Religion Won't Save Your Marriage — But This Will

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married couple at church

Last year I was invited to a conference about faith and marriage, I declined the invitation and instead spent the weekend at home eating chips on the couch with my husband. It's not that I wasn't interested, it's just that I wanted to work on my marriage on the couch. 

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The couples I know who did go to the conference reported how great it was that through the conference they learned that faith made their marriage stronger. I wasn't convinced. I felt like chips and the couch had done the same thing for my relationship, that $200 and a lecture on faith had done for my friends. 

It's not that I deny the power of faith.

Faith is an incredibly important part of my life, but I know that faith is no panacea for any relationship.

According to a study conducted by the Barna Research Group, couples who profess faith in God are just as likely to divorce as any other couple, and of this segment born-again Christians have the highest rates of divorce. Shocking? Not for me. 

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I grew up a born-again Christian and lived most of my life in Texas, surrounded by people who thought that The Branch Davidians had a good idea. And yet, despite the harsh words against divorce that I heard from the grown-ups around —at home and from the pulpit—divorce still permeated our lives.

A member of our church, who my sister babysat for, was caught having an affair with the pastor, and while the pastor reconciled with his wife, the church member and her husband divorced. My high school youth pastor was caught in an affair with a student and his wife promptly divorced him.

This summer, when my father separated from my mother, he was chastised on his Facebook wall by members of their church, who had also divorced and remarried, some more than once.

I'm not telling these sordid tales to highlight the "hypocrisy" of faith, but rather because I believe that whether we believe in God or no God, all our relationships are created equal: all relationships take work.

It helps to share core values, which are often attributed to faith, but those aren't the only things that make a marriage solid. Communication. Hard work. Learning to laugh. Knowing when to walk away. Knowing when to make him pick up his socks and knowing when to pick them up yourself. All those things are just as important to a relationship equation. 

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Through our faith my husband and I have gotten the chance to volunteer with non-profits, giving us new hobbies, experiences, and shared interests that have brought us closer together as a couple.

But we also don't see church, God, or prayer as a band-aid for our problems. When I feel hurt and hide the cookies from him, there is no praying through that. Sometimes, you just need to sit down and fight it out or snuggle on the couch with chips and Netflix. 

I told my theory to a friend, she told me I was "sidelining" God to a backseat in my relationship. I'm not so sure that's true. I have to believe God created Netflix and Doritos for something good.

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Lyz Lenz's writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, The Washington Post, the Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Times, Pacific Standard, and others. She is a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.