PROVO — Going to church is good. Praying as a family is even better. But being able to forgive may be the single most important thing a husband or wife can do to keep their marriage and family strong.

Citing five "sacred living strategies," BYU professor Randy Day explained in a recent lecture at BYU that couples and families who are kind, forgive others, avoid relational aggression, commit to each other and sacrifice for others are building a shield that will temper many of the storms raging against families today.

Day, a professor of family life, drew his data from the lengthy Flourishing Families Project, a multiyear study of nearly 700 families in Provo and Seattle.

The study has allowed students and researchers to write numerous articles about children's growth, parent-child interaction and marital quality. Students and professors will return to Seattle this summer to gather the fifth wave of data.

When the project began several years ago, Day said, researchers were interested in studying anecdotal comments that families were failing, and "going down for the last time."

Despite growing numbers of nonmarital births, soaring rates of cohabitation and high levels of divorce, BYU researchers spent hours interviewing families that reported fairly high and stable levels of marital satisfaction and family functioning — even in the midst of an economic recession.

"So is the family sinking?" Day asked. "I'm having a hard time making that case from these data. Most of the families that we talk to are doing pretty well."

Admittedly, these are families that are not on the "margins," Day said, although 130 of the group are single parents, who do seem to struggle a bit more than two-parent families.

So what is it that really makes a family flourish?

Previous studies have linked family success to religious activity and ritualistic faith-based activities like scripture study, prayer and religious conversations.

But Day and two researchers at other universities kept noticing trends of commitment and forgiveness surfacing in their research.

"There are some principles of life that carry with them the 'awe factor' that when we do them they seem to contain and element of the sacred," Day said. "The sacred kinds of expressions and strategies that you do are really powerful. And if you go to church and don't do these things, then you're wasting your time and your tithing money. You're not getting it."

In a series of statistical charts, Day showed that forgiveness, commitment and kindness had more impact on marital quality, marital intimacy and marital stability than church attendance or even religious activities.

Day and his colleagues are also beginning to study how living these sacred strategies might affect family functioning, even that of non-religious families, during a crisis, such as a pornography addiction.

Preliminary data show a high correlation in families with high rates of relational aggression, such as gossiping and backbiting, and pornography use.

And in families where the spouse is very forgiving, the marital quality doesn't drop as much when pornography is a problem, Day said.

"I believe instead that families have difficult challenges ahead of them," Day said. "I also believe that if (families) were to use these kinds of sacred-living strategies, it will give them a better fighting chance of being able to navigate those difficult rapids."