Blending Faiths and Cultures After I Do
Marriage is about compromise. Dinner at the Italian or Thai place? Friday night drinks or Netflix and chill? But what about the answers to bigger questions: Christmas or Hanukkah? Religious dietary laws or #baconforever? Church every Sunday or just on Easter? Some people purely marry within their own faith, while others don’t give it a second thought. For everyone else in between, what’s a couple to do?
A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that about 4 out of 10 Americans who got married since 2010 have a spouse of a different religion. Religion writer Naomi Schaefer Riley also reported that 42% of marriages in the U.S. today are interfaith matches. As trends show many Americans, and especially millennials, are marrying out of their faith, possibly raising some tough issues.
Those in love may ask, what’s God got to do with it, but even for people who don’t consider themselves very “religious,” cultural differences can arise and create conflict. So how can couples happily marry their belief systems when they wed each other? Here are the 10 commandments of how to embrace each other’s religious traditions and put the “whole” back in holy matrimony.
1. Thou Shalt Communicate
As with everything in marriage, communication is key. Though the big religion conversation is definitely not as much fun as imagining honeymoon destinations together, it’s an important one. Get your feelings out in the open, both about your own relationship to religion and your comfort level with your significant other’s traditions. Only by talking it through can you start to come up with solutions for the future.
2. Thou Shalt Share
Before setting anything down in stone, just sit down with partner to simply share about your backgrounds, says Dr. Joel Crohn, Ph.D., author of Mixed Matches: How to Create Successful Interracial, Interethnic and Interfaith Relationships. What were your favorite traditions growing up? How did you celebrate holidays? How often do you pray in a church, synagogue, mosque, etc.? Focus on the facts and use this as an opportunity to get to know your partner better.
3. Thou Shalt Plan Ahead
According to experts, secular couples tend to underestimate the importance religion will play in their future lives. “Early in our marriage, my wife saw me hanging Christmas lights on the shrubs in the front of the house,” said Jim Keen, author of Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family, “When she told me that she didn’t feel comfortable with that, I was disappointed.” Keen recommends creating a practical framework for merging lifestyles well before walking down the aisle to cut down on unwanted surprises.
4. Thou Shalt Be Flexible
Life doesn’t always go to plan. Just because you and your partner had certain ideas when you first got married, doesn’t mean circumstances and feelings won’t change. Allow room in your relationship for the unexpected so, “Like the Constitution…your marriage [can] adapt to the times,” says Keen.
5. Thou Can Have It All
Rather than choosing between religions, Psych Central columnist Allan Schwartz recommends couples follow the traditions and holidays of both religions. Besides, why pick just one when you can have it all?
6. Thou Shalt Be Open to New Experiences
Don’t just sit on the sidelines; get involved with your significant other’s traditions and belief system. Show them you want to be a part of what’s important to them. Along the way, you may learn something and more importantly gain greater insight into the one you love.
7. Thou Shalt Educate Yourself
If you’re going to welcome a whole new faith into your life, take the opportunity to learn more about it with some thoughtful research. This shows your partner you respect them and take your union seriously.
Don’t just Google your way through the meaning of their religious practices and traditions as they arise.
8. Thou Shalt Not Avoid
According to Crohn, “The biggest problem facing interfaith couples is denying that differences actually exist.” Not only does not talking about things let them fester, but it can lead to misassumptions. “Avoidance won’t help the conflict go away.”
9. Thou Shalt Consider Counseling
Rather than a last resort, try couple’s counseling as a preventative measure, suggests Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., of Psych Central. Before things get bad, seek a therapist who can help you sort through the difficult, big picture issues in a thoughtful and civilized manner.
10. Thou Shalt Honor Your Partner
Above all, remember to always respect your partner and their beliefs. Navigating religious differences can be frustrating but, “It is important that you remember that your spouse’s faith helped shape the person you fell in love with,” says psychologist Dr. R. Y. Langham. “Although you may disagree on religion [or] faith…there are probably 1,000 other things that you agree on. Focus on what you share in common.”