Religious Motivation and Relationships

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The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35:235–249, 2007 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0192-6187 print / 1521-0383 online DOI: 10.1080/01926180600814684

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Religious Motivation and the Marital Relationship ANDREW S. BRIMHALL
Counseling and Family Therapy Department, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

School of Family Life, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA

Research suggests a strong positive relationship between religiosity and marital satisfaction. Neglected, however, are differences in satisfaction based on nominal religious motivation. The influence of religiosity on marital satisfaction was examined for 74 couples. Results indicate the higher the husband’s intrinsic religiosity, the higher the satisfaction for both partners. Wives’ satisfaction increased as they became more extrinsically motivated. Differences in religiosity significantly decreased satisfaction for husbands. Findings are discussed from the perspective of gender-based interaction patterns, gender demographics of religious devotion and activity, and power dynamics. We recommend therapists understand these findings and integrate them into the clinical dialogue.

Traditionally, research in the domain of religiosity focused on the effects of a person’s religiosity on their marital satisfaction (Call & Heaton, 1997; Mahoney et al., 1999). Neglected, however, has been the study of potential differences depending on nominal religious motivation—i.e., intrinsic versus extrinsic religiosity (Robinson, 1994; Robinson & Blanton, 1993), a construct shown to have significant predictive utility.

This research was supported by a grant from the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University to Andrew S. Brimhall, Brandt C. Gardner, and Mark H. Butler. Address correspondence to Andrew S. Brimhall, Counseling and Family Therapy Department, Saint Louis University, 3750 Lindell Blvd, McGannon 113, St. Louis, MO 63108. E-mail: 235


A. S. Brimhall and M. H. Butler

Extrinsically religious persons are those for whom religion is a practice, but remains external to their sense of self (Allport, 1966; Gorsuch, 1994). Religion is not a central part of their identity but rather a vehicle used to secure another end. Intrinsically religious persons, on the other hand, are those for whom religious practice defines their sense of self, identity, and ideals—the substance and aim of their lives (Gorsuch, 1994). Instead of being a means to an end, religious practice is the end itself. Research indicates that intrinsically motivated individuals enjoy many more positive individual outcomes than their extrinsically motivated counterparts (i.e., better mental health, more optimism, etc.; Dudley & Kosinski, 1990; Gorsuch, 1994). Since important distinctions exist in the individual domain it seems reasonable to presume that similar differences may be apparent in relationships based on each individual’s religious motivation. This possibility has yet to be empirically investigated. The goal of this study was to better understand the relation of each partner’s religious motivation to marital satisfaction.

Religious Motivation and Relationships
Basic tenets of Christianity focus on promoting relationships—with one’s God and with others (Butler, Gardner, & Bird, 1998; Butler, Stout, & Gardner, 1999; Richards & Bergin, 2000). Relationship-sustaining actions such as commitment, self-sacrifice, and a willingness to help others are emphasized. Intrinsically religious individuals are anticipated to internalize these teachings as fundamental operational principles for their relationships, including marriage (Dudley & Kosinski, 1990). Hence, it is reasonable to speculate that intrinsically religious persons may be more likely than extrinsically religious persons to consistently and conscientiously engage in relationship-sustaining behavior. Persons who are more...
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