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?
What if you don’t make that choice? What if you choose to continue to love your parents as much as or even more then your partner?
As I said, if you make that choice, it’s going to hurt your marriage. Either it will tear your marriage apart altogether, or it will become a marriage of convenience, in which the love is gone.
No man would be content with a wife who is more devoted to her parents than she is to him. No man will be happy with a wife who takes her parents’ side against him any time there’s a controversy in the family.
How would you feel if you married a man, and he didn’t stick up for you with his parents, but took their side against you whenever there was a conflict or disagreement within the family? How close would you feel to him if you knew he cared more about his relationship with his parents than he did about his relationship with you? How secure could you feel in the marriage if you knew that if his parents turned against you, and told him he should leave you because you’re not good enough for him, he would listen to them, and abandon you?
Can there really be a marriage under such circumstances?
No, there can’t. As much as you love your parents and are devoted to them, once you get married, that becomes your primary relationship. And if it doesn’t, it’s not a real marriage.
What I don’t know is just how young you are. Maybe you aren’t of an age yet when this becomes real for you. Or maybe you are old enough to experience love, but you haven’t yet met someone who lights the fires of your heart. If and when you do, you will understand.
Can you have two primary relationships?
“Primary” means “first.” If there were two, one would be first, and the other second.
Also, marriage is an entirely different relationship than parent/child. I know that now you experience your relationship with your parents as the closest possible relationship, and can’t imagine another relationship being closer. But if you find true love, or a “soulmate,” you will discover that it is even closer.
Of course, not all marriages are true love, and not all married people are soulmates to each other. It’s possible that you will get married for more external reasons, such as family connections or financial considerations. Then it is quite possible that your relationship with your parents would be closer than your relationship with your husband.
I would know that he loves his parents more than me and that’s ok with me because his parents have been there since the day he took his first breath.
You say that now. But once you are married, if it is a real, deep, and growing marriage, you will feel differently.
I am the mother in a very difficult situation. My twenty-six year-old son is engaged to a very manipulative narcissist. She has separated him from his family and uses him as her handsome sugar daddy. I am told that my son is now suicidal. i do not understand how you can defend a situation like this. Sometimes parents know best. i think ministers should listen to parents when they are against their adult son or daughter entering into a lifetime commitment with someone who is abusive.
Thanks for stopping by and telling your story. I am very sorry to hear about your son’s situation. As parents, having our beloved child abused by his or her partner is a terribly painful nightmare. If I were talking to your son, and not to you, I would be sure to make point 1 covered in the above article:
However, I am talking to you, not to your son. It is therefore necessary to have a different conversation.
For better or for worse, your son is now an adult. He can and will make his own decisions about how to live and whom to marry. You may not like his decision. But you cannot make that decision for him. It’s not a matter of defending the situation. It’s a bad situation. Rather, it’s a matter of accepting the reality that as parents, we cannot make our adult children’s decisions for them.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing at all you can do. But it does mean that if you want to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem, you must educate yourself about abusive relationships, and about what helps and does not help when someone you love is in one. Here is an article to get you started:
How Can I Help a Loved One who is In an Abusive Relationship?
Meanwhile, our thoughts and prayers are with you and with your son.