When Michelle Schwandt found out she had breast cancer in 2016, it put her and her family in what she calls “crisis mode.”
Schwandt, a New Braunfels resident, business owner and a Christian, has been married to her husband Scott for 11 years. The two met in a Houston church, both as single parents looking into fostering and adopting.
“We fell in love from there and got married, and blended our families together,” Schwandt said. “We had three kids — I brought in one and he brought in two — and shortly after we got married, we had two more children together, back to back.”
Looking back on her life, Schwandt said it was faith that brought she and Scott together, and faith that kept them together through the trials of her cancer treatment.
“I’m technically still in the treatment phase,” Schwandt said. “I’m in remission, and I feel blessed I didn’t have to get chemo. I’m on a pill and I have to go back to the doctor every six months for scans and blood work, but I can’t imagine our family making it through all that without our faith.”
Schwandt said she became a Christian as a young girl at the age of 10, and Scott became a Christian later in life.
“We pray together in our house at every meal. My husband, he prays with our staff — and then our team, so we have seven staff members and 120 real estate agents,” Schwandt said. “He prays with any sponsors or vendors — it’s not unusual to see him stop and pray, we both each lead a bible study.”
Michelle and Scott are two of many people who are brought together by their faith. Religion affects marriage statistics, but not in a way that many may think.
In a predominantly Christian county such as Comal County where about half of the population practices some type of Christian faith (according to statistics from the Association of Religion Data Archives), marriage is actually more common than in non-religious communities.
However divorce rates stay consistent in both non-religious and religious couplings throughout areas and faiths. What is it that drives religious couples together? What is it that still drives both religious and non-religious couples apart?
Higher rates of marriage
Religious people tend to marry more often than non-religious people and to marry younger, according to studies by Pew Research Center.
A study from 2014 showed six in 10 or more Mormons, members of the Presbyterian Church, and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the U.S. is married. The same is true for members of the United Methodist Church, Southern Baptists and Hindus.
On the flip side, less than four in 10 atheists, agnostics and non-religious persons are married.
About 48% of all U.S. adults, beliefs aside, are married by comparison. Groups that come in at similar rates are Catholics, with 52% married and Orthodox Christians, also at 48%.
In New Braunfels, where about 50% of people were affiliated with a Christian-based church according to 2010 statistics from the Association of Religion Data Archives, about 57.6% were married in 2010, according to the US Census Bureau.
This is slightly higher than the then-national average rate of marriage, which was 51%, according to Pew Research Center.
This fits in line with a hypothesis from New Braunfels counselor Heather Ingram, psychologist and CEO of InMindOut Emotional Wellness Center, LLC.
Ingram believes the higher rates of marriage in New Braunfels stem from the high rates of Christianity and tradition many in town hold and practice.
“As far as the rates for who gets married, marriage rates for secular couples are lower than those who practice Christianity and may have more traditional views,” Ingram said.
Rusty Rice, executive pastor at Oakwood Church, said this is likely because Christianity encourages couples to marry before living together, and so Christian couples may get married more often to be able to live together.
“The Bible is very clear that we’re not called to live together, that we’re called to a covenant marriage and so I would hope that there is some of that is because God doesn’t call us to live together, God calls us to be together in covenant marriage,” Rice said.
Equal rates of divorce
Despite this, rates of divorce or separation remain similar in religious groups and non-religious groups, especially for Christians.
According to Pew Research Center, the average number of divorced individuals in America in 2014 was 13% — the same rate as Southern Baptists, Catholics and Presbyterians.
In fact, the only statistically significant different rate of divorce is among Hindus, who have just a 5% rate of divorce, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which had a 22% rate of divorce.
“I have one client who is overseas in India and lives in a culture where you just don’t leave your family, you don’t get divorced,” Ingram said. “When I asked him about if he could get away from a family situation, he laughed and said that’s not something people do there like in America.”
As a Christian pastor, Rice said it’s unfortunate to see these statistics are the same across both non-religious and religious groups.
“What we have been called to do and the way we’ve been called to live, we don’t seem to be much different than those who don’t profess a religious view or a Christian view,” Rice said. “You would think if we were really living out what we say — if you’re living out the principles that God has created for a marriage — you are going to have a healthy marriage,” Rice said.
Rice said he feels it’s the duty of local men to lead the decline in divorce by loving their wife sacrificially.
“Honestly, for me the Bible in Ephesians 5 calls husbands to love your wife the way Jesus loved the church, and honestly to me that is a call to sacrificial love,” Rice said. “I’m a believer that if the men would live out who God calls them to be, it has been my experience that most of the time, a Christian wife wants to follow a man like that, that loves unconditionally.”
Interfaith on the increase
One wrinkle in the statistics is the increase in interfaith marriages over the last two decades.
While 69% of married Americans say they and their spouse shared the same religion in a 2015 Pew Research Center Survey, this statistic breaks up across longer wed couples and newlywed couples.
Older married couples were more likely than younger couples to share the same faith.
A religious landscape study by Pew Research Center showed that 39% of Americans who have been married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group.
Many of these interfaith marriages happen between Christians and religiously unaffiliated.
As of 2010, 18% are in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse. This is true for only 5% of those who married before 1960.
Ingram, who herself practices Buddhism and is married to a man of a different faith, said this is likely because people are becoming more aware that dealing with relationship problems is grounded on a self-journey and building problem solving skills together.
“I preach to my clients it’s best to grow personally and to be our best selves — which can in turn make us better together,” Ingram said.