Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Quick Studies

god2.jpg

The perfect partner? (Photo: Public Domain)

When a Romance Is Threatened, People Rebound With God

• April 17, 2014 • 4:56 PM

The perfect partner? (Photo: Public Domain)

And when they feel God might reject them, they buddy up to their partner.

In moments of personal crisis and distress, like a cancer diagnosis, research has shown that people turn to God. And though people don’t interact in the same way with God as they do with other humans, the divine is often characterized in the same terms as interpersonal relationships.

But does God actually act as a sort of stand-in for an intimate partner when religious people are having romance trouble?

In a new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers recently tested how threats to romantic relationships affected people’s intimacy with God. The results suggest that the divine can act as a sort of rebound during moments of romantic desperation or trouble.

“In some ways, God is an ideal relationship partner to draw comfort from when feeling down about other relationships – the nice thing about God is that there is never any solid evidence that God has rejected you.”

The researchers exposed mostly religious subjects to psychological exercises that “threatened their romantic relationship” and then asked them about their connection to God. A control group just answered the God questions.

Across three experiments, those in the experimental group reported stronger connections or a greater interest in God. The experiments also showed that those under the threatened relationship condition were “more willing to accommodate God’s transgression,” like not answering prayers. The researchers write that the results indicate that there is “considerable overlap between people’s divine and interpersonal relationships.”

“We wanted to push further the idea that people have a relationship with God in the same sense as they have relationships with other humans,” says lead author Kristin Laurin of the Stanford Graduate School of Business in a press release. “The idea is certainly not new in terms of cultural discourse, but it’s not something that psychologists have done a lot of empirical work to study.”

The differences held for subjects who subscribed to religions outside the Western Christian paradigm, including Hinduism. “In other words, the tendency to reconnect with God in response to threatened human relationships has appeal beyond strictly monotheistic traditions,” the researchers write in the paper.

When the experimenters introduced the subjects to a similar manipulation that threatened their relationship with God, they reported feeling closer to their romantic partners. Though this obviously doesn’t imply people are conducting romances with God, it would be interesting to test, especially with clergy.

“In some ways, God is an ideal relationship partner to draw comfort from when feeling down about other relationships – the nice thing about God is that there is never any solid evidence that God has rejected you,” Laurin says.

Ryan Jacobs
Associate Digital Editor Ryan Jacobs joined Pacific Standard from The Atlantic, where he wrote for and produced the magazine’s Global and China channels online. Before that, he was a senior editorial fellow at Mother Jones. Follow him on Twitter @Ryanj899.

More From Ryan Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 23 • 4:00 PM

A New Way Insurers Are Shifting Costs to the Sick

By charging higher prices for generic drugs that treat certain illness, health insurers may be violating the spirit of the Affordable Care Act, which bans discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions.


September 23 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t More Women Commit Corporate Fraud?

Would having more female leaders reduce corporate crime? We don’t know, but the research suggests it’s likely.


September 23 • 12:00 PM

A Brief History of the Loch Ness Monster

From 1933—and possibly much, much earlier—to just this past May, people have been claiming (and staging) sightings of the famed water cryptid.



September 23 • 10:00 AM

The International Surrogacy Market

In Bangalore, where many women earn just $150 a month working in garment factories, surrogate mothers can make thousands of dollars by carrying others’ babies to term. But at what cost?


September 23 • 8:00 AM

Medicare: Your New Long-Term Care Provider

A 2013 court ruling has paved the way for an incredible, costly expansion of home health care by removing a critical lever the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had to control who receives services, and for how long.


September 23 • 6:22 AM

On the Hunt for Fake Facebook Likes

A new study finds ways to uncover Facebook Like farms.


September 23 • 6:00 AM

The Heist: How Visitors Stole a National Monument

Fossil Cycad National Monument was home to one of the world’s greatest collections of fossilized cycadeoids—until visitors carried them all away.


September 23 • 4:00 AM

Fifty Shades of Meh

New research refutes the notion that reading the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy strongly impacts women’s sexual behavior.


September 23 • 2:00 AM

The Portlandia Paradox

Oregon’s largest city is full of overeducated and underemployed young people.


September 22 • 4:00 PM

The Overly Harsh and Out-of-Date Law That’s So Difficult on Debtors

A 1968 federal law allows collectors to take 25 percent of debtors’ wages, or every penny in their bank accounts.


September 22 • 2:00 PM

NFL Players Are More Law Abiding Than Average Men

According to records kept by USA Today, 2.53 percent of players are arrested in any given year.


September 22 • 12:00 PM

Freaking Out About Outliers: When the Polls Are Way Off

The idea of such a small number of people being used to predict how millions will vote sometimes irks observers, but it’s actually a very reliable process—most of the time.


September 22 • 10:00 AM

The Imagined Sex Worker

The stigma against black sex workers can reinforce stigmas against all black women and all sex workers.


September 22 • 9:54 AM

All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.


September 22 • 8:00 AM

The NFL, the Military, and the Problem With Masculine Institutions

Both the NFL and the U.S. military cultivate and reward a form of hyper-violent masculinity. The consequences of doing so have never been more obvious.


September 22 • 6:00 AM

Zombies in the Quad: The Trouble With Elite Education

William Deresiewicz’s new book, Excellent Sheep, is in part, he says, a letter to his younger, more privileged self.


September 22 • 4:02 AM

You’re Going to Die! So Buy Now!

New research finds inserting reminders of our mortality into advertisements is a surprisingly effective strategy to sell products.



September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


Follow us


On the Hunt for Fake Facebook Likes

A new study finds ways to uncover Facebook Like farms.

All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

The Big One

One in three tourists to Jamaica reports getting harassed; half of them are hassled to buy drugs. September/October 2014 new-big-one-4

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.