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The Emotional Challenges of Interfaith Marriage

Many families resist the idea of a clergyman from another religion presiding over the wedding ceremony. If it is a Christian/Jewish marriage, they resent the possibility that no mention will be made of Christ. The Church has, in fact, become more tolerant of priests presiding over interfaith weddings, even if the non-Catholic does not convert. However, this tolerance may not allay the fears of religious family members.

All of this becomes even more difficult if one of the families refuses to attend the wedding because of religious differences and disapproval of the match. If the couple tries to appease the resistant family by agreeing to conversion, the other family may become so angry that they will refuse to attend. In some cases, if the couple refuses a religious ceremony of any kind, neither family may attend.

It is generally easier for a couple if one or both partners do not possess strong religious convictions or if one partner is willing to convert. Under those circumstances, the areas of conflict are reduced because the family and religious leaders of the religion to which the individual is converting more easily welcome the one who is converting. Questions of who is to preside over the wedding ceremony and how the children will be raised are automatically resolved.

The one possible exception to a harmonious resolution in these instances is the reaction of the family whose member is leaving the fold to join another religion. In a family where there is no real religious conviction, the problem disappears. In a family committed to their religious heritage and practice, the reality of a member leaving the fold can be traumatizing. It can result in all ties being severed. For example, a practicing Orthodox Jewish family will find the notion of intermarriage impossible to accept. In addition, Orthodox and Conservative rabbis will not preside over interfaith marriages. Similar problems can occur with Catholic and Protestant clergy.

Many young people reject the idea that they must have a religious identity at all. Consequently, they are not interested in traditional marriage ceremonies. This lack of interest is reflected in the fact that they refuse to have clergy from any religion presiding over their weddings. Family members often are angered by this rejection of religion. Nevertheless, the fact that the couple has a shared value system makes it easier for them to cope than for those who come from very diverse backgrounds with different value systems.

Building Intimacy

There is no more important task in marriage than the achievement of a deep level of intimacy and commitment between the marital partners. According to the Random House Dictionary, the word intimacy refers to the state of two people being close, familiar, affectionate and loving. It reflects a deep understanding and love for the other, with feelings of passion.

While sharing one religious tradition in marriage does not guarantee success in this endeavor (as the divorce statistics indicate), it at least increases the likelihood that two people have a certain mutual understanding because they share a common ethnic or religious background.

With intermarriage, the task of achieving intimacy is all the more daunting, since there is so much that is taken for granted when a person grows up in a particular type of home or community. There are all the nonverbal gestures and facial expressions, the idiomatic sayings and the types of foods and holiday celebrations that characterize a particular cultural experience. There are also the symbols of the different faiths, such as the Cross and the Star of David, which often evoke powerful emotional responses in people.

All of these things, which people of one faith and cultural background can understand and identify with in one another, help to build intimacy. When two people from different backgrounds and faiths come together, there is less common ground. The opportunities for misunderstanding, confusion and hurt feelings are plentiful.

The Emotional Challenges of Interfaith Marriage

Allan Schwartz

APA Reference
Schwartz, A. (2016). The Emotional Challenges of Interfaith Marriage. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2018, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jul 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Jul 2016
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