Interfaith Marriages – Navigating and Overcoming Common Problems

Interfaith, interdenominational, interreligious – however you choose to refer to it, marriages between couples who belong to different religions continue to become more commonplace in our society.

A study from Pew Research Center found that 27% of Millennials were raised by parents with two different religious backgrounds – an increase of the 20% figure reported by Gen Xers and the 19 percent reported by Baby Boomers.

In spite of this growth, studies indicate that couples in interfaith marriages report poorer psychological health and experience external pressure from family and peers to marry someone of the same faith.

For couples in interfaith marriages or relationships, we must stress that the numbers don’t paint the whole picture. While statistics highlight challenges faced by couples in interfaith unions, individual experiences vary greatly. In this article, we talk about how to overcome common challenges in interfaith relationships and marriages.

What is an Interfaith Marriage?

Interfaith marriages, otherwise known as interdenominational marriages or interreligious marriages, are marriages between two spouses from different religious backgrounds.

For some religious groups, the practice of marrying outside of your religion is strictly prohibited. In these scenarios, there may be pressure for one spouse to convert to their partner’s faith in order for the marriage to proceed. These practices vary greatly between different religious groups and are usually influenced by doctrinal interpretation and degree of conservatism.

When we refer to interfaith marriages, we usually think of two spouses who marry while keeping their own religious values. In these scenarios, new challenges emerge – often stemming from family pressures that may lead to a complex negotiation of identity and belief systems within the marriage.

These interfaith marriages require a deep commitment to mutual respect, compromise, and above all –understanding.

Interfaith Marriages

Are Interfaith Marriages More Likely to Fail?

Statistically, there is some evidence to support this rhetoric around interfaith marriages and divorce. In Naomi Schaefer Riley’s book, “Till Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America,” from 2013, the author reported that mixed-faith marriages were three times more likely to end in divorce than couples who shared the same religious beliefs.

However, statistics don’t paint the full picture. It’s important to consider the nuances around divorce. For instance, couples from the same religious group may experience pressure from within their community to remain married. Conversely, couples involved in interdenominational marriages may be more likely to be supported in their decision to leave their spouse. This could be one of the reasons explaining their higher rates of divorce.

In reality, there are many successful interfaith marriages. Couples who are dedicated to open communication and willing to seek help when obstacles arise often enjoy long-lasting and happy marriages.

Common Issues that Arise in Interfaith Marriages

Family Pressure

Family, peer, and community pressure is one of the biggest strains that interfaith couples report experiencing. For those with conservative religious practices, interfaith couples may be forced to cut ties with their family to pursue their interdenominational relationship.

While familial exile is far less common than it once was, interfaith couples are still likely to face family pressure. Whether couples are in an interfaith marriage or not, it’s important to present a united front to their families. Each partner should make a conscious decision to protect their partner from family conflict and safeguard their relationship in the face of external pressures.

Not Tackling Issues Early On

Not facing potential challenges at the early stages of a relationship can lead to future challenges. This is especially true when we consider that many of life’s most significant milestones – marriage and childbirth – are intertwined with religious tradition.   

For interfaith couples, it’s especially important to acknowledge and address challenges at the early stages of the relationship.

While it may feel counterintuitive to discuss these issues during the honeymoon phase of a new relationship, for mixed-faith couples, tackling the big questions early on can help to determine future compatibility and long-term success.

Navigating common problems with interfaith marriage

Raising Children

For mixed-faith couples, the decision on how to raise and educate their children is one of the most contentious topics. In her book, “Till Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America,” Naomi Schaefer Riley revealed that more than half of couples in interfaith marriages did not discuss the religion that their future children would have before getting married.

It’s important to discuss ways you can agree on how you will raise your children, the religious values that you will impart, and how you celebrate key holidays. Decisions around whether you will attend religious services with your children, or whether your children will learn about and practise aspects of both faiths are important considerations. Findings suggest that interfaith parents are most likely to integrate aspects of differing cultural and religious practices into their children’s upbringing.

Celebrating Holidays

It’s important to acknowledge and discuss ways that you can observe and celebrate different religious holidays and practices in your household. This includes the holidays that you choose to celebrate, religious services, whether you celebrate these together, and how you integrate with the in-laws.

Interfaith couples can demonstrate compromise and respect by acknowledging the significance of their spouses’ religious holidays and empowering them with the freedom to celebrate – these are important cornerstones of interfaith marriages.

Conflict Resolution

All relationships require compromise. For many interfaith couples, there may come a time when conflict escalates due to differences in religious beliefs or practices. Successfully navigating these conflicts requires an open approach to communication, empathy, and willingness to understand the perspective of your partner.

When negotiating this compromise becomes too much, it’s important to seek counsel from a neutral third-party. Marriage or relationship counsellors are experienced with navigating these challenges and providing a safe and open space to work through these conflicts. Seeking help from a couples counsellor does not equate to failure. Rather, it demonstrates dedication to making your relationship work by learning new ways to communicate and overcome obstacles.

Can Interfaith Marriages Work?

Yes!

Interfaith marriages can absolutely work. Interfaith couples that navigate their differences, practice empathy, and offer open lines of communication to one another can thrive in a happy and successful marriage. Acknowledging and celebrating both religious identities contributes to a happy and successful relationship in which both spouses feel valued and seen.

Support, understanding, and a joint vision of the future are among the most important drivers of success for couples that enjoy long-term happiness within their interfaith marriages.

If you’re seeking guidance with your interfaith or intercultural relationship, we’re here to help. Our highly qualified psychologists come from a range of cultural and religious backgrounds, offering relationship and marriage counselling in more than 10 languages. Book an appointment at our Burwood, Castle Hill, Chatswood, Hurstville, or Sydney CBD clinic today.

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