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Leaving it at the altar: Navigating interfaith marriage

Published: Friday, April 12 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

“Some things are too big and religion is a very, very big issue. If two people aren’t on the same page, it can cause a crack in the foundation of the relationship.

“Romance fades after a reasonably short period of time,” she said. “But I think the thing that turns people on to each other and is the glue that holds people together in relationships is open, honest communication. That glue can also be very attractive.”

She said that the more a couple learns to talk, wrestle with conflicts and listen respectfully without interrupting, the more each individual will feel validated, acknowledged and accepted, flaws and all.

Parents and congregations

It used to be that marriage took place in the context of a particular community, said Riley, a community in which faith and family wielded substantial authority.

The autonomous individual is a relatively new phenomenon — one fueled, in part, by greater geographical mobility and the rise of the average age at marriage.

All of this can leave parents — most of whom believe it’s important for their children to marry someone of their own faith — feeling frustrated as they watch children move away and date people outside of the faith in which they were raised.

“(In writing my book,) I would talk to couples who would say, ‘After a year of dating, so-and-so flew home to meet my parents,’ ” Riley said.

“That gives you a sense of how long the relationship had gone, how far away removed they were from family and how little concern they had, in some sense, for the approval of family.

“It is presented as sort of this fait accompli. There’s this sense that it would be getting in the way of love to take these practical considerations into account. Love is the number one priority.”

Still, Riley said that parents who desire a faithful outcome shouldn’t abandon hope: 25 percent of same-faith couples were once of different faiths.

Riley, Walfish and Coleman all agree that the best thing parents and religious leaders can do is to welcome the couple into the family in a spirit of love, respect and understanding.

“Turning them away would actually contribute to weakening their faith rather than strengthening it,” Coleman said.

Riley believes that attempts at educating or converting the spouse are better done by a religious leader, at least in part. A spouse saying, “Won’t you consider being Catholic?” can come to feel like, “Why haven’t you picked up the dirty laundry today?”

“The older you are when you marry, the more likely you are to marry out(side of the faith),” Riley said. Parents interested in influencing their children’s marital decisions should have conversations about marriage early on. As one pastor said, "Be intentional about it.”

Email: dward@deseretnews.com

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