Couples in mixed marriages should stress R-E-S-P-E-C-T

By Dr. Greg Popcek
Bethany is a practicing Catholic. Jim, her husband of four years, is a largely fallen-away Lutheran. Despite the potential challenges, they managed to negotiate their faith differences acceptably well. Bethany would plan to fulfill her Sunday obligation around their weekend schedule, and Jim wouldn’t make too much of a fuss about the occasional inconvenience.
Unfortunately, that cooperative spirit changed after the birth of their first child. Bethany had assumed she would baptize their daughter in her parish, but Jim objected, insisting that she be baptized in his parents’ Lutheran church. Bethany was furious. “He doesn’t even practice his faith. I can’t remember the last time he went to church. Why would he have a problem with my wanting to raise her Catholic?”
Jim felt just as strongly, “I feel like Bethany doesn’t respect my views at all. Just because I don’t go to church doesn’t mean my faith isn’t important to me. How dare she think she has the monopoly on religion!”
Faith should be an experience that draws people together and builds bridges. Unfortunately, many couples like Jim and Bethany experience faith as a source of struggle and division. The good news is that even when a couple has different faith traditions — or even if one spouse is married to someone with no faith at all — discussing beliefs and spiritual practices doesn’t have to lead to serious problems. Here’s how:
R-E-S-P-E-C-T each other
Ryan and Maddie came to counseling after Ryan experienced what he called a “reversion” to the Catholicism of his youth. “I was never really all that serious about my faith, but about a year ago I just started going back to church. I’m not sure why; I just really felt the need to find some new direction in my life. I started going to daily Mass and reading stuff about the Church. I’ve been learning a ton, and I’d love to try to introduce praying as a family to my wife and kids.”
Unfortunately, Maddie doesn’t share Ryan’s enthusiasm. She was raised in a very intense Baptist home and her parents were almost abusively strict. Intellectually, she recognizes that religion doesn’t have to be oppressive, but her experience of it has always been that way, and she is decidedly suspicious of Ryan’s newfound devoutness.
“It was fine when he wanted to go to Mass on Sundays, I guess,” says Maddie, “but when he started going every day and trying to bring it home, I had to tell him to knock it off. I just feel like he’s becoming some kind of religious nut. I feel like he’s cheating on me with God, and how am I supposed to win that fight?”
Many couples who deal with conflict around religious issues are surprised to learn that their arguments really have little to do with religion and a whole lot more to do with respect. Most people equate “respect” with “politeness,” and although it is related to that quality, respect really has much more to do with a willingness to look for the truth, goodness, and beauty in the things your mate finds true, good, and beautiful. Couples who handle the challenges of interfaith marriage well are very aware of their differences, but even when they disagree on issues of faith, morals, or spirituality, they approach those differences with the desire to learn why those particular things are so important to their spouse.
Aaron is Presbyterian and Katy is Catholic. Married 13 years with three kids, they say it hasn’t always been easy. There have been a few arguments along the way, but they have worked hard to respect the gifts each other’s faith brings to the table.
“At first, we weren’t sure how to bring our two worlds together,” says Katy. “But we have found some ways to pray together every day, and that’s been really good.”
Aaron adds, “We also tried to find ways to be involved in each other’s churches. So I help out with the guys who do odd maintenance jobs around Katy’s parish and we go to the CRHP program (Christ Renews His Parish) together. And Katy comes to the weekly Bible study at my church.”
As for the kids, Aaron agreed to allow them to be raised Catholic because he felt that the sacraments would give his kids more of a sense of belonging and community than what his church had to offer. “But,” he adds, “usually we end up going to Saturday night Mass as a family and then either the Wednesday night or Sunday services at my church as well.” He chuckles, “It might sound like a lot of church for some people, but it works for us.”
Reprinted from Catholic Digest, Copyright 2009. Used with permission. All rights reserved. For more information on Catholic Digest, visit