The death of a child is an event that can fall into the category of uncontrollable life events, testing the limits of the ability to control of bereaved parents. The literature reviewed showed that religious/spiritual coping is a unique way of coping and may be particularly important for couples who have lost a child. When assessing the couples’ coping strategies, marital therapists would be wise to look for religious/spiritual mechanisms that can be employed in the therapeutic process. Furthermore, the reviewers propose Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (Johnson, 2004, The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy: Creating connection, Routledge, New York) as well suited for helping couples grieving the death of their child.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Abbott, D., Berry, M., & Meredith, M. H. (1990). Religious beliefs and practices: A potential asset in helping families. Family Relations, 39, 443–448.
Anderson, D. A., & Worthen, D. (1997). Exploring a fourth dimension: Spirituality as a resource for the couple therapist. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 23, 3–12.
Anthony, M. J. (1993). The relationship between marital satisfaction and religious maturity. Religious Education, 88, 97–108.
Bailey, E. C. (2002). The effect of spiritual beliefs and practices on family functioning. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 13, 127–144.
Barrera, M., D’Agostino, N. M., Scheiderman, G., Tallet, S., Spencer, L., & Jovcevska, V. (2007). Patterns of parental bereavement following the death of a child and related factors. Omega, 55, 145–167.
Becvar, D. S. (1997). Soul healing: A spiritual orientation in counseling and therapy. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Belavich, T. G., & Pargament, K. I. (2002). The role of attachment in predicting spiritual coping with a loved one in surgery. Journal of Adult Development, 9, 13–29.
Bohannon, J. (1990–1991). Grief responses of spouses following the death of a child: A longitudinal study. Omega, 22, 109–121.
Bohannon, J. (1991). Religiosity related to grief levels of bereaved mothers and fathers. Omega, 23, 153–159.
Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss (Vol. III). New York: Basic Books, Inc.
Brotherson, S. E., & Soderquist, J. (2002). Coping with a child’s death: Spiritual issues and therapeutic implications. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 13, 53–86.
Butler, M. H., & Harper, J. M. (1994). The divine triangle: Deity in the marital system of religious couples. Family Process, 33, 277–286.
Butler, M. H., Stout, J. A., & Gardner, B. C. (2002). Prayer as a conflict resolution ritual: Clinical implications of religious couples’ report of relationship softening, healing perspective, and change responsibility. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 30, 19–37.
Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H. S., & Davidson, R. J. (2006). Lending a hand: Social regulation of the neural response to threat. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1032–1037.
Coffey, A. D. (2002). Spirituality: Lives and relationships in family therapy—Concepts and practices. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 13, 29–52.
De Frain, J. (1991). Learning about grief from normal families: SIDS, stillbirth, and miscarriage. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 17, 215–223.
Dudley, M. G., & Kosinski, F. A., Jr. (1990). Religiosity and marital satisfaction: A research note. Review of Religion Research, 32, 78–86.
Dyregrov, A., & Dyregrov, K. (1999). Long-term impact of sudden infant death: A 12- to 15-year follow-up. Death studies, 23, 635–661.
Eliade, M. (1957). The sacred and the profane: The nature of religion. New York: Harvest Books.
Feeley, N., & Gottlieb, L. N. (1988–1989). Parents, coping and communication following their infant’s death. Omega, 19 , 51–67.
Freud, S. (1928/1961). The future of an illusion. New York: Norton.
Gallup Inc. (2009). Religion. Retrieved Nov 28, 2009 from www.gallup.com/poll/117409.
Gilbert, K. R. (1989). Interactive grief and coping in the marital dyad. Death Studies, 13, 625–646.
Gilbert, K. R. (1992). Religion as a resource for bereaved parents. Journal of Religion and Health, 31, 19–30.
Gilbert, K. R. (1997). Couple coping with the death of a child. In C. R. Figley (Ed.), Death and trauma: The traumatology of grieving (pp. 101–121). New York: Routledge.
Goldbeck, L. (2001). Parental coping with the diagnosis of childhood cancer: Gender effects, dissimilarity within couples and quality of life. Psycho-Oncology, 10, 325–335.
Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35–43.
Hagemeister, A. K., & Rosenblat, P. C. (1997). Grief and the sexual relationship of couples who have experienced a child’s death. Death Studies, 21, 231–252.
Heathon, T. B., & Pratt, E. L. (1990). The effects of religious homogamy on marital satisfaction and stability. Journal of Family Issues, 11, 191–207.
Helmeke, K. B., & Bischoff, G. H. (2007). Couple therapy and spirituality and religion: State of the art. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 6, 167–179.
Helmeke, K. B., & Sori, C. F. (2006). The therapist’s notebook for integrating spirituality in counseling: Homework, handouts, and activities for use in psychotherapy. New York: Haworth Press.
Hertz, F. (1980). The impact of death and serious illness on the family life cycle. In E. Carter & M. McGoldrick (Eds.), The family life cycle (pp. 375–420). New York: Gardner.
Higgins, M. P. (2002). Parental bereavement and religious factors. Omega, 45, 187–207.
Hunler, O. S., & Gencoz, T. (2005). The effect of religiousness on marital satisfaction: Testing the mediator role of marital problem solving between religiousness and marital satisfaction relationship. Contemporary Family Therapy, 27, 123–136.
Jenkins, R. A., & Pargament, K. I. (1995). Religion and spirituality as resources for coping with cancer. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 13, 51–74.
Johnson, S. (1984). Sexual intimacy and replacement children after the death of a child. Omega, 15, 109–118.
Johnson, S. M. (2002). Emotionally focused couple therapy with trauma survivors: Strengthening attachment bonds. New York: The Guilford Press.
Johnson, S. M. (2004). The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy: Creating connection. New York: Routledge.
Johnson, S. M., Hunsley, J., Greenberg, L., & Schindler, D. (1999). Emotionally focused couples therapy: Status and challenges. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6(1), 67–79.
Johnson, S. M., Makinen, J., & Milikin, J. (2001). Attachment injuries in couple relationships: A new perspective on impasses in couples therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27, 145–146.
Johnson, S. M., & Whiffen, V. E. (2003). Attachment processes in couple and family therapy. New York: The Guilford Press.
Kirkpatrick, L. A. (1992). An attachment-theory approach to the psychology of religion. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2, 3–28.
Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Shaver, P. (1992). An attachment-theoretical approach to romantic love and religious belief. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18, 266–275.
Koening, H. G., McCullough, M. E., & Larson, D. W. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of religion and health. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lambert, N. M., & Dollahite, D. C. (2006). How religiosity helps couples prevent, resolve, and overcome marital conflict. Family Relations, 55, 439–449.
Lang, A., & Gottlieb, L. (1991). Marital intimacy in bereaved and non-bereaved couples: A comparative study. In D. Papadatou & C. Papadatou (Eds.), Children and death (pp. 267–275). New York: Hemisphere.
Lang, A., & Gottlieb, L. (1993). Parental grief reactions and marital intimacy following infant death. Death Studies, 20, 33–57.
Lang, A., Gottlieb, L., & Amsel, R. (1996). Predictors of husbands’ and wives’ grief reactions: The role of marital intimacy. Death Studies, 20, 33–57.
Lohan, J. A., & Murphy, S. A. (2005–2006). Mental distress and family functioning among married parents bereaved by a child sudden death. Omega, 52 , 295–305.
Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Jewell, T., Swank, A. B., Scott, E., Emerin, E., et al. (1999). Marriage and the spiritual realm: The role of proximal and distal religious constructs in marital functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 13(3), 321–338.
Matthews, L. T., & Marwit, S. J. (2006). Meaning reconstruction in the context of religious coping: Rebuilding the shattered assumptive world. Omega, 53, 87–104.
McIntosh, D. N., Cohen Silver, R., & Wortman, C. B. (1993). Religion’s role in adjustment to a negative life event: Coping with the loss of a child. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 812–821.
Meyerstein, I. (2006). Spiritual steps for couples recovering from fetal loss. In K. B. Helmeke & C. F. Sori (Eds.), The therapist’s notebook for integrating spirituality in counseling II: Homework, handouts and activities for use in psychotherapy (pp. 223–229). New York: Haworth Press.
Mikulincer, M., & Florian, V. (1998). The relationship between attachment styles and emotional and cognitive reactions to stressful events. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 143–165). New York: Guilford Press.
Najman, J., Vance, J., Boyle, F., Embleton, G., Foster, B., & Thearle, J. (1993). The impact of a child death on marital adjustment. Social Science and Medicine, 37, 1005–1010.
Oliver, L. E. (1999). Effects of a child’s death on marital relationship: A review. Omega, 39, 197–227.
Pargament, K. I. (1997). The psychology of religion and coping. New York: The Guilford Press.
Pargament, K. I. (1999). The psychology of religion and spirituality? Yes and no. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 9, 3–16.
Pargament, K. I., Ano, G. G., & Wacholtz, A. B. (2005a). The religious dimension of coping: Advances in theory, research, and practice. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (pp. 479–495). The Guilford Press: New York.
Pargament, K. I., Cole, B., Vandecreek, L., Belavich, T., Brant, C., & Perez, L. (1999). The vigil: Religion and the search for control in the hospital waiting room. Journal of Health Psychology, 4, 327–341.
Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and initial validation of RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 519–543.
Pargament, K. I., Magyar-Russell, G. H., & Murray-Swank, N. A. (2005b). The sacred and the search for significance: Religion as a unique process. Journal of Social Issues, 61, 665–687.
Pargament, K. I., Smith, B. W., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. (1998). Patterns of positive and negative religious coping with major life stressors. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, 37, 710–724.
Prest, L. A., & Keller, J. F. (1993). Spirituality and family therapy: Spiritual beliefs, myths, and metaphors. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 19, 137–148.
Rando, T. A. (1983). An investigation of grief and adaptation in parents whose children have died from cancer. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 8, 3–20.
Rando, T. (1986). Parental loss of a child. Champaign, IL: Research Press Company.
Reilly-Smoravsky, B., Armstrong, A. V., & Catlin, E. A. (2002). Bereavement support for couples following the death of a baby: Program development and 14-year exit analysis. Death Studies, 26, 21–37.
Rivett, M., & Street, E. (2001). Connections and themes of spirituality in family therapy. Family Process, 40, 459–467.
Robinson, L. C. (1994). Religion orientation in enduring marriage: An exploratory study. Review of Religious Research, 35, 207–218.
Roth, P. D. (1988). Spiritual well-being and marital adjustment. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 16, 153–158.
Sandberg, J. G., Miller, R. B., Harper, J. M., Davey, A., & Robila, M. (2009). The impact of marital conflict on health and health care utilization in older couples. Journal of Health Psychology, 14(1), 9–17.
Sanders, C. (1989). Grief: The mourning after. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Schaefer, M. T., & Olson, D. H. (1981). Assessing intimacy: The PAIR inventory. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 7, 47–60.
Schwab, R. (1990). Paternal and maternal coping with death of a child. Death Studies, 14, 407–422.
Schwab, R. (1992). Effects of a child’s death on the marital relationship: A preliminary study. Death Studies, 16, 141–157.
Sebold, A. (2002). The lovely bones. New York: Back Bay Books.
Simpson, M. (1979). The facts of death. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
Stander, V., Piercy, F. P., Mackinnon, D., & Helmeke, K. (1994). Spirituality, religion, and family therapy: Competing or complementary worlds? American Journal of Family Therapy, 22, 27–41.
Tix, A. P., & Frazier, P. A. (1998). The use of religious coping during stressful life events: Main effects, moderation, and mediation. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 411–422.
Walsh, F. (2006). Strengthening family resilience. New York: The Guilford Press.
Walsh, F. (2008). Spiritual resources in family therapy (Second edition ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
Wilson, M. R., & Filsinger, E. E. (1986). Religiosity and marital adjustment: Multidimensional relationship. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 48, 147–151.
Wing, D. G., Burge-Calloway, K., Clance, P. R., & Armistead, L. (2001). Understanding gender differences in bereavement following the death of a child: Implications for treatment. Psychotherapy, 38, 60–72.
Wood, N. D., Crane, D. R., Schaalje, G. B., & Law, D. D. (2005). What works for whom: A meta-analytic review of marital and couples therapy in reference to marital distress. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 33, 273–287.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Ungureanu, I., Sandberg, J.G. “Broken Together”: Spirituality and Religion as Coping Strategies for Couples Dealing with the Death of a Child: A Literature Review with Clinical Implications. Contemp Fam Ther 32, 302–319 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-010-9120-8
- Death of a child
- Emotionally focused couple therapy