Religion as a Coping Strategy for Divorce?

Divorce can cause emotional and financial distress, and a sense of extreme loss. But for individuals who have deep religious faith, divorce can have a positive and negative effect. “Research suggests that those who divorce experience increased psychological distress, such as greater depression and decreased happiness,” said Elizabeth J. Krumrei, of the Department of Psychology at Pepperdine University. “However, it is also possible for divorce to relate to beneficial changes and personal growth.” There has been extensive research on how various factors, including social, economic, parental, and legal, impact the divorce outcome. But even though the majority of Americans believe in God, and many rely on their spirituality to cope with stress, there are very few studies examining how religiosity affects adjustment after divorce. Depending on how the divorce is viewed from a religious standpoint, the impact could be negative or positive. “Therefore, spirituality may offer a distinct set of resources or burdens tied to divorce adjustment,” said Krumrei.

In order to determine how people with distinct religious beliefs adjusted after divorce, Krumrei and her colleagues interviewed 89 adults ranging in age from 19 to 64, and asked them about how they used religion to cope with the aftermath of their divorce. They found that the participants who saw their divorce as a “sacred loss” were more likely to become depressed than those who used religion as a catalyst for growth. The researchers noted that although nearly every state offers divorce care for parents and children, none offer any that are geared toward the spiritual aspects of divorce.

“Insight gained from this study may help clinicians more fully explore divorcing clients’ spiritual interpretations of divorce and religious responses,” said Krumrei. “In addition, clinicians can help clients explore and access positive religious coping methods as a potential source of support (e.g., prayer or meditation seeking support from God or fellow believers).” She added, “Regardless of personal religious convictions, clinicians can respectfully work with clients’ core spiritual beliefs and practices by taking the posture of a learner rather than a teacher.”

Krumrei, E. J., Mahoney, A., & Pargament, K. I. (2011, October 17). Spiritual Stress and Coping Model of Divorce: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025879

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Liza Q

    Liza Q

    October 22nd, 2011 at 5:14 AM

    Well that’s great for those couples who have that profound sense of faith, but what works for those who don’? And is there any correlation between having little faith and having a higher incidence of divorce? That would be something interesting to look at.

  • Olivia


    October 23rd, 2011 at 5:21 AM

    Being a church or synagogue or whatever member can really give couples a support system that they would not otherwise have. Even if you are not at all religious there are spiritual groups who are designed to help you get through any kind of hard time that you could be facing in your life. It is never too late to seek out that support, and could be something that you and your spouse look for together as you carefully tread the waters toward reconciliation. There will be people who are not there to judge you, just to hold your hand and make sure that you both have what you need to make it through and past this trial in your marriage.

  • Kelvin Farmer

    Kelvin Farmer

    October 23rd, 2011 at 11:41 PM

    I don’t get it. If they want guidance on the spiritual aspects of divorce, why not see a pastor or priest or whatever type of spiritual leader their faith embraces instead of a therapist?

    I’m sure they would be happy to share their opinions on divorce with the newly divorced members of their flocks just the same as they would the single or married ones. If their religion means that much to them, that’s the most sensible solution imho.

  • Aaron Silva

    Aaron Silva

    October 24th, 2011 at 12:05 AM

    “Regardless of personal religious convictions, clinicians can respectfully work with clients’ core spiritual beliefs and practices by taking the posture of a learner rather than a teacher.”

    Can they really though? It’s hard to believe that a therapist for example who’s an atheist, could listen to a deeply devout Roman Catholic lamenting about how they’ll burn in Hell now their marriage is dissolved, and talk about it without allowing their own beliefs to color the exchange.

  • Grace


    October 24th, 2011 at 4:20 AM

    But some people will simply stay in a hopeless marriage because of those same religious beliefs, and will extend the life of their marital pain as a result. That can’t be too healthy.

  • Sally


    October 24th, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    Surprised to read that spirituality can play a role in something like divorce..But then it is true that for the religious people it means a lot and divorce being a major event in a person’s life would be connected to their spirituality as well.

  • Austin


    October 24th, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    Sorry folks, but I ain’t buying this. If religion has not been your friend before the divorce then it is not going to be now either.

    How can you have such “faith” insomehting that you can’t see and hear? I need reality, somehting I can touch and feel, and for me organized religion won’t be the answer.

    I can’t be the only one who thinks that, am I?

  • Ar En Dee

    Ar En Dee

    October 25th, 2011 at 5:58 AM

    @Austin:No you’re not alone. Something that has not been a part of your life cannot simple step in because someone thinks its gonna help you cope with your divorce or something.It could work for some people but that would only be a placebo effect if you ask me…!

  • Liz Stuart

    Liz Stuart

    October 25th, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    It’s sad to see any marriage break down. When my first one did I did a lot of soul searching and found solace in spirituality and developing my spiritual side. (That’s not to be confused with organized religion which I avoided like the plague.) Spirituality makes us look beyond the obvious and wonder “what if…”. You can learn much about yourself if you take the time to do so.

  • m.s.


    October 25th, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    I think it’s because the longer we are married the more our identities become wrapped up in being “you and I” instead of just “I”.

    We lose ourselves a little bit by bit and when divorce looms, we flounder, having forgotten in part who we were prior to having that ring on our finger.

    That’s why we feel scared and vulnerable, and either turn to religion for comfort or run away from its clutches.

  • Tasha Wells

    Tasha Wells

    October 28th, 2011 at 12:19 AM

    Religion can help or hinder in multiple ways. However, you need to just follow one simple rule about this and that rule is to ignore everything your religion says if it starts making you feel bad, because that’s not what it’s for. The less seriously you take your beliefs, the better it will make you feel in the end when you simply pick and choose what parts to follow. Be selective.

  • Janice Chobaniuk

    Janice Chobaniuk

    December 20th, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    I don’t know why folks with no apparent religious convictions can come on here and put down a strategy that is of great to help to many going though separaton and divorce.There are also some very positive comments too whcih are appreciated. But, If you don’t understand spiritual faith or the idea of a belief system that has been a positive support to your life then don’t presume that we are worrying about burning in hell. Usually if the couple were exploring this togehter there would be no divorce. This is apersonal coping strategy and because it is personal does not need to be exoplained to you and certainly not put down and stomped on. It can work so be happy for us not snidely critical please.

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