Busted Halo
feature: sex & relationships
May 8th, 2014

4 Questions to Ask in an Interfaith Relationship

 
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Question: My boyfriend and I are beginning to have serious conversations about marriage. He is a shamanist, and I am a Catholic. He has attended Mass with me on multiple occasions, has prayed with me, and is open to conversations about marrying in the Church and raising our kids Catholic.

It’s not that he’s thinking of converting, and that’s not what I expect of him either. I just know that interfaith marriages can be very challenging. What would be your advice for conversations we should have before deciding on marriage and also advice for our lives together as partners and potentially parents?

Answer: I want to commend you for considering this question now. When couples get engaged first and then start thinking about working through their differences, it can be difficult to discuss potential conflicts because of the pressure to move forward with wedding plans.

So, the conversations to have before getting married are the same conversations as for people of the same faith tradition. Here’s a link to some discussion topics.

Specific to your question: Yes, there are many conflicts that can occur with couples of different faiths. To work toward resolving those, I would start with answering this question:

  • What does “faith” mean to each of you?

    Talk about your beliefs (from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Eucharist, the sacrament of marriage and the virgin birth, etc.) and how they impact your life. What has happened on your faith journey? Share how your faith influences your relationships. Does your faith extend into ministry or social justice? Are religion and spirituality the same to you, or do you see some differences?

    And the same questions are for your boyfriend. How did he come to his beliefs? What does he believe and how does it impact his life? What does he value about his faith? Does he see potential problems for your future relationship because of your difference in faith traditions?

Which leads us to the next question:

  • What do you expect from him?

    It sounds like your boyfriend is open to marrying in the Catholic Church and open to raising the children Catholic. Those are the two Big Ones. He has attended services with you (Big One #3). He’s not preventing you from practicing your faith, and he’s even open to accompanying you so you don’t feel alone. Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than that. Oh yeah, he prays with you. Guess it does get even better! So, be sure to really think through any other expectations you have for his participation in your faith, and then talk to him about those.

OK, third question for you:

  • Are you willing to live for the rest of your life without sharing your faith with your husband?

    This is a question you may need to spend some time alone with to really answer. Many couples are happy and healthy even though they don’t share the same faith, but for others it can be a constant struggle. Do you hold a secret hope that your boyfriend will eventually convert? If so, you could be setting yourself up for bitterness and resentment. Make sure you are very clear on what he is and is not willing to do or change for the marriage. Is it OK that he won’t believe in baptizing the children even if he “goes along” with the ceremony? Is it OK if he doesn’t know Jesus or his biblical teachings? Do you think when he dies he will go to heaven? Does your answer to that question cause you anxiety? How will you negotiate religious differences around family planning? Are you worried you may start to feel a lack of connection and closeness with him because you have two different faith lives?

Next question:

  • What does your boyfriend expect from you?

    This is a fair question to consider. Will he be OK with you talking about your faith to the children or praying with them? Will he want to teach your children about his own beliefs? Are you OK with him sharing that part of his life with your children or other family and friends?

 

This issue could work out many different ways. Everyone has a story about the couple who had different beliefs but found one in the middle they both could share. Or the couple who participated in each other’s services but were constantly arguing once the children arrived. Or the couple that negotiated the differences by taking turns. Or the couple who broke up over spiritual incompatibility. Or the couple where one person finally converted.

So, where will you land? My advice for your lives together as partners is simply to continue to accept each other for your different beliefs and to continue talking about all the details as they come up. If you are open and authentic with each other, dedicated to the relationship, willing to give up on some dreams and accept new ones, and willing to ask for help if you need it, you’ve got the basics down. Every couple has at least one “nonnegotiable” conflict between them that simply does not go away. This may be yours. Or who knows, another one may arise. But it’s how you approach your differences as a couple that matters. And for you particularly, how you approach your faith as an individual in order to be part of a couple.

 
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The Author : Michele Fleming
Michele Fleming, M.A., is a counselor, national speaker, and writer on Christian relationships for CatholicSingles.com. Michele has a master's in clinical psychology with an emphasis in the integration of Christian theology. She is currently completing her Ph.D. and her research is focused on dating and relationships. She is a member of the Christian Association for the Psychological Sciences and the American Psychological Association. Her website is www.michelefleming.org.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Episteme

    A few of the most faithful converted Catholics I know (I’m the godfather of one’s firstborn son) are former shamanist/pagan men who got involved with Catholic women and — like the man described here — began attending masses and praying with their girlfriends/fiancées, before realizing that they had been slowly coming around all along. One can be surprised how close many modern shamanistic practices are to Catholic devotions, indeed how influenced many are by them (remember the history of interaction of the early church with first the Greek gentiles and then the Northern pagans, how various cultural practices were absorbed into the life of the European Christian alongside the Hellenistic Jewish scripture).

    As Bob Faser said here in the comments, there’s a distinction between inter-dating between different faiths and inter-dating with an atheist. Especially with someone like a neopagan/shamanist, often a large portion of their devotion is seeking a community of faith through a connection to those ideas of pantheism and a larger history. When my formerly-pagan friends discovered the love of both Christ and his Church, they easily discovered that that was the sort of larger faith and historical connection that they were seeking all along. Will it be likely that he will develop into a Catholic with a stronger devotion to the saints and Mariology than many others of his new peers? Perhaps — the Church itself, remember used the intercession of Saints in the Church Triumphant as a means of aiding former pagans acclimate themselves, and even many of us cradle-Catholics are devotional-heavy (when two of my friends were in the process of converting, thanks to the love of both Jesus and their Catholic girlfriends, they and I would sit up until well into the night discussing some of the more devotional theology that was outside of the RCIA program but was something that they wanted to speak to a Marianist like myself about).

    A very even-handed and graceful (in both meaning of the word) response, Michele — I hope that having examples of marriages that have worked out like this (all three have resulted in full conversions, two before marriage and one soon after — with two of the couples now parents of multiple children being raised as proper Catholics) will quell some of the fears, even if there’s no guarantees. I would like to think that our prayers are with this couple, both for their love that attempts to bridge differences without falling out of faith, as well as for hopes that his support of her faith (which is more than many actual Catholic men do for their wives, who I see wrestling their kids alone at church on Sundays while the father stays home) is the first step of his realizing a conversion has begun to take root in his heart.

  • Mike

    one should not try to mix oil with water, it never fully blends together and eventually it completely seperates.

  • Lawrence

    The main thing is to worship God, when you marry you become one in the eyes of the Lord. So with that said when you become one how can you have two different belief systems? Also, what your future husband is following to me seems like a cult. We are to worship God and God alone, we have no business in dabbling in the spiritual realm. John 14:6

    • Mike

      God is spirit, therefore you yourself are really dabbling in the spiritual realm your own self.

  • Bob Faser

    When people who are strongly committed to different faith traditions marry, they normally find a way of working it out (and supporting each other in their practice). There are often far more problems when a committed person of faith marries a person of no faith (but who is aggressively committed to his/her non-religious outlook), or even with a marriage between two people of the same faith tradition (but with very different attitudes toward the extent to which they practice their faith).

    • Mike

      two different belief systems will never work out because there will always be conflict within that relationship in one place or another, a devided house will always fall.

    • Greg Araujo

      A catholic has no business supporting a false religion

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  • George

    This catholic woman should not marry this man. St. Paul revealed that believers should not marry unbelievers, and that was revelation from God. Unless he honestly converts to christianity, she shouldn’t marry him. It will get tougher when kids arrive, and she wants to take them to mass, but maybe he decides he wants them to be shamanists. This is a recipe for a hard marriage, avoid it. You get to pick a husband once, pick wisely.

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