I was raised to think like a Mormon.
Especially when it came to choosing a marriage partner.
I did all the typical things a single Mormon might do after graduating high school: I went to Brigham Young University, lived in the dorms, attended a singles ward and dated guys that were members of the LDS Church like me. Sure, I went on a few dates here and there with some “non-members,” and to this day have many great friends of different faiths. But when it came down to getting serious with someone, I picked among the people who thought and believed like I did.
I was told that would assure me the greatest chance of happiness in marriage. I also have a firm testimony in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and made the goal as a young girl that I wanted to marry someone who felt the same way — for many reasons.
Now that I’ve been married coming up on seven years this winter, I realize now more than ever that my decision has been a good one. I did find a great man who is also a Mormon to marry. But more than just “marrying a religion,” I wanted to marry someone who was on the same wavelength as I was — someone who agreed with me on how to raise a family and live a good life.
I have several family members who have chosen to marry people of a different religion who also have rich, meaningful lives and have been able to raise children despite some core difference of belief. It hasn’t always been easy; they’ll be the first to tell you that. Nevertheless, they’ve made it work and have been happy working together and trying new ways of doing things.
So which way guarantees the most happiness?
“According to calculations based on the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages,” says an article in the Washington Post.
A paper published in 1993 found that if members of two mainline Christian denominations marry, they have a 1-in-5 chance of being divorced in five years. If a Catholic and a member of an evangelical denomination marry, their chances jump up to 1 in 3. And a Christian and Jew who marry have a greater than 40 percent chance of being divorced in five years, according to findings by Evelyn Lehrer, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
On the one hand, it could be argued that inter-faith marriages are “good for civic life,” as the Washington Post states.
“There is nothing like marriage between different groups to make society more integrated and more tolerant.”
And, “as recent research by Harvard professor Robert Putnam has shown, the more Americans get to know people of other faiths, the more they seem to like them.”
But for some reason, this acceptance hasn't been translating as well to marriage.
Take the latest Hollywood tragedy of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
Cruise is an avid and out-spoken Scientologist — Holmes was raised Catholic. Originally gushing about her excitement about embracing a new religion — “I’m learning to celebrate my own spirit, my own being,” she told W magazine in 2005 — Holmes is now taking a step way back. Not only has she filed for divorce, but she’s also asked for full legal custody of their daughter, 6-year-old Suri, probably so she can have control over her “health, education and religion,” says New York matrimonial attorney Nancy Chemtob (who is not involved in this case.)
Though neither party has released statements about why they decided to divorce, some have speculated it could be because Holmes doesn’t want Suri to be involved with the Church of Scientology, which is “a complete way of life,” according to a Scientologist who studied with Cruise in Clearwater, Fla.
“Other couples who have different feelings on how Scientology should play an important role in their lives have split up over it,” that Scientologist told People magazine.
That goes for many religions. Parenthood is tough enough. There are endless decisions to make every day about how to discipline your children, what sports to put them in, what musical instruments they should play, who to be friends with, where to go to school, whether or not to vaccinate, whether to feed them fast food or an organic-only diet — the list goes on and on and on.
Throw in a difference of religion, and you’ve got a tough road ahead.
Some couples like TomKat can’t seem to work it out and end up parting ways. But some, like my extended family members, have been able to beat the odds and share a difference of opinion and ultimately agree to disagree on some major areas.
You may have a greater chance for sticking it out if you marry someone of the same faith, but it has to be deeper than marrying for religion alone. I’ve known plenty of people who have married “in the faith” and ended up divorced.
I think it mostly comes down to commitment — wanting the same thing out of life and similar views about how to get it. And studies show you'll have a greater chance of finding someone who feels that way, who has been raised the same way you have, in the same faith you belong to.
As Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote for the Washington Post, “remember the famous counsel, the family that prays together, stays together? It's not just a come-on from preachers looking to fill pews. There is sociological research to back it up.”