Can two people devoted to separate faith traditions make a marriage work? Read to find out how...
My name is Jamie, and I survived an interfaith marriage.
Hmm…sound anything like the beginning of a support group? There have been many times over the years when I’ve felt in need of one to cope with my spiritual upbringing. One of my most formative memories is, as an eight-year-old child, having my Catholic mother and Pentecostal-Evangelical father argue about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception over dinner…and then candidly asking me for my opinion. As an eight-year-old who didn’t want to upset either parent, both of whom disrespected the other’s religion, I wished that I could have somehow burrowed myself in the wallpaper crease that demarcated our kitchen table. Although I grew up to become a professional counselor and study the theories of healthy family life, I write this piece primarily as a child who grew up in a volatile interfaith marriage. A significant part of my healing from the effects of my parents’ conflict was to explore the possibilities that exist for raising children in healthy interfaith environments. In other words, what works to make interfaith marriages successful? This question guided my exploration through countless testimonies and stories, and the golden nuggets of my quest are certainly worth sharing:
(1) Emphasize the similarities and stress what is common about each partner’s faith. If you and your partner are members of two different Christian denominations, focus on the idea that Christ is Savior. If you and your partner are in a Christian-Jewish union, emphasize the importance of a relationship with God.
(2) Talk through your faith differences before walking down the aisle and discuss how these similarities and differences could affect future children that you might have together.
(3) Don’t see conversion as the magic solution. Marital conflict tends to be higher in couples where one converted due to a sense of lost religious identity and a feeling that the other partner had won.
(4) Interfaith marriages that are doomed to suffer or fail are those in which one partner lords a spirit of criticism over the other’s spiritual beliefs. Respect, not contempt, for the other partner’s spirituality is an absolute essential element in determining the success or failure of an interfaith marriage.
(5) There is not a rigid, singular solution that has been proven effective in raising children within an interfaith marriage. Testimonies of successful interfaith marriages show that as long as the decision of how to spiritually raise the children has been made mutually and respectfully by both parties in the marital relationship, then the potential exists for a harmonious arrangement.
(6) Total abandonment of faith and spiritual beliefs for the sake of compromise has been shown to yield more harm than good in interfaith marriages. Abandonment of faith may be commensurate to abandoning self and one’s core values.
(7) If you are considering getting married to and/or having children with a person of a
different faith tradition, consider talking to a couple who has done it before or reading the testimonies of couples who have made it work.
Incidences of interfaith marriage are on the rise in a society that is increasingly diversifying, and it is wise to have these suggestions on hand for our clients. Although it is important to be realistic, interfaith marriages can work in an environment of mutual respect between two partners. Certainly there is little hope for understanding in a pluralistic world if it cannot be achieved within a pluralistic family.