Counseling interfaith marriage

To what degree have attitudes in the U.S. changed towards interfaith marriage? A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that 69% of married couples share the same religious background.

However, another study points out that nearly 40% of marriages since 2010 have been interfaith. Since the year 2010, a much larger proportion of Americans have chosen to marry someone outside of their own Christian faith.

In comparison, only a small fraction of couples that married before 1960 had a partner of a different religion (less than 20% of couples). Thus, we must be conscious of our definition of “interfaith” when considering this issue in our modern, pluralistic society.

When you look at Americans who have married since 2010, 18% are marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated partner. This was only true for only 5% of Americans who married before 1960.

The stress on interfaith marriages

Some research indicates that marriages between spouses of the same religious background may be inherently more long-lasting than interfaith marriages. But the question is complicated and varies between religious upbringing.

It also seems, surprising enough, to have more to do with how religious upbringing impacts the decision to cohabitate. The divorce rate is higher among couples who cohabitate. Those with strong religious upbringings are unlikely to cohabitate than those without religious upbringing.

It is expected that people with the same religious background will share a similar worldview and understanding. Studies have shown that family support is an important factor in early marriage, which is why similar faiths are more likely to have a close relationship between the two families. However, inter-faith marriages are becoming more popular, even among couples who are not married or do not plan to marry.

According to Pew research, almost half of cohabitating unmarried couples in the United States are in a relationship with someone from a different religious tradition. The research also suggests that some religions are more likely than others to stay within the same faith.

The majority of Hindus, Muslims, and Mormons in the United States are in same-faith relationships, regardless of marital status. Protestants, Jews, and those who are not affiliated with any religious group are more likely to be in interfaith relationships, with percentages reaching 60%, 65%, and over 50% respectively.

The hidden problems of being an interfaith couple

Interfaith couples may encounter issues that are minimized or ignored by those close to them, such as the potential difficulty their union may present to their families. Despite this, many couples do not view counseling for interfaith unions as a necessary part of marriage preparation.

Even though interfaith marriages are becoming more commonplace, couples must be aware of the potential difficulties they may bring to their families of origin.

Interfaith couples should strive to be strong, unified, and understanding when dealing with challenging family members. The couple should always support and stand up for each other and create a secure environment for their marriage. Getting pre-marital counseling can provide useful advice on how to protect the relationship.

The dilemma and peril of being an interfaith couple

Those who are in favor of interfaith marriage believe it can bring together people who may have never interacted with each other, making a more cohesive and understanding society. However, this may not be the case when taking a closer look. Interfaith marriages have been found to be more likely to end in divorce or separation than those of the same faith.

Can there be interfaith differences within faiths?

Even within Christian marriages, those baptized Christian but from different religious affiliations can find marriages challenging. While certainly not as scandalous as it was several generations ago, couples face challenges when deciding which affiliation to raise their children. While Christians certainly share much common ground, religious practices still differ. Children in the Catholic faith are expected to attend Catholic Church and engage in all of the rituals associated with Catholicism.

Of those married before 1960, 19% married outside their religious traditions. Since 2010, that number climbed to 39%. Nearly half (49%) of unmarried couples are living with someone of a different faith.

Questions for interfaith marriages.

  • Use your interfaith wedding as a testing grounds for what's to come. Notice what are points of contention. Talk about what is included and what is left out and why.
  • It is essential to have conversations about any and all religious differences with a couples therapist rather than to ignore them. Respect, address, and accept religious differences.
  • Do not rely solely on goodwill to get through potential issues.
  • Are attending religious services important to you? Do you want your extended family to attend with you?
  • Talk about how often you would like to attend church or other religious services. How often will you pray and will you do that together or apart?
  • Be prepared to make compromises, especially when they aren't easy. Feelings run deep when considering whether to baptize, circumcise or even what religious education a child should attend. Even though it may be uncomfortable, have these conversations early.
  • Religious differences can be overcome. Go to premarital interfaith counseling, which could decrease the likelihood of divorce by 30%.
  • Cutting off family ties should be an act of last resort. Stand your ground together and try to stay connected to your family, but know that conversion is not a feasible solution.
  • Conversion is the answer when the partner is moved by deep religious conviction. It should never be done simply to keep the peace.
  • Neither ignore nor allow family concerns to dictate your life. Understand their worries and concerns, however, and hear them out.
  • Blend traditions when you can or create unique ways to honor both religious practices.
  • Two people with contrasting religious beliefs are considered to have a "perpetual problem." Use your premarital counseling to understand how these are handled. Sixty-nine percent of the problems you will face fall into that category.
  • Imagine your first-born and discuss what values and principles are important to instill. Do you believe that there are clear standards for right and wrong? Do you believe it depends upon the situation?
  • Decide ahead of time about how and with whom you will celebrate religious holidays. Be upfront with your family if you know they will have strong feelings about your decision.
  • Handle your own family when it comes to religious differences and defend your spouse.
  • Honor the power of religious differences, especially when it comes to your children.
  • Talk about the small stuff. Recognize that you have your way and your partner may have his or hers. Do not impose your way on theirs.

Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Dr. Kathy McMahon


Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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