Flash Friday: Can Interfaith Relationships Work?

Today is Flash Friday – when a question is answered from both the 40-something and 20-something perspective. Joining me on this mission is Molly Ford of Smart Pretty and Awkward. Today’s question digs into the topic of how to deal interfaith dating. The goal is to get a cross generational discussion started so please join in with any comments based on your experiences.

Cross-Religion Dating

The 20-Something Perspective

By Molly Ford


Both religion and dating play different roles in people’s lives, and both topics are supremely personal. So when religion and dating mix, everyone has different ways of managing that intersection. In talking to 20-somethings, it seems that in general there are two particular times in the duration of a relationship when religion is most likely to come up: at the very beginning or as soon as the relationship becomes exclusive and more serious.


Option #1: If dating someone of a different religion is not a personal option for you, then this topic will likely come up on date one. If a different faith is a dealbreaker for you, then the relationship will not develop and hopefully you can remain friends, if not romantically involved.


Option #2: If personal faith is not a dealbreaker for you and you are open to dating someone of a different religion, then this topic will inevitably come up as the relationship progresses and you become exclusive. This is typically the time when you meet the family, and you will be introduced to their expectations. When the relationship enters the next chapter, it is usually a good time to have a conversation surrounding this topic.


Izzy, a 20-something student, is of the later category, saying she would date someone of a different religion casually, but “I’d think hard about marriage if it came to that.”


Ava, a 20-something reporter elaborates, saying, “I think dating and religion is something that is completely personal. There are no hard and fast rules. It is entirely up to you and the person you are dating.” That being said, something to keep in mind is that you and your significant other’s families may have a different set of expectations. Ava sums up, “You have to be prepared to gracefully compromise.”


Michelle, a 26-year-old marketing specialist, offers firsthand advice for dealing with a significant other’s family who is hesitant about their child getting serious with someone of a different faith. “You can basically either ignore the criticism or try to make concessions. Keep in mind if you choose to ignore, it will likely come up again later. Think to yourself, would you be willing to attend a service or a holiday event that is important to the other’s family? If that seems too much, perhaps you could you read a book or an article that explains more about their faith traditions. Sometimes just showing interest can help a family to feel more involved.”


But what if your significant other’s family just does not and will not approve?


Stephanie, a 23 year-old teacher, writes, “If your family does not approve of your boyfriend/girlfriend, then it is important for you to emphasize how much you care about your significant other and how important it is that they show respect, despite religious differences. And if the family still doesn’t understand, you have to make the choice to either continue or end with the relationship despite the opinion of the family.”


In conclusion, unless you decide upfront that religious differences are a dealbreaker, then you need to be aware that this topic could very well come up as the relationship gets more serious. Families, in particular, might want you or your significant other to show an interest in their faith, even while honoring your own. Whether or not you feel comfortable doing this is a choice you will need to make. The way you approach these religious issues or obstacles will become especially important as you age.


So, what advice can 40-somethings give on the topic of cross-religions dating?


The 40-something Perspective

By Christina Vuleta


If faith is a big part of your life in your twenties it will likely also be important in your forties…but often you are more flexible on whether your partner has to be as well.


Interestingly, the degree of faith is not only an issue in cross-religion relationships but also in same-faith partnerships. Hannah, a 40-somethiing global strategy and consumer insight specialist, and her husband are both Jewish but she says they experience some stress over how they celebrate their faith as he is more traditional.


This was something that she did not expect when they got married in her twenties but comes into play as their children reach Bar Mitzvah age. She admits she mostly concedes to him but has some innovative solutions. She agreed to celebrate Yom Kippur but insisted they did so at the Occupy Wall Street observances so as to provide a unique experience.



For many women, religion was more important as “partner criteria” in their twenties partly because they felt pressure from their family or society. As they got older and more confident in themselves they became more capable of dealing with the differences if all else clicked.


This 40-something woman spent her 20s and 30s only dating men with whom she shared a cultural background, language and religious upbringing. As she saw each of these relationships fail, for reasons more “fundamental than sharing a common history, heritage or religion”, she came to the conclusion that it was not the most important criteria when finding a mate:


“Today as a single woman in my 40s, I think the most important ingredient in a successful relationship is respect. Respect for one’s own self and beliefs as well as respect for and from your partner.

Respect with a touch of chemistry can readily help couples manage, mitigate and resolve religious, cultural and familial differences. Religious commonality however does not afford you the same capability or success rate.”


Family can play a role. Another 40-something couple I met broke up after dating for a wile in their twenties due to family pressure and their own concerns over religious differences. They ended up re-connecting; still both single in their late 30s and realized the things they worried about weren’t important to them anymore.


While there comes a time when you decide that you have to be true to yourself rather than your family per se…it’s also true that family pressure lessens as you become a true adult. One Jewish friend of mine jokingly laughs about her mom’s more expansive view as she journeyed from 20 to 30 to 40.


“In my twenties it was marry a Jew, in my 30s it was opened up to Christian, and now it’s go ahead marry a Muslim (I mean of course you will raise the children Jewish).”


This woman found herself in her late 30s considering a potential relationship with a man who is Muslim. It is now she who has more religious reservations than her mom!  She feels open to other religions in theory but would have a hard time adopting their traditions in a serious way. And the issue of conversion is to her more complex. She says, “I would not convert at this age for someone else so I can’t expect them to convert for me. I would want my child to be raised with my traditions.”


While a supportive family is key, getting involved in an interfaith community helps as well as flexibility and compromise. This Jewish woman who has been happily married to a Catholic for 17 years has learned that “interfaith challenges cannot be resolved overnight and are something you may have to deal with continually throughout your lives together”.


“We have 3 children who we are raising as “interfaith” or “both.” We belong to an organization called, “Interfaith Community” that organizes events for interfaith families and their children.  There are other families in our organization who have chosen one religion and others who regularly go to temple and church.  Each family does what is right for them.  Although we have settled into an agreeable situation for our family, we periodically come up against issues where compromise is necessary.  Flexibility is essential.  We always end up at a place that feels right for both of us.  In my opinion, love comes first!”


She goes on to recommend that if you are feeling conflicted or confused that you seek out help from one of the many resources for interfaith couples and families.


It is also possible that celebrating two religions can bring families closer. This Catholic woman and her Jewish husband made decision to show their daughter both family traditions and customs. It works because neither family is that religious but she has seen situations where that is not the case.


“It has been fun for everyone, including the grandparents.  We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, both Passover and Easter and all enjoy it. We’re lucky because family can really create a lot of pressure to marry within the faith, which can clearly cause two people who love each other to place ultimatums on family, or worse, split-up. If that is the case you have to ask yourself if you love this person enough to go against family and possibly risk losing them.”


If a particular faith is important to one or both partners’ lives at some point it will becomes an “issue”. This woman dated “interfaith” in her twenties and thought she could make it work. (“I would do my thing and he would do his”) but in the end she found that it would end up getting in the way.


“While not the “only” issue, it was an issue and impacted my dating relationships – sometimes sooner, and the relationship ended in three months…sometimes later and it ended in 5 years.”


Now married to a man who shares her faith, she says religion shapes their worldview and impacts all aspects of their marriage.


“As it turns out, I married a man who shares my same faith. We have problems/trials like any other couple but that said, our faith, which was important to both of us before we married, and is now as well, impacts so many aspects of our marriage and individual lives: how we give charitably, to how we view money & time, serving others, time with others and family. We don’t have children now, but it would impact how they are raised and the values we instill.


The issue comes down to how important religion is to you and the role it plays in shaping how you live your life. If you are considering an interfaith relationship seriously you have to have the discussions. Talk about how you would raise children. Can one of you can convert and truly be happy. How will you celebrate holidays? At the end of the day, most women would say it is your life. If you truly love each other, you will figure it out; however it may be at the risk of losing something else.

Thank you to all for their thoughtful answers. Reader please chime in! If you have ever entered into an interfaith relationship, do you have any advice for others?

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