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Spiritual Intimacy Linked to More Kindness, Respect in Relationship

by Traci PedersenDecember 09, 2014
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Are you and your partner spiritually intimate? In other words, do you share your deepest spiritual beliefs with one another and listen supportively without judgment?

According to a new study, young couples who were spiritually intimate seemed to experience more overall kindness and respect in their relationship. In fact, the higher the levels of spiritual intimacy, the more positivity (and less negativity) the couples exhibited in their interactions with one another, even while discussing high-conflict topics.  

Even more, couples who believed that their marriage was sacred — a union of divine significance — experienced the most positive interactions with one another. They maintained a high level of respect during arguments and didn’t rip each other apart emotionally.

“Spiritual intimacy is very, very important and undeniably a construct that matters,” said lead author Dr. Annette Mahoney, professor of psychology and member of BGSU’s Spirituality and Psychology Research Team.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, was featured with three other studies on faith and marriage. According to the researchers, the results were stunning.

The researchers recruited 164 married couples during a time of increased family stress — each was about to bring their first biological child into the world. The researchers believed this would be the perfect time to put to the test whether proclaimed spirituality had a real, and not just anecdotal, effect on marriage.

The couples’ interactions were video recorded in their homes on four separate occasions: during late pregnancy, and when their babies were 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months of age. After this, the couples were asked to rate their own and their partner’s spiritually intimate behaviors; they were also asked to give their views on the sanctity of marriage.

Research assistants then went to the couples’ homes and prompted a discussion of topics the couple had already identified as high-conflict — topics such as finances, the division of household chores, in-laws and child care. Then the assistant left the room with the video camera still recording for another ten minutes or so while the couple continued to talk.

Finally, while watching the recordings, the researchers analyzed the couples’ verbal and non-verbal behaviors. They noted positive behaviors such as mutual problem solving, asking for the other person’s point of view, affection, and shared humor; they also jotted down any negative actions such as domineering behavior, verbal hostility, hurtful humor, and angry postures.

The levels of spiritual intimacy claimed by the couples were truly reflected in how they interacted with one another. This was surprising to the researchers—as ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ are often two different things in these types of studies.

Although 92 percent of the couples reported that they were Christians, Mahoney said she would expect that the two concepts in the study (spiritual intimacy and sanctity of marriage) would also apply to unmarried couples, and couples of any religious affiliation, and perhaps to some atheists as well. But more research is needed to confirm these hypotheses.

Do you practice spiritual intimacy in your relationship? Take a few moments each day to bring your conversations to a deeper, more open, spiritual level. When you truly know another person inside and out — their beliefs, desires, fears, likes and dislikes — it creates a deep well of empathy, trust, and understanding which, in turn, helps maintain higher levels of respect, even during times of high conflict.


Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional freelance writer who specializes in psychology, science, health, and spiritual themes.  Some of her most recent work includes covering the latest research news in science and psychology, writing science chapter books for elementary students, and developing teacher resource books.  When she is not researching and writing, she is spending time with her family, reading anything and everything, and going to the beach as often as possible.

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