One of the most important things interfaith couples can do to minimize conflict and increase unity is to focus on what they have in common. Below are specific ideas about how to do this.
Commit to your relationship
Settle once and for all that you will stand by your partner despite religious differences. Put aside your differences and decide to love each other even though you disagree about religion.
Learn good communication skills
Good communication skills are essential to success in every marriage, and they become all the more critical in an interfaith marriage.
Respect your partner and religious differences
No one likes to be put down for something they believe in and criticizing one another on the subject of religion can be devastating to the relationship. So it's critical that both partners respect the beliefs and values of their partner. To build respect, work on the following behaviors:
- Place yourself in your partners' religious shoes.
- See your partner's religion as a part of who he is instead of something he just participates in.
- Never deliver an ultimatum about religion, such as "You have to go to my church or else."
- Help your partner strengthen her religious convictions instead of trying to change them.
Compromise and find commonalities that bring you together
Finding a religious middle ground can strengthen your relationship. Learning about your partner's faith and religion can help you find the values you hold in common. As you find shared values, you'll gain greater understanding of one another and arguments will diminish. The following ideas can help you compromise and understand one another:
- Focus on beliefs that you share and teachings that are similar in both your religions. You may find out you have more in common than you thought.
- Focus on non-religious things you both value, such as hobbies, work, sports, and entertainment. Doing things together that you both enjoy will help you increase unity in your relationship.
- Don't try to change your partner. If you insist that your partner see things your way, you're not truly trying to compromise.
Talk and make a decision about your children's religious upbringing
When interfaith couples have children, they add a new and powerful potential area of conflict over religious differences. Couples need to decide what religion they want their child to belong to or if they want their children to learn from both religions. The following questions can help couples make this important decision:
- How involved in religion do we want our child to be?
- How important to each of us is our own religious faith?
- How involved does each of us want to be in our child's religious formation?
- What do I find of value in my partner's faith?
- How cooperative will our family and friends be with our plan for our child's religious upbringing?
- What am I willing to contribute to our child's religious development in a faith different form my own?
- How much freedom to choose a religion am I willing to give our child?
Make the best of the holiday dilemma
Dealing with differences in holidays can cause conflict in what should be a time of unity and togetherness. Holidays can be extra difficult because they involve not only immediate family but relatives as well. Families can take several approaches as they work to solve this dilemma:
- In the traditional approach, you choose the holidays of one religion and celebrate them in a full-bodied way. If you choose this approach, be sensitive to the emotional needs of the partner whose holidays are not being celebrated. Don't completely ignore the holidays he or she grew up with.
- In the minimalist approach, you celebrate the major holidays in a secular way, just like you would celebrate Independence Day or Labor Day. The gift giving, shopping, and festivities stay the same, but you take out all religious meaning behind the symbols.
- In the two-religion approach, you actively celebrate holidays from the religions of both partners. If you choose this approach, make sure you each learn about the religious meanings and customs behind both religious holidays and teach them to your children.
- In the nontraditional approach, you draw traditions from different cultures and regions of the world and incorporate them into your own innovative holiday celebration.
Interfaith marriages can be successful and happy if both partners are willing to work hard at committing to one another, showing respect for one another, and focusing on shared values. When children come along, it's important to place the best interests of the child first as decisions are made about how to religiously raise the child and how to celebrate holidays. As interfaith couples carefully consider these issues with sensitivity toward one another, they can avoid most of the conflict around religious differences and will be able to build a loving and unified relationship and family life.