in particular, aim to locate marital unions within a sacred tangle of relationships and responsibilities that extend up to God and out to the community.” For most religious individuals who get married, the “tangle of relationships” means that weddings are events that draw together a large number of family and friends.

This is important at least in part because research suggests that big weddings (though not expensive ones) are associated with good marriages. A 2014 study found: “Those who reported having more guests at their wedding reported, on average, higher levels of marital quality—even when we controlled for factors such as education, religiosity, race, and income.”

A similar study focused on the outcome of divorce likewise found: “the evidence suggests that the types of weddings associated with lower likelihood of divorce are those that are relatively inexpensive but are high in attendance.”

Family researcher Scott Stanley suggests reasons for these findings: “The benefits of having more witnesses at your wedding may come from both the psychological consequences of making a very public declaration of commitment (which should increase follow through) and from having more friends and family who see your relationship as something to rally around, root for, and support.”

A fascinating recent article in Family Studies highlights another way in which religious commitment contributes to marriage success.

The authors examined whether religiosity, defined for this study “as feeling that religion is an important aspect of one’s life,” prevents infidelity in marriage. The study found: “Those who said that religion was personally ‘very important’ had the lowest level of reported extramarital affairs.”

The study also looked at reasons how these factors could be related. To do this, the researchers examined (1) “three types of ‘lesser’ cheating (i.e., flirting, using online pornography, and following an old flame online)” and (2) marital satisfaction.

They found that “slightly more than half of the association between religiosity and affairs occurred because religiosity was working through other variables to decrease the likelihood of extramarital affairs.” Specifically,

one of the main ways in which religion may prevent extramarital affairs is by preventing individuals from flirting with a member of the opposite sex (i.e., who is not their spouse) in the first place. Given that flirting often signals romantic and/or sexual interest to a potential partner, religion might “build a wall” around marital fidelity by reducing this activity. Religion might also make infidelity less likely by reducing individuals’ use of pornography—an activity that research has been shown to be associated with extramarital affairs.

The study showed “the more personally religious individuals are, the more likely they are to avoid even these ‘minor indiscretions.’”

Though a common refrain recently is that religious affiliation is declining, religious practice still makes very important contributions to personal well-being and community stability. Since strong families are so central to flourishing communities, protection of the interests of children, adult happiness, etc., the influence of religious exercise in shoring up marriage and family is a critical social contribution.

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