Do you pray and share spiritual insight with your spouse? The very act of sharing these values may strengthen your marriage, and make it more meaningful. Author Lisa Beamer explains.
Shared spiritual values
What is it about a common belief in a higher power that benefits the marriage relationship? In an informal survey of married couples, spouses overwhelmingly reported that their faith helps to set the standards by which they live, it keeps them together in times of trouble, and helps them overcome difficulties in the relationship. Their shared faith also reportedly helps them to better understand their roles within the marriage, and it enhances and strengthens the closeness of their relationship.
According to Bob Lepine, co-host of the Christian radio broadcast Family Life Today, the core values a spiritual faith offers are something that should be present at the heart of every marriage relationship. Says Lepine, "When we share these core values, it helps with intimacy. It is hard to be connected at the deepest level when you don't share these deepest values."
Mary and Hank Walker, both practicing Roman Catholics, have been married for 11 years. Their faith has influenced their decision that marriage is not something to opt out of. "Our religious beliefs form the basis for how we make many of our decisions," says Mary. "For us, divorce is not an option, so we approach all our differences with the attitude that we have to work them out." As with many couples, their faith also guides them in raising their children and in choosing to take part in activities that will enrich their relationship.
Later, when Richard was laid off from work and had to undergo surgery for heart problems, the couple depended upon their faith to see them through the illness, the worry and their related financial issues. Says Kathryn, "I can't imagine God not being a part of our lives. Our close marriage is a result of our faith and our desire to have a Godly marriage."
Parrott lists prayer as one of three primary ways couples can enact their shared spiritual values, and sharing prayer in times of crisis can be especially important. However, even spouses who share the same faith may choose to practice prayer differently. One might be comfortable praying out loud, while the other may prefer to be alone and pray in silence. This does not need to become an area of tension in the relationship. Says Parrott, "Even if the spiritual values are the same, the personalities differ. We need to work to see the value in how our spouse chooses [to pray]."
As Rachel illustrates them, the roles set forth for husband and wife under Jewish law allow for the two to complement each other. For instance, she bakes Challot for Shabbat and Eli says the blessing over them on Shabbat. They do not have the same role, yet the two roles work together. Another example Rachel gives is that only Jewish men are commanded to have children. "Women are not obligated," she explains, "Yet, he obviously can't fulfill this mitzvah (law) without me!"
Dr. Ehud and Vatsala Sperling share a successful "interfaith, intercultural and international" marriage. Coming together through an arranged marriage, Ehud, who is Jewish, and Vatsala, who is Hindu, have been married for four years. While this might seem like an impossible situation for spiritual closeness to thrive, the Sperlings have experienced quite the opposite. "We find that our lives are based on sharing all of ourselves with each other," says Vatsala, "and that includes our faith and our spiritual beliefs. This total sharing brings a kind of completeness to our relationship that perhaps would have been lacking if we practiced our religious faiths independent of each other."
Thus the Sperlings actively practice both faiths in their household, and they have found that willingness to bend is key to making their dual faith relationship work. "In interfaith marriages, the attitudes of self-righteousness and inflexibility do not work," asserts Vatsala. "Mutual respect and acceptance is the only ground where the hard-shelled seeds of peace can germinate and thrive." The Sperlings have practiced give and take on several issues, including the exemption of beef from their home menu as per the kosher laws of Vatsala's Hindu faith, and the circumcision of their son as prescribed by Ehud's Jewish tradition.
The role of faith in the marriage relationship is one that each couple must work through for themselves. As Parrott notes, "Spiritual intimacy is easy to value, but hard to work out in daily life." Coming to decisions about faith requires a couple to examine what is important in their lives. Often affected by past experiences and the expectations of family and friends, it might not always be a smooth road. However, once a couple finds themselves on the path to spiritual oneness, the long-term benefits they enjoy will most likely outweigh any short-term questions and concerns.