Three Ways to Make Your Interfaith Marriage Successful After You Say Your Vows
Can you feel the love?
It’s that season again.
Each summer weekend, worshiping communities across the U.S. will open their doors to excited guests, nervous partners, and committed clergy. At any given sunset, convertibles will boast tin cans and shaving cream-covered windows announcing, “Just Married!”
For nearly all of us, the behind-the-scenes chaos of planning the big day won’t be obvious. Determining the liturgy and making the grandmas happy will be beyond our purview. We’ll see only seamless love and benefit from delicious goodies.
Can you feel the stress?
For couples who hail from different religious and non-religious traditions, wedding planning can be stressful.
Determining where they’ll get married and by whom comes first. Next, more complex choices emerge: who will feel left out if we offer communion? Should we include the ancient or modern ritual? Whose scripture should we use?
According to Naomi Schaefer Riley’s research in Til Death Do Us Part, nearly 45 percent of Americans find themselves in this conundrum. And, with the rise of these types of unions comes an urgency for clergy to adapt.
In a recent Christian Century article, Celeste Kennel-Shank describes how modern clergy help partners navigate questions beyond determining the seating chart.
“Clergy who participate in interfaith marriage ceremonies have to maintain a delicate balance, respecting the couples differing religious traditions and the concerns of the two families while staying faithful to their own religious commitments.”
Clergy officiating interfaith weddings help couples look to their tradition’s symbols: “You find there is a lot of commonality,” says Rev. Joyce Shin, associate pastor for congregational life at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. “They might be from different traditions, but people quickly and easily grasp onto the meaning of symbols and are moved by them.”
Fred and I attended an interdenominational wedding last Saturday. The bride was Episcopalian; her groom United Methodist. Just as Rev. Shin suggested, symbols became their harmonizer in a beautifully balanced betrothal that included Eucharist.The couple used the United Methodist liturgy of Word and Table along with the Episcopal option of receiving wine directly from the cup. Though the method by which the cup was received differed (intinction vs. drinking directly) the mystery and meaning of the Eucharist united them.
But, what happens after the vows?
When the big day is over, and the careful attention clergy and couples have devoted to a thoughtful service has dissipated, what happens next?
Even couples who have executed the perfect wedding day must still face one another after the honeymoon, when the euphoria of cala lilies and first dances have faded.
How can those who worked so hard at blending faith traditions at their nuptials ensure success after the vow?
Here is post-wedding advice from interfaith and interdenominational partners who have kept their unions vibrant:
- Respect one another:
Partners who share different spiritual frameworks must cultivate mutual respect in order to survive and thrive. When the wedding is over and they are on the cusp of a new shared life, it is essential to establish ground rules that help keep respect at the forefront.
Magin LaSov Gregg writes of her Jewish-Unitarian interfaith marriage:
Our treaty goes something like this: I respect his search for truth and
meaning. He respects mine. As symbols of our religious accord, the chalice from his ordination sits on a shelf beside our chanukiah.
- Be willing to compromise.
Jana Riess, Religion News Service blogger and devout Mormon, says that one of the secrets to her successful interfaith marriage to a Protestant is “the art of compromise.”
Be prepared to be honest and explicit about what’s important to you, and ask him to do the same. Do you care about having someone to sit next to in church? Does he want you to fast with him in solidarity on Yom Kippur? Talk about these issues openly. Neither of you will get everything you want, but you’ll be ready for the give and take.
3. Work at it. Then work some more.
Fred and I keep God and our faith in the center by practicing together: sometimes that takes the shape of worship, prayer, fasting, and reading scripture. Other times, it means minding the boundaries of our partnership so that we are guaranteed quality together time.
We do not divide our spiritual lives from one another. Instead, our faith journeys have become a beautiful, sometimes messy reverberation of Eastern and Western practices. Neither faith is watered down; each path is strengthened by the presence of the other.
Rev. Shin writes that she and other clergy offer interfaith couples space for reflection after their weddings:
“… in many cases interfaith couples, after their weddings, continue to attend a monthly dialogue that a rabbi, an imam, and I co-facilitate for interfaith families. The dialogues are designed to focus each month on a topic that will likely arise in interfaith homes. We assume that not all the topics will matter to all the couples; that is why couples are encouraged to take part in the conversations on topics that matter to them. Some examples of topics are: “What Are We Doing This December?” and “How Do We Handle the In-Laws?” and “How Do We Raise the Children?”
Raising children tends to be the sticking point for most interfaith partners and, perhaps the area that requires the most stick-to-it-ness.
Susan Katz Miller, interfaith activist and author offers hope in the midst of hard work:
The concept of raising children as “both” continues to raise eyebrows, hackles, and goosebumps. From where I stand, with my second-generation-interfaith children almost grown, the benefits of raising them with both religions seem clear.
Respect. Compromise. Work.
If these sound familiar, that’s because they are the bedrock of nearly any relationship and friendship. Interfaith and interdenominational partners simply have unique challenges to navigate.
Determine now how you and your partner will practice your faith traditions with mutual respect and harmony.
Interfaith/interdenominational partners: what has been your biggest challenge to date? How have you worked hard to keep your marriage thriving after the big day? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section.
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