Interfaith Love - 5 Steps To Make It Work

Yes, you can have a happy romance, no matter how different your religions.

By Lisa Lombardi

auren Hillman could always sort of see herself dating a nice Jewish doctor. Then while working at a restaurant, a guy named Ben caught her eye. He was nice—check. In med school—another check. And cute—bonus check. But Ben wasn’t Jewish; he was Catholic. When he asked her out, she hesitated—for half a second. Two and a half years later, this Boston couple is happily together.

You probably know at least one couple like Lauren and Ben. And you might even find yourself in a relationship like theirs one day. “As the boundaries between people of
“It’s no longer as taboo as it was when I got married.”
different cultural backgrounds relax, interfaith relationships are becoming more and more common,” says Toni Coleman, M.S.W, a life coach in Arlington, Virginia who was raised Catholic but has been married for 17 years to a Jewish man. “It’s no longer as taboo as it was when I got married.” But though two-religion romances no longer raise eyebrows, they can still pose challenges—challenges you can easily conquer with these simple strategies to making your mixed-religion romance last.

Secret #1: Don’t have the “What religion should we raise the kids?” conversation on the first date
You should definitely talk early and often about your two-faith situation (see #2). But “it’s essential to first explore your similarities before you tackle your differences,” says Debbie Mandel, M.A., author of Turn on Your Inner Light. Why? Realizing “wow, we have so much in common” provides a foundation that will help you put your one big difference—your faiths—into perspective. And it helps you deal with the inevitable relationship stresses that will pop up. So before you delve into theological issues, revel in the fact that you both love 80s punk rock, hate rude drivers, and believe that reality shows are ruining TV.

Secret #2: Do bring up the R word
You know what we said in secret #1? Disregard it as soon as you’re over the third-date hump or you’ve programmed each other’s numbers into your cell phones—whichever comes first. “Starting really early in our relationship, we asked each other tons of questions about our religions,” says Suzanne Kimelman, 28, an Irish Catholic who last year tied the knot with her Jewish boyfriend. “I don’t think you can talk too much. We were really open about what we loved about each other’s religion and what made us a little bit nervous.” It’s key to have this kind of soul-baring chat for a couple of reasons. First off, if deep-down one of you isn’t O.K. with your interfaith romance, these heart-to-hearts up the odds that your ambivalence will surface early—as opposed to when you’re going for your second bridal-gown fitting. And airing little worries—like, “Will he expect me to convert?”—can ease your mind before you start assuming the worst and second-guessing the whole relationship.

Then once you start to imagine a future together, it’s time to talk logistics. “The biggest mistake you can make is to think, ‘Oh, our love will carry us through,’ says Coleman. “It’s essential to have practical conversations before you’re even engaged.” On the must-discuss list: what are you going to do about kids, will you keep your respective faiths, and which holidays will you celebrate.

Secret #3: Don’t get into a “Why my faith is actually best for both of us” debate
Unless you want to drive your sweetie away, that is. Because “the biggest mistake you can make is trying to get the other person to convert,” says Coleman. Why? He’ll feel like not only his house of worship but his family and childhood traditions are under attack. Instead, let your date know—through your words and actions—how much you respect his or her beliefs
Sure, negotiating two faiths can be a little tricky sometimes.
and customs, even if you don’t share them. To that end, ask lots of questions, read up on each other’s faiths, and invite each other to religious observances—from your date's nephew’s bris to your niece’s christening.

Some couples who continue to practice their own faiths also choose to build a shared spiritual life by focusing on their common moral ground. “Since the Ten Commandments are fundamental parts of both of our religions, we focus on that as the basis for how to be a good person,” says Suzanne Kimelman.

Secret #4: Do meet the parents
Sure, it’s tempting to delay bringing your honey home—especially if you sense your parents will be less-than-thrilled that he or she is not _____(fill in the blank) religion. But make sure you introduce him as soon as you would any other serious partner. Why? An early introduction sends Mom and Dad the message: I really like this person. Bonus: You may find that once your family actually meets your amour, their longing for a same-faith son- or daughter-in-law vanishes, as Lauren Hillman discovered. “I grew up knowing that it was important for my parents that I marry someone who is Jewish,” she says. “But after meeting Ben and seeing how happy we are together, they feel differently now.” A few ground rules: Prep your mate if things could get ugly. Say, “O.K., these are the players—I’ve got this 90-year-old great aunt and she speaks her mind... ” That way, your date won’t be blindsided by her jab at the Pope. And establish a secret code, so if things get tense you can reach over and squeeze his or her hand or kick each other under the table.

Secret #5: One word — compromise
It’s a must in any relationship, and a super-duper must in a romance with two sets of rituals and holidays jockeying for airtime. “When I got serious with Mike, my mother told me, ‘It’s not about what you can have but what you’re willing to give up,” says Lauren Russ, a 35-year-old Chicago woman who has been married for two years to a Roman Catholic. “Mike gave up an interfaith wedding because a Jewish one was important to me. I never thought I would hang Christmas lights at our house, but I do because it is important to him,” she says. “We just work together and give and take accordingly to make sure that our family comes first.”

Sure, negotiating two faiths can be a little tricky sometimes, but think of it this way: Being flexible puts you at an advantage in the long-run. “If you adapt to your religious differences,” says Mandel, “you’ll be better equipped to adapt to other differences that come along your way.”

Lisa Lombardi is a writer and editor based in New York. She's contributed to Redbook, Cosmopolitan and Marie Clarie.
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