Charlie and Marty Coe recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in front of a joyful crowd of family and friends, but things weren’t always so good in their marriage. Although they were very much in love in the beginning, by the time they reached their early 30s, they had grown “cold and distant” and were “living the life of married singles.” As they put it, they were “a train wreck waiting to happen,” and though they never discussed it, the threat of divorce “loomed large.” At the time, they attended church but were not living out their faith in their marriage.
All that changed about 38 years ago when the couple attended a Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME) weekend they heard about through a friend at church. During the event, an unhappy Marty found the courage to tell Charlie he needed to shoulder a much larger share of the care of their two children. The WWME community also jumpstarted their faith and their marriage, prompting them to pray with and for one another on a daily basis and to become more active leaders in their church. Since then, they’ve enjoyed a vibrant marriage that they continue to share about through their marriage ministry.
This couple’s experience is illustrative of some of the key findings from a new report from the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) and the Wheatley Institution, The Ties That Bind. It finds that “lukewarm” couples—those who attend church infrequently—do not enjoy better relationship quality than secular couples who never attend church, and on some measures, such as men’s infidelity and women’s relationship quality, they actually do worse than secular couples. But couples who take their faith seriously, as do Charlie and Marty, are much more likely to be flourishing in their marriages.
The report is based on findings from the 2018 Global Family and Gender Survey (GFGS), a new international survey of over 9,000 men and women in heterosexual unions in 11 countries—including more than 2,000 respondents from the United States. While research tells us that husbands and wives who attend church regularly are between 28 and 47% less likely to divorce, less is known about how much an active and shared religious faith matters for overall relationship quality, sexual satisfaction, fidelity, and domestic violence. To find out, we divided the GFGS respondents into three types of couples: (1) highly religious couples who attend religious services 2 to 3 times per month or more together, (2) less/mixed religious couples with fairly minimal religious service attendance, and (3) shared-secular couples who never attend religious services.
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