This is the third part of the interfaith relationships segment. The first part is interfaith relationships/marriages explained giving you all the details of what being in this relationship means. The second part begins to answer some of the questions that arise with being in an interfaith relationship, for instance – so what if we’re not the same religion? This post continues to dig deeper into questions and scenarios that you may come across and how to resolve them.
One of us is religious and one of us isn’t
Perhaps one of you has a strong faith while the other has not. This may seem straightforward, because when it comes to facing the big questions about the role of religion in your life together, the one who cares most about it can make the decisions, and the other will fit in. This can work in a context of overall tolerance, but like all decisions about how to run an interfaith home, it depends on both flexibility and good communication if it is to work in a way that keeps both partners content.
Don’t assume because you have no religious feelings that you have no values and beliefs. It’s also important to realise that either or both of you may change. Some things that matter now may seem less important in twenty years’ time, and vice versa. Some people experience a renewal of faith and commitment, which can upset a carefully worked out balance in an interfaith relationship.
For example, if a Muslim man who has not practised his faith for a long time becomes much more committed, it has implications for the rest of the family, such as their food, clothes and social life. When we first got married religion didn’t matter to us that much, but later on it did. My wife started going to a church and got very involved there, and I think there was a lot of pressure on her to get me to go along too – it was like they wanted her to convert me. And of course, I wasn’t having any of that!
If you are strongly committed to your own faith you may not be comfortable learning about another faith.
Religion and family
Many of our instinctive values are clustered around family life, men’s and women’s roles, and how children and parents relate to each other. Religions have much to say about marriage and family life, and many see the family as particularly sacred, a place where children and adults learn to love and obey God. You may find that however reluctant you are to ‘do religion’, the religious celebrations of your family and community are inseparable from your overall culture, regardless of what you actual beliefs are. In an interfaith situation couples often find what looks like uncontroversial ‘culture’ to one partner – for example, having Christmas trees or fortune cookies – appears laden with religious weight and symbolism to the other.
In many cultures it’s belonging that really counts rather than believing
Even if you are an atheist or an agnostic you may still find you are defined by religion in an interfaith marriage. Thinking of yourself as ‘not being religious’ doesn’t have the same meaning in different cultures. In some cultures it is acceptable to express your thinking as an individual freely and to reject religion if you want. But in many cultures what you do or do not believe is not the issue – your religious identity is the one you were born with.
Learning about each other’s tradition
Maybe you met in a setting where faith wasn’t discussed much, at work or at college, for example. Perhaps you have not needed to emphasise the faith aspect of your own culture and experience before, because it seems irrelevant to someone outside your community, and you don’t feel it defines you anyway. If you feel critical or distant from the tradition you grew up in it can be hard to explain to a partner where you’re coming from. But it is still important. Some couples find that when they share each other’s faith backgrounds, they discover more about their own too.
Finding out without pressure
If you are strongly committed to your own faith you may not be comfortable learning about another faith. In some traditions learning about religions other than your own is not seen as important. Sometimes it seems that information about religion is put over in a way designed to convince people to believe and sign up, when you want a neutral setting where you can understand each others’ backgrounds and traditions without pressure.
Even if you do feel uneasy about your partner’s faith, nowadays you can get information and a chance to discuss these things without feeling disrespected or targeted for conversion. Other people of your own faith background and faith leaders from every tradition are doing it too. But in an interfaith marriage this exploration is for real. Your partner’s faith is part of your life together, and their faith journey is important as an aspect of their story, and therefore your own. For many people it is a key to understanding their past as well as their present and future.
Are you in an interfaith relationship with similar situations? I’d love to hear your version and advice for other couples out there.
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