Dating Outside Your Faith

Can it ever yield a happy, healthy relationship? If so, what are the ground rules? Find out here.

By Margot Carmichael Lester

“Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can goodness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?”

With admonishments like this from Second Corinthians 6:14, you might think you’re doomed if you date someone outside your faith. But taken less literally, this Bible verse actually could be read
You might think you’re doomed if you date someone outside your faith.
as advising you against dating people who have no faith, rather than a different one. Many couples have found that it is possible to have an interfaith relationship or marriage—though creating one requires overcoming certain challenges.

Check your perspective
“The reason it is possible to have a good relationship based on faith rather than doctrine is that all the world’s religious doctrines simply offer variations according to time and culture on the same eternal principles,” explains Gray Henry, director of Louisville-based Fons Vitae Publishing, which specializes in books on Sufism, Islam, world religions and spirituality.

“Doctrines by their very nature are relative,” she continues. “For example, wine is forbidden in Islam, yet is essential to the Christian rite. And yet all faiths have the same end in mind for the outcome of the human soul: humility and service. And, all faiths employ practices like prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc., to achieve that end. Therefore, if two people of different faiths understand these metaphysical eternal truths, there should be no problem.”

Well, sort of. “A couple could build their own traditions together,” agrees Rabbi Anson Laytner, president of Sino-Judaic Institute in Seattle and executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s Seattle chapter. “The problem is that most couples have birth families which have expectations about the couple joining in their religious events,” he explains. “Many couples also have children, and this often brings out conflicts over how to raise the child. Our differences are every bit as important a part of being human as are our similarities. Love goes a long way, but it gets complicated by egos, power issues, families, etc.”

Bridging the gap
That’s why communication is critical, says Paulette Sherman, an ordained minister and author of Dating From the Inside Out. “The most important thing is for couples to talk about their differences and what is important to them,”
It’s important to realize the role that a person’s religion plays in his or her life.
she counsels. “Often, partners are afraid to bring differences to light, for fear that it will end that relationship.” But the relationship may end if you don’t.

Another common mistake is that one partner thinks the other one will come around to his or her way of thinking. “Relationships require compromise,” Sherman notes. “And with an attitude of good will, many options are possible. For example, both partners can maintain their religious beliefs and practices and come up with a plan for their wedding ceremony and the religious education of the future children, perhaps incorporating both traditions.”

The importance of acceptance
And what if one person in the relationship feels the urge to somehow, eventually get the other to see the light... and convert? If you feel the need to convert your date, you’re focused more on doctrine than faith and your relationship probably doesn’t have a prayer. “The best prognosis for success,” Sherman says, “is respect, honesty and a shared vision that both people honor.”

It’s important to realize the role that a person’s religion plays in his or her life—and respect that. “Religions are the clothes — the way we dress — our naked spirituality. Spirituality is personal and individual; religions are about the shared experiences of belonging to a community and usually have a history,” explains Laytner. Or perhaps you need to ask yourself: How would I feel if my partner asked or expected me to change my beliefs? Chances are, you’ll see just what a difficult position that is to be in.

Dating someone who shares a deep faith, but a different doctrine, isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Following this advice may help you open your heart and find someone you might not have looked at before—someone who’s very spiritual, just like you. While you may go to different services and have different rituals and observances, if you focus on your shared spirituality, you’ll have a deep connection that could outweigh the challenges.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance writer based in North Carolina.
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