Converting To A New Religion Before Marriage

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Converting to a new religion before marriage? Advice about conversion and religious beliefs.

When real-estate royalty Ivanka Trump married budding media mogul Jared Kushner in October, 2009, it wasn't their pre-nup that people were talking about. Instead, the bride's conversion to Judaism—groom Kushner's religion—and the orthodox ceremony that followed made headlines. Ivanka isn't the only high-profile celeb to convert to a new religion before marriage. Katie Holmes practices Scientology for Tom Cruise; Isla Fisher converted to Judaism for her fiancé, Bruno star Sacha Baron Cohen; and Kylie Minogue is reportedly considering converting to Catholicism before marrying Spanish boyfriend, Andres Velencoso. Ivanka Trump To Convert To Judaism

A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that about half of Americans have changed religions at some point in their lives. Statistics vary by sect, but about 25 percent of people who converted to another religion did so because they married someone of their new faith.  

Conversion is a thorny issue for many soon-to-be brides. It's difficult when partners are different denominations within the same religion, and still more complicated when your religious backgrounds or religious beliefs are completely different. So, if you're struggling with how to marry your beliefs with your partner's before you actually marry him, know that you're not alone. Here's what the experts—and brides who have been there—say you need to know.

There Are Some Good Reasons To Convert
A genuine interest in your potential religion is key. "If you ask yourself 'Why am I thinking of converting?' and the answer is: 'Because I am looking for a spiritual community and discipline that will give my life a greater sense of meaning and purpose and belonging,' then pursuing the path of possible conversion makes sense," says Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D. and author of There's An Easter Egg On Your Seder Plate.  

Christen Griffith, 29, of Dallas, Texas, converted from Unitarian Universalist to Roman Catholicism before her wedding two years ago. She says that meeting her husband was just part of her own search for spiritual grounding: "I had been 'searching' for years before I met my husband, and my conversion was a slow process. He was the catalyst that made my conversion a reality. Through our conversations, I was in a constant state of discovery and excitement." The Secrets To An Interfaith Relationship

There Are Also Less Good Reasons To Change
You want your fiancé to be happy so, like many girlfriends, you probably make sacrifices. But if you're converting for the wrong reasons, it can be too big a sacrifice, and there's "a likelihood," Rabbi Reuben warns, "that one's decision to convert will cause resentment that builds up over time and [results in] a rejection either of the new religion, the partner or both." Don't convert solely to make your partner happy or so you can get married, he advises.   

Stan Charnofsky Ed.D., author of When Women Leave Men, How Men Feel, How Men Heal and a professor at California State University at Northridge, says that if you feel pressure or reluctance, or if you are likely to alienate your own family, conversion might not be for you. But if your husband strongly believes in his faith and you're not strongly attached to a particular religion and feel that his seems compelling, conversion can work quite well. I Went from Muslim to Jewish For Love

Telling Your Family
Once you've decided to leave the faith of your own family, there other decisions to be made, like what to tell your family and how to handle holidays. Rather than declining invitations to religious holidays, be honest with your family. Rabbi Reuben says that "everyone wants their loved ones to be happy and fulfilled in life, and finding a spiritual path is a blessing. When it is presented in that light, it is much easier for those who love you to accept your choices." He warns that you mustn't criticize your family's beliefs, which could alienate them.  

If you've really thought the decision through, explain to your family why you made this choice, and why it's right for you. Don't present the religions as either/or; stress their compatibility when possible, and try to indicate that you're not abandoning your old religion. You're simply opening up to someone and something new. Help your family understand that you are bridging your former beliefs and your new ones, and that there's room in your heart for everyone. And then say that you hope they have room in theirs for everyone, too.  

Conversion's Impact On Your Marriage
How conversion affects your relationship will, of course, be different for everyone. The best-case scenario is that a shared faith will make your marriage stronger. On the flip side, if things aren't going well, Charnofsky warns against the impulse to throw it in your partner's face and say, "You made me convert!"

Negotiating the "how will we raise our children?" question can be difficult, and some kids later regret being raised in multi-denominational homes. Robin Kelman, 38, of Philadelphia, who converted to Judaism, says her decision was spurred by the fact that her mother was Catholic and her father was Jewish, and that she didn't want the combo package for her own family. "I converted [because] I felt my children should have a more solid background than I did growing up."

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