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Interfaith marriages: Celebrating diversity
Deepti Dadlani
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July 02, 2007

Cultural harmony is a pledge that we need to stand by, at least constitutionally, but somehow the concept has lost its meaning in daily life. Although we are a democratic country by law, there exist certain social norms/ unspoken rules that we abide by. Life is tough, true, but is it tougher for those who choose to deviate from these rules.

Interfaith marriages are one such phenomenon. These marriages have been romanticised by the film industry, and dissected and debated by the media; however, the consensus with regards to its success still remains dubious.

An interfaith marriage is one where two people from different faiths (beliefs) come together in the institution of marriage. Faith might be synonymous to religion for many, but unlike religion faith has no strict, regimented boundaries.

The argument lies here: marriage is an institution based on unconditional love and acceptance (isn't it during wedding ceremonies that we hear statements like "in sickness and in health�"); well in that case faith, religion, colour, caste etc shouldn't matter, right? Sadly, not.

Individual differences exist and, therefore, when two people come together these differences will continue to exist. Every relationship requires communication, effort and trust and the same applies for interfaith marriages. Nevertheless, interfaith marriages have a few more challenges to face than couples of the same faith. Religious differences may create problems, but these can be lessened when there is open communication.

The most common causes for discontent relate to:

Just like dealing with any other problem, there are certain strategies that will not only help in overcoming problems and but also help in preventing them from taking place. So if you are in love with someone of a different faith or in a rocky marriage, here are some tips to help smooth the relationship:

~ The big 'C': Communication that is two-way, direct, open and consistent is one of the best ways to help overcome potential problems. Since differences are bound to exist, it is important to talk to your partner about them.

Ignoring issues and just letting things fester will eventually create conflict. Depending on how important your faith is to you, discuss whether you will worship separately or together? Withdrawing from either of your faiths is only a temporary fix. There will probably come a time when one or both of you will yearn to be involved in your own religious traditions again.

~ Be realistic: There tend to exist, at times, unreasonable expectations for the novelty of loving someone different is romantic and exciting. The attraction of forbidden love is a distraction from dealing with the issues that might crop up. You may discover you are expecting too much, assuming that your love for one another can overcome all obstacles. But be realistic about your faith differences. Focus on common aspects of your faiths, find ways to merge traditions. Appreciate your religious convictions and celebrate your diversity.

~ Compromise: For instance, when planning the wedding check on whether you are able to include religious traditions from both your faiths. Often, interfaith couples have two separate ceremonies.

~ Don't impose your beliefs: Do not attempt to convert your partner to your beliefs. Conversion will work in the long term only if it is truly desired, and the decision is made without any pressure.

~ Awareness: Be aware of your own faith as well as your partner's. If there is any doubt or confusion, try sorting it out before expecting your partner or children to accept it.

~ Children: This is a sensitive issue, one that needs to be dealt with the most care. Before you have children, discuss any issues either of you may have concerning baptism or religious education. Decide whether your children will learn about both faiths or just one. Listen to your children; share their concerns, address stereotypes, possible prejudices, questions and experiences. Try not to impose your faith; allow them to choose their own religious identity and path. It is best for you and your partner to be role models of your own faiths and to help your kids discover their own faith.

~ Don't make snap judgments: During times of crisis it is easy to fling accusations, reminding your partner of the compromises that you have made. However, steer clear from such statements since, not only are they hurtful but also tend to get blown out of proportion. Do not make judgments based on the interference from your parents or your partner's; do not take sides.

The religious diversity in an interfaith marriage won't cause the relationship to fail; the inability of a couple to handle the differences will.

Individuals in interfaith relationships rarely talk about profound religious experiences or family holiday memories with each other because they fear it may be threatening and might rock the boat.

Opening up in an interfaith relationship is a slow process. Listen with renewed care while learning something new about your partner's religious background. One exercise that tends to bring increase positivity is using the calendar year to describe your memories of family holiday celebrations. Talk about any significant changes in these holiday celebrations as you grew up.

Talk about how your family celebrated or marked different events and ceremonies -- marriages, festivals, death and mourning; talk about the feelings they evoked in the context of your family.

As your partner shares his or her story, be an active listener. Keep in mind that these experiences shaped the person you wish to share the rest of your life with. As you uncover these, you will help each other untangle the complexities by which religion ties each of us to our family and family memories.


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