Religiosity and the Incidence of Divorce After Infidelity

It is commonly believed that infidelity is lower among couples who consider themselves to be religious-minded. However, recent findings have disputed this assertion, and some studies point to an even higher incidence of infidelity among church-goers, in particular within those churches which entertain the doctrine of forgiveness without penance, or what Snyder (2016) calls “cheap grace.” These churches also assert that when infidelity occurs within religious couples, they are more likely to resolve the problem without divorce. The following studies address this very question.

DeMaris (2013) used longitudinal data from the survey of Marital Instability over the Life Course (MILC) to investigate the connection between religion and infidelity. The author reported that religion actually increases the likelihood of divorce following an incident of marital infidelity, particularly among highly religious couples. DeMaris attributed the finding to the “double-life” effect, whereby a devout spouse is so shocked by his or her partner’s sexual impropriety that they can no longer remain married.

Tuttle and Davis (2015) found that overall degree of religiosity may decrease because of the public guilt and shame associated with the act of infidelity. The spouse who committed infidelity will be more likely to shy away from the institution of religion to reduce the overall guilt and shame s/he feels. And, levels of religiosity may decrease for the spouse who has been cheated on because of the traumatic effect of infidelity on one’s worldview. In the authors’ words, “Such an experience will be difficult to rationalize through religious logic and may ultimately cause individuals to question the validity of their religious beliefs,” (p. 480).

The second study revealed that high levels of marital happiness and remaining religiosity after the effects of the affair, reduce the likelihood of divorce, while low levels of marital happiness and remaining religiosity after the effects of the affair, increase the likelihood of divorce. These researchers did not attempt to tease apart the effects of marital happiness from residual religiosity.

In summary, while DeMaris’ findings on religion’s effect on divorce, may stand, Tuttle and Davis’ findings support the notion that when high levels of religiosity remain after the effects of the affair there is a reduced risk of divorce, at least when there is also high marital happiness.


DeMaris, A. (2013). Burning the candle at both ends: Extramarital sex as a precursor of marital disruption. Journal of Family Issues, 34(11), 1474-1499.

Snider, J. I. (January 30, 2016). Cheap grace, cheap forgiveness. These Sheep Bite

Tuttle, J. D., & Davis, S. N. (2015). Religion, Infidelity, and Divorce: Reexamining the Effect of Religious Behavior on Divorce Among Long-Married Couples. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 56(6), 475-489.

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