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Interfaith Dating and Marriage

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Today it is more common than ever for people to meet and marry across religious lines. Yet, the process of deciding to marry and resolving many questions is fraught with difficulty and pitfalls.

Religion and Marriage, Complex Issues:

The old romantic idea that "love conquers all" does not hold true in the real world. If it did the world rate of divorce would be a lot lower. When you weigh the fact that most of the couples who divorce come from homogeneous religious and ethnic backgrounds the entire issue of marriage and religious differences take on a whole new meaning. If people who come from backgrounds with shared values cannot save their marriages is there any hope for those who come from different backgrounds?

Actually, people who come from different faiths can have successful marriages if they completely explore the important religious issues before they make the final decision to wed. The process of exploring these important issues connects with what each considers being of such great importance that they cannot compromise. For example, two people from different faiths may have intense beliefs about how they want to raise their children. If someone is firmly Catholic they may have find Lutheran teachings to be unacceptable. The same may hold true for people who are Muslim, Jewish, and any other religion with which they are raised. This can be a difficult and insurmountable problem for people from the same faith as exemplified by the differences between those who are Orthodox versus Conservative Jews, Shiites versus Sunni Muslims and so on.

Generally speaking, people from different faiths can marry and succeed in staying together if they each agree on the religion they will practice or if they agree that they are not religious and do not consider themselves to be of any religious persuasion. The key words are if they each agree. In other words if you each want to be Muslim, practice that religion and raise your children Muslim there will be no difficulty.

It is much easier for couples to agree about religion if the one individual feels a lot less strongly committed to their religion of origin. For the individual who is not committed to a religion there is often a willingness to convert for two reasons: 1) A wish to convert due to interest in the new religion and a wish to be connected to a new type of thinking and, 2) A wish to please their partner by doing something that they feel willing and interested in doing out of a sense of real belief.

However, if two people each feel firmly committed to and identified with their religion of origin there is a good chance that there will be nothing but grief between them in the future if they attempt to ignore their differences. Strong commitment on the part of each complicates the questions of how to raise the children, what to do on important holy days, who will go to services and how often and, etc. This type of gap in thinking and believing complicates relationships with extended family members such as in laws, grand parents and parents. There are tragic cases in which deeply religious families refuse to accept a new member from a different faith.

There are those situations in which each person decides to keep their religion of origin but raise the children in both faiths. In these situations, children and family celebrate all the holy days, learn about each faith and attend all the services. The idea behind this solution is that partners will respect one another’s convictions and allow the children to make their choices upon reaching adulthood. I have seen many of these types of arrangements succeed quite well.

In answer to the question of whether or not an interfaith marriage can succeed couples must decide what they each can and cannot live with. Each must understand that no one can be coerced into changing their religious affiliation and practice. Each must decide whether or not your family member’s reactions to bringing a person from another faith into the clan can be tolerated. Neither person must have any illusions about how difficult this process of inter faith marriage can be.

It is important to remember that, besides the issues of faith and religious practice, each person needs to learn about the other. This is what dating has to do with: learning about the other person and whether or not they are the individual with whom they can spend the rest of their lives, raising a family and going through the different stages of life. Besides the difficult question of faith, there are the questions of shared values, tastes, interests, temperaments, sexual compatibility and shared visions for the future. Marriage is never easy and the question of religious identification must be examined with great care along with all of these other issues.

What are your opinions and experiences?

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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