In our last BustedHalo poll, we asked how you would handle it if your spouse became significantly more—or less—religious. That question seems to have hit a nerve—and I’m not surprised. As young adults growing into our faith, we are still exploring and changing. Sometimes that means that we will grow closer to God or evolve in our understanding of how we should be living our faith in our everyday lives.
Marriage doesn’t mean the end of personal change—if you are committing the next 60 years to someone, you’d better believe some changes are in store!—and in so many respects, that’s the beauty and craziness of marriage. You are binding yourself to another person for an uncertain future.
While family traditions, friends and past behaviors are a good indication of what the future might bring, our faith journeys are extremely personal and not entirely predictable. Your faith might deepen. Your spouse’s faith might fade. But hopefully together you are able to have faith that God will help you work it out.
Ann, 27, says she and her husband go pray and attend Mass together on a regular basis, and she’d be “devastated” if her husband turned away from the Church. “I’d probably be really mad at first, but then eventually turn to praying and knowing that God would guide my husband back to Him.”
With something as personal as faith, it’s hard to make judgments—and trying to negotiate individual spiritual evolutions within the bonds of marriage is twice as tricky.
When Pam and Thomas got married, they were both practicing Catholics. Tom regularly attended Mass and Pam had founded the Catholic Club at her college. But within the first years of their marriage, Pam, a biologist, began to question how a belief in the principles of science could coexist with faith in God. In heated debates, it became clear to both of them that Pam was becoming an atheist.
Have you seriously dated someone of a different faith? (Y/N)
Is religion a “deal-breaker” – i.e. would you marry someone who did not in some way share your religious background? (Y/N)
What are some of the challenges of dating/marrying someone of a different faith?
What are some of the benefits of dating/marrying someone of a different faith?
After their first child was born, Pam and Tom made an agreement: Tom would be in charge of raising their son Catholic, and he would take him to Mass each week. Pam would join them on Christmas and Easter, but otherwise, she’d leave the religious instruction to Tom.
“I moved away from the Church,” Pam says. “I stopped going, and Tom – and then Tom and our son – went without me. It wasn’t ideal, but so far it has worked for us. And I’m glad our son has a chance to learn about his faith from someone who is such a great example of it.”
Even within the Catholic faith, there are types—and degrees—of observance. Of BustedHalo survey respondents who attend church regularly, 25% said that if their spouse’s faith deepened, they might feel awkward.
Ally, 29, says if her fiancé became more devout it would make her uncomfortable. “I would feel like he was finding support in something other than me.” And Mark, 35, says he would be a bit concerned if his wife became significantly more religious than he: “If she became overly scrupulous I don’t think I’d like that.”
So how do we negotiate these changes—before and after they happen?
In her bestselling book, 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do”, Susan Piver includes eight questions about spiritual life. I like this book because it encourages couples to communicate about thorny issues like money, work, sex, family and religion before taking their vows.
“What does each desire of the other in terms of support and/or participation in the other’s practice?” “What place do spiritual and/or religious beliefs play in our home and home life?” “Does each partner understand and respect the other’s choices?”
I’d recommend adding another question: “If one or both of us change our beliefs or practice of our faith, how will we address that as a couple?”