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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