Times are changing, this is nothing new. One particular area of change has been marriage trends, especially who is marrying whom. Before the 1960s, only 20% of married couples were interfaith – with each spouse having their own faith different from the other – currently around 39% of marriages are.
Interfaith marriages bring with them a unique set of questions. How will God and spirituality be discussed in the home? Whose church will the children attend? Where will the marriage take place? Some worry that interfaith marriages dilute the faith of each spouse, leaving two people less strong in their convictions and beliefs. However, there are also significant upsides to interfaith marriage. Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell in their book American Grace, found that the more Americans got to know people of another faith, the more they liked them. Likewise, research by Naomi Schaefer Riley showed that marrying someone of another faith tended to improve one’s view of that faith.
For that 39% of couples, how can they best navigate this aspect of their relationship to get the most of their marriage?
Making the Best of Your Inter-Faith Marriage
Having open and clear communication is key for all couples, and interfaith couples are no different. Religion and spirituality bring with them expectations, traditions, and customs, and couples do themselves no favors by assuming the expectations of one spouse is going to be the same as the other’s. Be transparent about what is important to you while accepting that your spouse may not find the same thing as important. Being able to say early on in the relationship: “I believe in bringing no harm to any living thing,” avoids the trauma of watching your spouse smash a fly in front of you.
It is hard to be open about something that is close to you if you feel that those around you are not going to be respectful of it. Showing respect towards religious rites and beliefs does not necessarily mean agreeing with them or lessening your own. It does mean recognizing what is important and holy to your spouse, and allowing them to express that without criticism.
The more you learn about someone else’s beliefs, the more you are able to understand them as a person. You will be able to better understand their motivations and passions, and hopefully will have an easier time showing them that respect. The added bonus to learning more about another religion is it widens your world view, allowing you to have more compassion and understanding to a wider group of people.
When two people are coming from two different viewpoints, it’s almost inevitable that compromise is going to happen, willfully or not. A marriage of two religions or beliefs can be a creation of a brand new set of circumstances or a power struggle depending on how each spouse is willing to compromise. Meeting in the middle indicates that your marriage is something you are working to build, rather than something you need to fight against. Create your own marriage holy text that defines both spouses in the best way.
How has your interfaith marriage strengthened you? Tell us in the comments, and take the RELATE assessment today to see how else you can get the best out of your relationship.
Written by Melece, masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. Reviewed by Brian Willoughby.