Often, people see tension between spirituality and the field of psychology. Academics seem to look down on matters of belief as unintellectual, and the faithful sometimes think that scientists are secular opponents to all religion.
However, research is continuing to indicate that expressions of faith have tangible, measurable benefits. This holds particularly true about prayer.
Marriage Affects Cardiovascular Health
Marital strain and conflict can have a direct effect on your heart. In fact, researchers have found that these factors correlate with poorer cardiovascular health. In one study, they found that one of the large chambers of the heart, the left ventricle, thickens in response to marital distress.
This thickening is closely associated with a decrease in heart function along with other cardiovascular issues. So experiencing stress in your marriage will physically affect your heart. Surprisingly, prayer can reverse negative impacts on the heart.
Prayer Affects Cardiovascular Health
A new study came out this year that examined the impact of daily prayer on your health, specifically what is known as daily partner-focused petitionary prayer (PFPP).
This kind of prayer, while quite a mouthful, simply refers to speaking with God using your own words and language. You can contrast this against memorized or liturgical prayer–not because one is better than the other, but just as a way to define the scope of the study.
PFPP is praying to God for your well-being as well as the well-being of your spouse. It focuses on asking for support for the challenges you are facing in marriage.
The study found that PFPP had a positive impact on relationship communication and quality as well as certain specifics of cardiovascular functionality. This type of prayer reduces the strain of daily stress on the heart and improves its efficiency.
Prayer Affects Marital Health
Not only does this kind of prayer have positive benefits for your cardiovascular health, it also helps enhance your marriage.
Researchers have found that prayer that focuses on your spouse improves relational satisfaction, particularly as marriages mature. In a study by Fincham and Beach, they found that this enhanced satisfaction in relationships led to an overall increase in commitment.
A second study by Fincham and Beach confirmed their findings. As couples pray for each other, they find greater satisfaction in their relationship. And as that grows, they become more committed to one another.
And yet another study discovered that when you pray for your spouse, you become more willing to sacrifice for them, more so than merely having positive thoughts about them.
Intentional prayer in and for your marriage helps you enjoy your relationship and leads to a deeper, more intimate connection with your spouse.
How Prayer Impacts Marriage
Prayer can be an effective tool to take a hard, honest look at your marriage, so we’ve put together a worksheet that will help you evaluate where you are in your relationship with your spouse. We’ve made it available to all of our supporters on Patreon, so go and check out how you can use prayer to intentionally reflect on your relationship.
Prayer Motivates Kindness
An essential factor in examining prayer is how it affects your thinking. For example, a study in 1990 took a look at how prayer affects your intentions and willingness to engage in certain behaviors that influence relationship functioning.
This study found that when you pray for your spouse, you are primed to think about them with more love and compassion. As a result, you will start to show greater respect and sensitivity to them.
How does this work? Think about what happens when you argue. Before the conflict, you feel in tune with your spouse, having the same goals in life. But as soon as the fight starts, new, selfish purposes appear that clash with those of your spouse.
However, prayer provides a way to step away from the battle and to calm yourself. As you pray, you allow your cooperative goals to reemerge and replace your more contentious motives.
Furthermore, prayer helps to invoke an experience of relationship with God. Research shows that this results in the following:
- Diffused hostile emotions
- Decreased emotional reactivity
- Increased empathy between spouses
- Increased self-change focus
- Improved reconciliation and problem-solving
As you pray, you equip yourself with tools that allow you to see your spouse with kindness, even while you are in conflict.
Prayer Promotes Forgiveness
Beyond thinking of your spouse more kindly, prayer also enables you to be more likely to forgive them. Those of you familiar with the Lord’s Prayer might remember the line, “Forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
When you consciously think about forgiveness, you are more likely to forgive. In the heat of conflict, as you hold onto the anger and hurt, it can be easy to forget. But praying will reset this process, reminding you of the need to forgive your spouse in day-to-day living.
Forgiveness is crucial in marriage because it helps stop cycles of negative interaction. When one of you takes a moment to step back and stop seeing the other as the enemy, you make it easier for both of you to work together to face your challenges.
This is the power of prayer. It allows your body to manage stress more effectively and allows your mind to see and interact with your spouse in a more charitable way, deepening the relationship you have with one another.
Beach, Steven R. H., Frank D. Fincham, Tera R. Hurt, Lily M. McNair, and Scott M. Stanley. “Prayer and Marital Intervention: A Conceptual Framework.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 27, no. 7 (September 2008): 641–69. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2008.27.7.641.
Butler, Mark H., Julie A. Stout, and Brandt C. Gardner. “Prayer as a Conflict Resolution Ritual: Clinical Implications of Religious Couples’ Report of Relationship Softening, Healing Perspective, and Change Responsibility.” The American Journal of Family Therapy 30, no. 1 (January 2002): 19–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/019261802753455624.
Dudley, Margaret G., and Frederick A. Kosinski. “Religiosity and Marital Satisfaction: A Research Note.” Review of Religious Research 32, no. 1 (September 1990): 78. https://doi.org/10.2307/3511329.
Fincham, Frank D., and Steven R. H. Beach. “I Say a Little Prayer for You: Praying for Partner Increases Commitment in Romantic Relationships.” Journal of Family Psychology 28, no. 5 (2014): 587–93. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034999.
Fincham, Frank D., R. H, N. Lambert, T. Stillman, and S. Braithwaite. “Spiritual Behaviors and Relationship Satisfaction: A Critical Analysis of the Role of Prayer.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 27, no. 4 (2008): 362–88. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2008.27.4.362.
Gallo, Linda C., Wendy M. Troxel, Karen A. Matthews, and Lewis H. Kuller. “Marital Status and Quality in Middle-Aged Women: Associations with Levels and Trajectories of Cardiovascular Risk Factors.” Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association 22, no. 5 (September 2003): 453–63. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-6184.108.40.2063.
Lambert, Nathaniel M., Frank D. Fincham, and Scott Stanley. “Prayer and Satisfaction with Sacrifice in Close Relationships.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 29, no. 8 (December 2012): 1058.May, Ross W., Ashley N. Cooper, and Frank D. Fincham. “Prayer in Marriage to Improve Wellness: Relationship Quality and Cardiovascular Functioning.” Journal of Religion and Health, May 7, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-019-00829-3.