“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Interfaith Marriages and Religious Conflict in Family Life
Despite the seeming hopelessness of ever peacefully resolving the issue of religious conflict depicted in recent newspaper headlines, the fact remains that a growing number of interfaith families are doing just that in their own homes. In the U.S., a recent study found that 39% of Americans who have married since 2010 married someone from a different religious group. That number has almost doubled from the 19% of those who married before 1960. Further, 49% of unmarried couples live with someone of a different faith or no religious affiliation.
The survey also revealed that adherents of some religions, including Hinduism(91%) Mormonism (82%) , and Islam (79%), are more likely to marry within their own faith than others. The statistics are lower within Judaism (65%) and Protestantism (59%). Those with no religious affiliated married a religious person at a rate of 56%. However, despite the increase in religious tolerance and willingness to marry outside one’s faith that these numbers represent, according to one article, statistics show that inter-faith marriages are three times more likely to end in divorce.
Common Reasons for Religious Conflict in Family Life
Many of the challenges that interfaith couples face are emotional in nature. For example, because one of the elements necessary for a successful marriage is successful psychological separation of each partner from their families of origin. If the couple’s families are against the marriage for religious reasons, the guilt from defying their parents can make this separation more difficult. While the families of many interfaith couples are able to accept their child’s decision to marry outside of their faith, many do not. As a result, those couples lose the valuable emotional support and guidance of their families and must attempt to navigate the new world of marriage without the benefit of direction born of years of experience.
The adjustment to marriage can be a difficult one even under the best of circumstances. Part of that adjustment period entails developing effective negotiation skills and learning the fine art of compromise. Compromise sometimes includes the willingness of one partner to convert to the religion of the other. This decision often results in feelings of anger and betrayal by the family of the convert, or even a refusal to attend the wedding. Traditional wedding rituals are deeply rooted in religious beliefs. Some couples, to avoid offending or alienating family members, choose to have a simple civil ceremony rather than a religious one.
Religious conflict in family life can also affect a couple’s ability to achieve personal intimacy. Most religious and non-religious people alike consider their beliefs to be an essential part of their personal identities. Understanding and respect of one’s most deeply held convictions is a necessary element in achieving the level of intimacy and complete acceptance required for any marriage to be truly successful. A successful marriage can be measured by the degree of emotional safety and support the couple is able to provide one another.
Choosing which faith in which to raise the children is also a common source of religious conflict in family life. In some churches, agreeing to raise any future children in the faith is a requirement for conversion. In marriages in which neither party converts to the religion of the other, couples deal with this issue in a number of different ways. Some choose to expose the children to both religions and allow them to choose for themselves at a certain age. Others choose to forego formal religious activities altogether to avoid confusing the children or potentially creating inner conflict or a sense of disloyalty towards one parent by choosing one religion over the other.
Ways to Reduce Religious Conflict in Family Life
One article offering tips on avoiding some of the religious conflict in family life presented by interfaith marriages stresses the importance of education, communication and inclusion. Communication is what makes it possible to incorporate many of the best traditions of both religions into the household. Most religions are rich in tradition and traditions are a wonderful way to both create happy family memories and anticipation of future events. While each religion may have different holidays, most are celebrated with a feast of traditional foods.
Couples educating themselves and each other about the meanings surrounding rituals and celebrations within their respective religions can also reduce the amount of religious conflict in family life. When meanings are understood and respected, favorite rituals can continue to be observed and celebrated to the benefit of the entire family.
Including extended family in the development of new rituals that incorporate common elements of both religions can serve to be a strong bridge towards mutual understanding and acceptance among family members who may feel alienated.