Not Just a Time‐Out: Change Dynamics of Prayer for Religious Couples in Conflict Situations


religiosity, prayer, religious couples


For religious couples, the spiritual domain stands alongside biological, psychological, and systemic domains as an influence upon interaction and mechanism for change. A qualitative methodology consisting of structured interviews of religious spouses was used to investigate effects of prayer on couple interaction during conflict. A reliable description of the dynamics of prayer across spouse interviews was extracted by four analysts using a group interpretive procedure. Findings suggest that prayer invokes a couple‐God system, which significantly influences couple interaction during conflict. Overall, prayer appears to be a significant “softening” event for religious couples, facilitating reconciliation and problem solving. Prayer 1) invokes an experience of relationship with Deity; 2) deescalates hostile emotions and reduces emotional reactivity; 3) enhances relationship and partner orientation and behavior; 4) facilitates empathy and unbiased perspective; 5) increases self‐change focus; and 6) encourages couple responsibility for reconciliation and problem solving. Therapists' support of religious couples' use of prayer as a change mechanism is considered.

Original Publication Citation

Butler, M. H., Gardner, B. C.*, & Bird, M. H.* (1998). Not just a time-out: Change dynamics of prayer for religious couples in conflict situations. Family Process, 37(4), 451-478.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Family Process




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor