Rules for Making an Interfaith Relationship Work -- and One Big Sign It Won't

interfaith coupleReligion is a touchy subject, and can be even more so when you and your man don't share the same faith. But does believing in a different religion mean that your relationship is ultimately doomed?


The short answer? Hell no.

In fact, many happily married couples don't share the same faith, says Paul Hokemeyer, JD, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist who practices in New York City, Los Angeles, and Telluride, Colorado.

And according to the Pew Research Center's recent Religious Landscape Study, almost 4 in 10 Americans (39 percent) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group.

Of course, being brought up a devout [fill in the blank] while he's a die-hard [fill the blank with a totally DIFFERENT faith -- or lack of it, say they're atheist] does mean you'll encounter some obstacles together.

But here are a few tips that can help strengthen every interfaith relationship.

1. Talk openly about your religious belief system. "Share with each other what you find so valuable about your faith," says Hokemeyer. And instead of approaching it with an attitude that you're correct and your partner is wrong, find the points where your belief systems connect, he adds.

2. Resist the urge to convert your partner. We all have to come to our own belief system organically. "[Religion] can't be forced down someone's throat," says Hokemeyer. "To do so creates resentment and hostility."

3. Introduce BOTH faiths to your kids at an early age. "But with the goal of educating, rather than controlling," Hokemeyer advises. If you want faith to be a part of your child's life, then let them feel they have a choice -- NOT that you're using them to win an argument in your relationship.

More from The Stir: The Joys and Challenges of Making an Interfaith Relationship Work (PHOTOS)

Is there a sign that despite your best efforts to find neutral (hallowed) ground, your interfaith relationship still isn't working? YES.

And it comes down to black-and-white thinking -- a my-way-or-the-highway mentality that leaves zero room for compromises or alternatives.

"When one or both partners becomes polarized in powerful belief systems and practices of their religion, then problems can emerge," says Dr. Fran Walfish, PsyD, a relationship, parenting, and child psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, California, as well as author of The Self-Aware Parent and costar of Sex Box on WE tv.

And those radical beliefs drive a powerful wedge between you. Sitting down with a counselor to resolve your differences could help (especially if you do it preemptively, and not as a last-ditch effort). But sometimes, couples may have grown too fundamentally far apart to reconcile.

When this happens, you won't get a sign quite as dramatic as, say, a 40-day flood. But Hokemeyer advises being on the lookout for "a pit that burns in your stomach and a rage that wells up [inside you] when religion is discussed."

After all, he notes, "the purpose of religion is not to create hostility, cause wars, divide relationships, and pathologize children."

And the point of marriage is to show your love for each other, even if that means agreeing to respectfully disagree about religion.


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