Partners are more forgiving when they engage in a specific type of prayer according to a new study. The research, published in the Journal of Family Psychology shows that four weeks of colloquial, intercessory prayer — that is, praying to God on behalf of others — results in both partners reporting positive changes in the amount of forgiveness shown by the praying partner.
“We hypothesize that the intercessory prayer primes implemental intention,” lead researcher and Director of Florida State University Family Institute Dr. Francis Fincham told Fatherly. “So if you want positive things for your partner, you are more likely to behave in a way that is consistent with bringing about those positive things than if you don’t pray.”
Fincham reached his conclusion over the course of three studies, two of which involved married couples specifically. In a total of 180 couple, one spouse was picked to recite an intercessory prayer to their higher power, in their own words, for the well being of their spouse for a number of weeks. Data was collected at both the beginning and end of the prayer period on the amount of forgiveness reported by both the praying spouse and subject of the prayer. An example prayer reads, in part “I know you are the source of all good things. Please bring those good things to my partner and make me a blessing in my partner’s life, Amen.”
What Fincham found was that after the period of prayer, both spouses reported that the praying member exhibited more forgiveness than they reported at the start of the study. Moreso, this result was not found when participants were asked to simply meditate or practice mindfulness regarding the wellbeing of their partner.
Why does this hold true for prayer, but not other forms of mindfulness? Fincher suggests it might have something to do with the nature of it. “Usually praying is associated with calmness, with a positive effect,” he says. “Especially when you’re doing this kind of prayer, which is intercessory for the partner.”
He posits that when reaching out to a higher power an individual is combining with the higher power to bring about good outcomes for their partner. At the same time, they are reminding themselves why they are in the relationship in the first place, which promotes feelings of being more of a couple.
But Fincher is quick to point out that just because his explanation rests in psychology, it does not exclude the possibility of the supernatural. “We don’t know if it’s God doing this or my explanation,” he explains. “We can’t test that. They may be coexistent for all I know.”
At the same time, Fincher is uncomfortable suggesting his research proves that the family that prays together stays together.
“That’s an empirical question yet to be determined,” he said,