7 Ways to Make Interfaith Relations Work
“People try to minimize differences when they’re in love,” says Joel Crohn, Ph.D., author of Mixed Matches: How to Create Successful Interracial, Interethnic and Interfaith Relationships. But ignoring the differences can be detrimental to a couple in the future. If you are part of an interfaith relationship, you have an extra layer of diversity to manage.
Crohn, who specializes in couples and family therapy, offers seven ideas for understanding these differences and helping interfaith relationships work.
1. Face the problems.
Again, the biggest problem facing interfaith couples is denying that differences really exist. Even if you’re not that religious, the differences can widen in the future, Crohn says.
Additionally, by avoiding the dialogue of differences, couples could make inaccurate assumptions about their partner’s religious preferences. (Interestingly, “people tend to become more religious with age,” says Crohn.)
He therefore urges couples to face their problems head on. The best time to talk? Now, says Crohn, is usually the best time. Avoidance will not help the conflict go away.
2. Clarify your cultural code.
“People have a hard time separating religion and culture,” Crohn says. Even if religion isn’t a factor in your life or relationship (for example, you’re both agnostic), you still have a different cultural code than your partner. And those differences, he says, don’t go away.
When you think about your culture, think: what is normal in my family? What are my expectations for the relationship and a future family? How do we express our emotions? Then talk about these cultural differences as a couple.
3. Clarify your identity.
Many interfaith couples will begin to negotiate what religion they want their children to be, for example, without having a clear idea of their own identity. It’s common for “members of minority groups in America … to have a complicated sense of their own identity,” Crohn says. Self exploration is the key!
Crohn tells the story of an Italian Protestant who converted to Judaism. Her Jewish husband came home from work surprised to see her reading the Torah. He accused her of having “got carried away”. In reality, this man was unclear about what being a Jew meant to him.
Other clients told Crohn that “being Jewish is important to me.” But when he asked them what exactly that means, they would reply, “That’s right.” The problem? People who have a vague idea of their religious identity “can push their partners to be something they can’t be.” For example, a non-Jewish partner cannot become “culturally Jewish”.
To clarify your identity, Crohn suggests the following exercise: Reflect on your religious identity and your cultural identity when you were five, 12, 18, and today. Crohn suggests recording your answers in a journal.
It’s typical for people to go through big changes at these times. In fact, throughout your life, with culture and religion, “there are usually ups and downs, experimentation and rebellion,” he says, “before settling on a sense of stable identity”.
After thinking about your identity, it may still be unclear. Crohn says it’s okay. It’s “problematic when you’re negotiating for something you’re not clear on.”
4. Practice “unconditional experimentation”.
Nor is it productive to negotiate “until you have exposed yourself to your partner’s religious practices,” says Crohn. This allows for a better understanding of your partner.
For example, you could go to church or synagogue with your partner. It doesn’t mean you make promises, like conversion. But it shows that you take your relationship seriously and are ready to learn more about what’s important to your partner.
5. Share your stories with each other.
Instead of forcing a decision (for example, “we’ll have this type of marriage” or “our son will be raised Catholic”), Crohn’s encourages couples to discuss their religious and cultural experiences with each other. Not only does this relieve the pressure, but it gives couples the opportunity to get to know each other better.
6. Consider a course.
Today, there are many relationship courses that can help couples solve a variety of problems. One place to look is www.smartmarriages.com for a wide range of resources. Crohn’s cautions readers to be wise consumers and to seek out skills-based, time-limited, and inexpensive courses.
7. Think of therapy as preventive.
Couples usually wait until their relationship has suffered a lot to seek advice. Crohn’s encourages readers to see a therapist before arriving at this place. Be proactive. He suggests interviewing the therapist to make sure they specialize in your concerns.
You can read more about psychologist and couples specialist Joel Crohn, Ph.D, on his website. He practices in the Los Angeles area, where he also teaches in a family medicine residency program. He is a proponent of the creation of “multidisciplinary patient-centered medical houses”, where primary care physicians, mental health professionals and other health care providers collaborate to deliver effective and affordable health care. . You can read more about careers related to psychology in healthcare here.