The Conundrum of Interfaith Relationships
A client’s quandary
A client whom I’ll call Sandra recently confided in me. “I’m so conflicted. I don’t know what to do. I really love Jason, but I just don’t think we have a future together.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“He’s Jewish. He doesn’t practice or anything, but his family does. They go to synagogue and celebrate holidays. I’m Catholic. Nobody in my family has ever married a Jew. It’s just not done. ”
Good for her, I thought. How sensible to bring up a sensitive and potentially problematic conflict. Made me wonder about Katie and Tom and the quality of their pre-marital preparation. Did they ever seek religious or therapeutic counsel? Did the word Scientology ever come up?
Current societal view of interfaith relationships
In 21st century America, interfaith relationships are ubiquitous. Currently, 50% of both Catholics and Jews marry outside of their religion. Many of the barriers which prevented interfaith relationships and allowed groups to maintain their homogeneity have disappeared. Few families exert control over the matrimonial choices of their offspring. Moreover, in most cases, today’s interfaith relationships no longer carry the stigma and social taboos which were used to control behavior by threatening to taint or exclude couples from their families and community.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that certain barriers don’t exist. Given a choice, most people would prefer the approval of their family and religious community regarding their choice of a partner. Even though it may be less of a deal-breaker than it once was, a family endorsement continues to hold sway. Some families and religious communities have histories of harsh exclusion while others embrace the religious outsider. Would Katie and Tom have been able to sort through and resolve their religious differences early on in the bloom of early love?
Typically, a number of issues arise for couples considering an interfaith relationship.
The first question in many people’s mind is the of the religious affiliation of children. To which religion will the children belong? Will it be confusing for the children to have parents who practice different religions? How will family religious holiday rituals be handled? Will the Catholic convert to Judaism or vice-versa? Does a partner believe his betrothed’s religious beliefs and practices to be so far outside the norm that he or she objects to any exposure for the children?
Another area for potential conflict is where and how the couple will spend holidays. Being asked to participate in your partner’s religious holidays can be daunting. For a Catholic to be asked to go synagogue for the High Holy Days or a Jew to attend Midnight Mass can be challenging. Many religious rituals can feel strange and awkward to the uninitiated.
Shine a Light on Differences and Seek Clarity
As you know relationships are implicit and explicit contracts between two people. Ideally, all significant matters should be discussed and resolved before tying the knot. For interfaith couples religion is obviously a hot topic. The couple needs to arrive at clarity about their expectations about practicing their own religion, conversion, and the religious affiliation of potential children.
During our sessions Sandra came to recognize that Jason’s religious background didn’t need to be an ipso facto deal breaker. But she needed to clarify her needs and wants around religious practice, and then decide if worship as a couple was important to her and whether she wanted her children to be Catholic. Once she got clear, she was able to talk with Jason about his vision and work to a resolution. It turned out that Jason had no real attachment to Judaism.
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes weren’t so lucky. Their recent divorce serves as a post-modern cautionary tale for those considering a life commitment to an interfaith relationship.
Jerry Duberstein, Ph.D. is the co-author with Mary Ellen Goggin, JD of the book, Relationship Transformation: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too-A Practical Guide for Couples Who Want To Be Free and Connected. Jerry and Mary Ellen offer counseling, couples coaching in person or by telephone, tele-seminars, private intensive intervention for couples in crisis, and transformational retreats in the seaport town, Portsmouth, NH. You can reach them at 707-412-8801.
Link to Dr. Duberstein’s Author Page: amazon.com/author/jerryduberstein
Link to Book: http://tinyurl.com/6s5prrb