Interfaith Marriages in Real Life: Facts and Common Challenges

Published July 30, 2021
Christianity, Islamism and Judaism : 3 monotheistic religions

If you and your partner come from two different religions, but you love them and want to marry them, it's natural to have concerns. However, by anticipating and preparing for the challenges of an interfaith marriage, you can set yourselves up for a successful and intimate partnership. Explore potential interfaith marriage problems, and ways you and your partner can overcome them as a team.

Prevalence of Interfaith Marriage

Interfaith marriage in the U.S. is more common than ever before. It is estimated that 40 percent of Americans who have married in the past ten years have a spouse who is in a different religious group than theirs. This is significantly higher than the interfaith marriages that existed prior to 1960, which were estimated to be 19 percent.

This is to say that you are not alone in this experience, and depending on certain factors and actions that couples take, many interfaith couples stay together until death do they part.

Common Challenges in an Interfaith Marriage

You have probably heard others talk about ways in which interfaith marriages can pose problems. Concerns that arise include, "What do her parents think?" "What type of wedding are they going to have?" "Are they worried they will confuse their children?" Potential problems can indeed include:

  • Communication issues - some couples use less constructive communication while having conflict over a religious matter.
  • Lack of acceptance by parents and other family members - different couples experience varying outcomes in this realm, everything from being disowned by their families, to converting to their partner's religion, to break-up or divorce.
  • The problem of how to integrate two cultures in the family - problems can range from what type or how many wedding ceremonies to have, to which holidays to celebrate.
  • Struggles with how to raise children - it is not uncommon for interfaith couples to struggle with how to raise kids in a home with two different religions.
Blurred Hanukkah menorah in front of Christmas pine tree

Ways to Overcome the Challenges

The good news is that in one study, marital conflict and stability did not depend only on whether or not a marriage is an interfaith one. Other factors that did matter, however, were support from friends and family, and agreement on religious issues. The latter refers not to religious affiliation itself but rather, how much partners could agree on the instrumental aspects of the marriage. Examples of such aspects are how to raise children, whether and how often to attend a house or houses of worship, and what charities to donate to.

Fortunately, these are things that you can address beforehand. In fact, some Muslim women have shared that marrying someone outside their faith either had no effect on their own practice of their faith or, it had a positive impact on them and increased their religious knowledge.

Find Common Ground

Successful interfaith marriages consist of partners who respect each other's beliefs and find a common ground between their religions. These couples tend to appreciate the diversity in cultures that they get to experience, while also having a solid foundation of values that are shared across religions. A few of these shared values include being good to others, generosity, and having gratitude.

Be a United Front

If you anticipate conflict with family members, it is important to defend your partner against any complaints your family might have against them or their religion. Ways of doing this can include making statements like, "Mom I know that worries you, but even though he has a different religion, he values morality and being good to others just as much as I do," or "I love her, and we are working on how we can make a marriage work."

Seek Couples Therapy

If there are issues that you and your partner are struggling with, couples therapy can help you better understand each other, work through conflicts and enhance your communication.

Be Inclusive

Successful interfaith married couples have found ways to include their in-laws in celebrations. For example, if the couple is celebrating a Christian holiday and inviting Hindu in-laws, they will incorporate Hindu practices into their celebration. They might provide vegetarian food and allow the in-laws to lead the group in a Hindu prayer, in addition to the host leading the group in a Christian prayer.

Celebrate the Diversity

Interfaith couples have shared that embracing the cultural diversity in their home has helped them to grow as individuals because they are exposed to their partners' ideas. The diversity has also inspired exciting and interesting philosophical conversations with their partners that they would not have had otherwise.

Senior couple decorating their house for the winter holidays, both Christmas and Hanukkah

Establish Agreements

It is important that you and your partner come to agreements on issues such as whether and how often to attend your partner's house of worship, how much to donate to charities supported by each faith, and what religion you will raise your kids to follow. It would be most fair for your children to learn about and celebrate both aspects of their heritage. Also note that children are capable of integrating their two different, and even conflicting, religious identities.

Enjoy the Added Intimacy

There are challenges and conflicts in any marriage, and weathering them together can bring you and your partner closer emotionally.

Communicate & Cooperate

Only you and your partner can truly know if you are able to make marriage work, regardless of any challenges on the horizon. It is important for you to communicate openly with each other about religion. Agree on doing the seven actions listed above to help you achieve a successful interfaith marriage.

Interfaith Marriages in Real Life: Facts and Common Challenges