Prayer can be defined as a two-way personal communication between an individual or couple and God. It is a vibrant, vital link with a Supreme Being that gives meaning to a person's life. Prayer allows individuals, couples, and families to come closer to God through healing. Prayer can be meditative (silent), colloquial (asking for abstract things like guidance or forgiveness), petitionary (asking for materialistic things), or ritual (memorized or read from a book). While it can be all of these things, it can also enrich the quality of marriage and family life. In fact, The Family: A Proclamation to the World identifies prayer as an important element in successful marriages and families.
Recently, couple prayer has been the topic of increasing research. Many married couples who have relied on prayer in addressing marital problems report that using prayer within a marriage tends to increase their level of satisfaction within the marriage. Other couples report that prayer left a constant impression upon their thoughts and actions throughout the day, making their interaction more positive. Participation in religious activities, including prayer, decreases marital conflict, verbal aggression, and stalemate strategies when resolving conflicts.
Research is thus discovering what people of faith everywhere have known for some time: married couples receive strength from prayer. But how does prayer strengthen marriages? According to research, prayer has the following effects on marriage relationships:
- Couples draw closer to God. Once a person understands his or her relationship with God, prayer becomes natural. Many people view God as a loving figure who is there to help them succeed. He is often seen as a source of help and answers. Due to this relationship, people trust in Him and allow Him to enter their marriage. Thus, He becomes an integral part of their marriage. When this relationship is established, couples are able to see themselves, and each other, in a different light. God is their divine standard. Through prayer, they can gauge their behavior to see if they are acting like Him.
- Angry feelings are softened. As couples draw nearer to God and decide to pray, feelings are softened. Many spouses report they don't want to pray when they are angry because anger is not compatible with God's desires. In fact, they often claim it is impossible to pray while holding onto bad feelings. Prayer, or the decision to pray, has a calming effect. It soothes emotions and helps angry partners treat their spouse differently.
- Relationships are remembered. Something interesting happens when couples pray. They start to forget about their own feelings and start to think more about the other person. People usually think of themselves when fighting because they want to be heard. Prayer, however, helps them remember their relationship as a couple. Once those angry feelings are softened, a person can begin to understand his or her spouse. This happens because they stop focusing on what their spouse needs to change and start thinking about how they can change. Fewer stalemate strategies are used, and they no longer insist on being right. Instead, they want what is best for the relationship. The more often you pray, the more likely you are to treat others like you would like to be treated.
- Instructions are received. When couples use prayer to solve conflict they do not receive complete answers. Instead, they experience step-by-step coaching that tells them what to say or do to improve their situation. Thus, they receive the necessary help, but the problem is not removed. Rather than making everything better, prayer leaves the couple with the responsibility to create their own solution.
- Health benefits follow. Some studies have shown that prayer, and prayer offered in others' behalf, helps people relax, increases their brain activity, and improves heartbeat rate. In short, prayer promotes health. Some studies show that those who have received prayers in their behalf recovered faster when compared to others who didn't receive such help.
To take advantage of the many benefits of couple prayer, couples are wise to make praying together a daily tradition. At the beginning and close of each day, kneel together in prayer to God, thanking Him for your marriage and each other, and asking Him to pour down His blessings on your union. In addition to the witness of research, many couples testify to the effect heartfelt prayer can have in making their marriages heavenly.
Written by Andrew S. Brimhall, Graduate Research Assistant. Edited by Mark Butler, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy, and Stephen F. Duncan, Ph.D., Professor of Family Life, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.