The truth is, interfaith relationships are on the rise in virtually every American religious community, researchers say. Nearly half of Jewish marriages and 40 percent of Catholic couplings are interfaith. And with Islam, Wicca—an earth-based belief system that predates Christianity—and the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints among the fastest-growing American religions, by the year 2050, the most common interfaith pairings might not be the Jewish-Christian matches we most often hear about today. And all of the above combos can be fraught with tension, though the perceived slights may be invisible to the naked eye.
Recently, The New York Times Magazine contributing writer and Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, an Orthodox Jew, wrestled with the challenges of reconciling modern-day life, and love, with tradition. After attending a reunion for his yeshiva, the religious school where he studied for years, he and his Korean-American wife were unceremoniously removed from the alumni group photo when it was printed in the school’s newsletter.
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One current 2008 presidential candidate made peace with his interfaith upbringing early on. "My mother was a deeply spiritual person and would spend a lot of time talking about values and give me books about the world's religions," Barack Obama told Chicago Sun-Times religion writer Cathleen Falsani in her 2006 book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People. Now a practicing Christian, Obama was exposed to myriad religions, having been raised by an agnostic father, Protestant mother, and non-practicing Muslim stepfather.
These stories only begin to hint at the issues involved in an interfaith pairing. The truth is, we can't choose who we love—and sometimes who we end up with challenges our deepest-held assumptions about what the future will look like. When the obstacles involve faith, the issue is, even in the earthly sense, bigger than the two of you.
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Suddenly, the wagons circle: Spiritual advisors, friends, and generations of well-intentioned family members all want a say in how your relationship will play out, from the traditions you adopt, the holidays you celebrate and the way you raise kids, to how you choose to say "I do."