Disapproval expressed in religious terms can be particularly distressing: ‘You will go to hell if you marry without him converting.’ If this is the kind of thing that is said to you, it may help you to make contact with religious leaders and thinkers who do not believe it’s a proper expression of the faith to use ‘the threat of hell-fire’ in this way, as a form of pressure.
Nevertheless when an interfaith marriage is culturally and religiously unacceptable, you may find your family and community treat it not just as an unwise choice but as a betrayal, which may in turn have an impact on your own sense of identity. Just because you love someone of another faith doesn’t mean that you don’t still think your family and faith matter – they may do very much. And your partner will be hurt too, feeling rejected for what seems like all the wrong reasons.
I was a forerunner: it’s easier now for other people who marry out – maybe the fact that we stayed together helped that. When my mother finally brought herself to admit that, in spite of everything, that I’d broken their hearts by marrying out and everything, she had to admit I’d done quite a good job of parenting, and that she was pleased with how the grandchildren had turned out – then I knew that it was finally accepted.
Feeling like an outlaw is hard, and naturally you will feel sad, especially if family links have been broken, and guilty for breaking religious rules and upsetting people you love. It sometimes has a knock-on effect on you as a couple. All these things will be alleviated with time, as you adjust to change. People often report their faith and commitment to each other being strengthened by the difficulties and soul searching involved, and sometimes relationships with families are eventually healed.
I overheard my mother say to my father, ‘she’s lovely isn’t she’, about my wife, who has been a great help to them in their old age. It may have taken them thirty years, but it was nice to hear them appreciate her at last!
Sadly, though, reconciliation does not always happen. But help and support is available. You may only need to hear from other people who have coped, to know that you are not the only ones, and that while it’s normal to feel sad, even depressed about family rejection, it’s also possible to cope, learn and move on with your identity and relationship intact. Sometimes talking to someone who understands is enough to help you come to terms and move forward. If you become more severely depressed, you should seek help from your doctor, or a professional counsellor or mental health worker.
Recognise that you are part of a process of social change – it isn’t just you. As interfaith marriage increases, faiths are more likely to accommodate mixed couples. Look for the thinkers and leaders who can support you. Try to avoid giving in to isolation, feeling you have to give up your faith because you aren’t recognised by the community – find other settings, faith or interfaith groupings that can include you.2