Preparing for a Two-Faith Marriage

Heart shaped puzzlesFor thousands of years, people have expected their children to marry within their family faith and culture. Family life, in its largest sense, is easier this way. Marriage partners are easier to find among shared communities like synagogues, mosques, parochial schools or parishes; families know more about each other and often form smoother in-law relationships. Religious rituals bind partners to preceding generations as well as to their future children and to one another. All the thousand small, nearly invisible connections shared faith creates helps to enable more stable marriages and thicker, stronger emotional ties between parents, children, in-laws and the larger religious community.

It isn’t the distrust of the outside world as much as the desire to sustain the uniqueness of a specific religious worldview that has linked Catholic to Catholic, Jew to Jew, and Muslim to Muslim in marriage for generations. The practical, easier simplicity of shared meanings between spouses hold traditions and expectations in place. And so, for generations, parents have expected their children to partner with people of their faith traditions. This has been especially critical to religions that have relatively small numbers compared to the general population, as Jews, for example, are in the United States.

So, if a good young Jewish young woman, whose faith teaches her that mothers are the parent who “passes down” Jewish identity to her children, should begin to form a long-term relationship with a young adult male Gentile (a non-Jew), the tide of family anxiety may be loud. But now imagine a Jewish man planning to marry a Gentile woman: his children would not be considered religiously Jewish. The emotional hew and cry from his extended family may be so loud as to disrupt the planned marriage. While all this anxiety about blood lines and religious identity may be unwelcome and distressing, it’s quite understandable from a cultural point of view.

But it doesn’t make it easier to manage this all within your own family. So what’s a “mixed-faith marriage” couple to do?

1. Understand and respect the family’s loyalty to their faith. While the family’s comments and distress may be pointed at you, it’s really not about you, personally. It’s about your perceived possible intention of breaking community tradition and expectations.

2. Take your time. Be sure those thousand small communal connections of the faith become more visible to you and that you try them on for size. They need to fit you, or at least be interesting and acceptable enough to have them become part of your life. What is simply a bother now may become intolerable. And intolerable isn’t good; it will kill a marriage.

3. Negotiate before you commit. Work out the details of a future family life as much as you can. What is preferable (attending Sunday service) and what is mandatory (Baptism)? Can you tolerate these agreements for the long run? Are they mutual? Talk them through, and even write them down.

4. Can you agree to live within this negotiated difference? Expect this topic to never go away, but be a continuing area of adjustment, compromise, and some level of sacrifice for the both of you. The larger presence of extended families, religious holidays, rituals, leaders, and language will only increase this difference as you have children. Can you both embrace the long-term challenge in a positive, adjusted way?

The two-faith marriage couple is on the increase across Western culture. And while such unions can appear to weaken a minority faith, sharing traditions can also strengthen the tolerance, appreciation, and respect the majority has for minority traditions. It’s not all bad news! But a two-faith marriage is not easy, and is not for the faint of heart. Know what you need before you say “I do,” and your years together will much smoother.

© Copyright 2010 by Lynne Silva-Breen, MDiv, MA, LMFT, therapist in Burnsville, Minnesota. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • erin


    May 20th, 2010 at 2:53 AM

    I have a Jewish friend whose parents absolutley refuse to recognize her marriage unless her husband converts.

  • Lynne Silva-Breen, Author

    Lynne Silva-Breen, Author

    May 20th, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    Pressure to convert is really a painful choice. I would hope that your friend could create some conversation between her parents and husband so this rift doesn’t last their entire lives — that would be a terrible burden and emotional wasteland.

    A family therapist would be a great help to make this kind of conversation happen in a safe, private way.

  • Alice


    May 21st, 2010 at 3:04 AM

    Two people want to be with each other…then why should they be bothered about all the religion and culture and anything?! I mean its just insane,don’t you think?We humans created religion and it has only divided us and made us fight since time immemorial,it has done nothing great…and it then comes and creates a problem if two people want to spend the rest of their lives with each other…just unbelievable!

  • Erin


    May 21st, 2010 at 4:44 AM

    Unfortunately I do not think that this is a family willing to open up and go through family therapy. They think that the way that they feel is right and if they lose their daughter in the bargain, well then they are willing to do that. It all seems so small minded and petty to me but I guess I am not in their shoes so I can’t really say. All I know is how hurtful and painful this is for Lori and the pressures that she and her fiance are feeling are immense. I think that he loves her enough to do it but we have all talked and realize that this is not the reason to make that huge kind of change in your life. If they are happy with the way things are then we are of the mind that her parents should be that way too. But that is not the case.

  • Lynne Silva-Breen, Author

    Lynne Silva-Breen, Author

    May 26th, 2010 at 5:16 AM

    I am disheartened that Erin’s parents seem willing to choose their religious tradition over their daughter. I would hope that the conflict could be discussed and healed. No one should convert to a new faith out of fear of family shunning.

    I know one thing for certain: Erin’s parents will feel more of this pain as the years roll by if they choose to shun their daughter. And particularly, if your friends choose to have children. Children are a central part of Jewish culture, and the grandparents would be missing out on a major part of their adult years if they do this.

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