"Oh, it's all the same place," she overheard one say to the other. "There are just different ways to get there."
On a Wing and a Prayer
It's easy to fall hard for someone different from you, but who actually stands the best chance of living a long, happy two-faith life together? Studies show that couples who assign similar values to their faiths are more likely to succeed, according to Joel Crohn, PhD, author of Mixed Matches: How to Create Successful Interracial, Interethnic, and Interfaith Relationships and a psychologist in Calabasas, California, who has counseled interfaith couples for more than 25 years. If only one member of the couple is religious, he says, the secular partner runs the risk of becoming "more and more peripheral" as children come into the picture.
"What love conceals, time reveals," he says, meaning, when it comes to interfaith, the devil is in the details: The problems you face probably won't emerge immediately, but bubble up as you try to tease out your day-to-day life.
Which is just what happened to Elizabeth, 34, and her boyfriend, Joshua, 31. Elizabeth was raised in a conservative evangelical Christian church in the Midwest; Joshua grew up an atheist Jew with an Israeli mother in El Paso, Texas. But after three happy years of dating and cohabitating in Washington, D.C., they went into a tailspin trying to discuss their future—issues like what their wedding would look like and how to raise the children.
While Elizabeth was supportive of their kids learning Hebrew and celebrating Jewish holidays, Joshua was adamant: He would not attend church with Elizabeth, and the children would not be taught to believe in Jesus. The couple consulted both a rabbi and a couples counselor. Despite some compromises—Joshua eventually agreed to let the children attend church periodically—the sessions wound up raising larger questions for Elizabeth.
"I don't care how strong your beliefs are—when you're considering giving up a relationship because you won't back away from your faith, you start to think there damn well better be a God or none of this is worth it," she says.