Here is a recent comment (slightly edited) that a reader named Alyssa left in response to the article, “What if My Partner and I Have Different Religious Beliefs? Can Interfaith Marriage Work?”:
I really enjoyed reading your article. I am a Christian and was raised in a strong Christian/conservative family. My boyfriend of three years is spiritual but does not identify as a Christian. My family does not accept him at all. I have felt many times like I must choose between him and my family. Moreover, I am (was) very close to my family. My grandmother told me that she would not come to our wedding if we got married. As engagement gets closer (I think he is going to propose soon) I am becoming increasingly worried about the rift with my family only getting bigger. My grandmother is the most important person to me and it is going to break my heart if she does not come to the wedding. Additionally, my mom has only talked to my boyfriend a few times in the three years we have been dating and has not allowed him to come over or accepted his invitations to get to know him better. Is this going to ruin our marriage? It has already taken a toll on our relationship at times. However, we have talked in detail about where our religions align and where they differ. We have talked about raising children, and come to a common consensus every time. But I am worried that this issue with my family is going to tear us apart. Thoughts?
Here is my response, again slightly edited, and with headings added:
Thanks for stopping by and telling your story. Unfortunately, this situation is quite common, and there isn’t an easy answer. It looks likely that you will indeed have to choose between your boyfriend and your family—at least, as far as where your primary relationship and loyalty will lie.
Here are two principles I would suggest in navigating this very difficult issue and decision:
- If your family objects to your marrying someone, it is a good idea to listen to them and consider whether they have valid concerns.
- Once you make up your mind to marry someone, that relationship must replace your relationship with your family as your primary relationship.
Listen to your family’s perspective on the person you love
On the first principle, your family loves you and cares about you. It is best to give them a hearing if they have strong feelings about someone you wish to marry. They may have valid concerns about the person that are worth considering.
When we are in love with someone, it’s easy to pay attention only to the positives, and to ignore all of the negatives until it’s too late. Listening to what people who are not in love with the person you’re in love with, but who do know you and love you and care about your wellbeing, can help to give you a more objective view of the relationship.
Having said that, it is still your decision whom you will marry.
Parents and family members can certainly give you their perspective and advice. However, you are the one who must evaluate their advice and decide for yourself whether you think they have a good point, and you should reconsider marrying this person, or whether their objections are not based on valid concerns about your relationship. Especially in families that have very strong and very conservative religious beliefs, dogmatic and prejudicial attitudes can often make it impossible for them to have a fair and realistic view of someone whom their daughter or son wants to marry.
Marriage is our primary relationship
On the second principle, the Bible is clear that once we unite in marriage with someone, that relationship becomes our primary relationship, whereas our relationship with parents and family becomes secondary. Way back in the second chapter of Genesis, when God presented Eve to Adam:
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23–24)
Jesus reaffirmed this statement in the New Testament:
But at the beginning of creation God “made them male and female.” “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. (Mark 10:6–8)
Notice that it says that a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, so that the two are one. This “leaving” can be read as literal, meaning leaving his parents’ household and forming a new household with his wife. But it can also be read psychologically and spiritually, as a man leaving the thinking and atmosphere of his parents, and adopting his own thinking, his own atmosphere, and his own life in distinction from theirs.
And of course, though this statement was originally addressed to men, as with many sayings in the Bible, the same principle applies for women as well.
Putting family before marriage will destroy a marriage
Based on this principle, it is critical for married couples to look to each other as their primary relationship, and to make their relationship with their families of origin secondary to their marriage relationship. When one partner or the other or both continues to put her or his family of origin first, so that the advice and opinion of parents, grandparents, siblings, and other relatives overrides mutual discussion and decision within the marriage, this spells disaster for a marriage.
In short, there comes a time when we must emancipate ourselves from our family, take responsibility for our own life, and live according to our own values and principles. Those who are unable or unwilling to do this are unable or unwilling to grow up and become adults. They remain children even though they are living in adult bodies.
What should I do?
I can’t tell you what to do in your particular situation. You are the only one in your shoes. I would simply encourage you to consider these things, and to make an informed choice of your own.
Yes, consider your family’s objections. But if, having heard them out, you still think that your relationship with your boyfriend is a good and sound one, it is time for you to make your own decision, leaving your father and mother metaphorically, and becoming one with your boyfriend. The two of you will then become each other’s primary relationship as husband and wife.
Though it can be very painful to choose one’s partner over one’s family, it is a choice that many people must make. And though some families continue to shut out a family member who marries someone they object to, over time other families do come around, especially if they see that the relationship endures over time, and that their daughter or son goes on to live a good and happy life with her or his partner in marriage.
Meanwhile, you can always keep your door open to them even if theirs isn’t open to you.
I hope this is helpful to you. Our thoughts and prayers are with you as you make the difficult decision you are facing.
For further reading:
- What if My Partner and I Have Different Religious Beliefs? Can Interfaith Marriage Work?
- How to Know if Mr. or Ms. Right is Right for You: Pointers from Gloria and Emilio Estefan
- Beyonce and Jay-Z Reveal the Secret: How to Start a Lasting Marriage
- How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?