How my husband and I have survived our interfaith marriage.
Religion can play a major part in people’s lives. A person’s religious views and beliefs can affect daily activities, choice of attire, hobbies and interest, and may even be a factor in who one decides to marry. However, for me, it means nothing. This isn’t to say that I’m not religious or I don’t have a belief, but I don’t let the bible or a biblical scripture guide my life choices as much as I let my mind and heart be the leading influences.
Religion was all around me growing up. I was raised by a village of family members, most with different religious beliefs. I was able to experience life through the lenses of others by attending various churches and listening to the preachings of many. What I learned from my upbringing has become invaluable in my life. I’ve seen first-hand that regardless of a person’s religion, a good person is a good person. As I’ve grown and continued to meet people in the world, I’ve continued to see people as people regardless of their religion, or lack thereof. Some of my greatest mentors in life have been Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, Mormon, Methodist, Muslim, agnostic, and even atheist. I find all their different views on life fascinating and truly believe no one is better or less than the other due to their religious choice. For me, it’s about how a person lives their life more than the religious label attached to them.
Choosing Religion for the Wrong Reason
At a low point in my life, I let the world convince me that I needed God or a higher being to make it through my trials. Although I struggled with believing and accepting all the words and values of a particular church, I ill-heartedly moved forward with a decision to commit to a religion. To my surprise, doing so made others respect me more. Identifying with a religion also opened my husband’s eyes to me. I honestly doubt he would have considered dating me if I wasn’t religious at the time. As hard as that is to admit, it goes to show how much influece relgion can have over a person’s actions. Nonetheless, the fact that my new relgious label made me visible to him, is something I am forever grateful for.
Soon after I committed to a religion, religion and I had a terrible falling out. My problem wasn’t particularly with the religion I committed to, but it was with how my commitment to religion made me feel as a person. Although some feel that religion brings out the best in them, it put me in a darker place than before I converted. Religion started changing me and not for the better. It was causing me to question the person I was. Prior to being judged against the standards of a church, I loved who I was. Inherently, I felt I was a good person, but religion suddenly made me feel I wasn’t good enough because I now had to meet the expectations of others to justify why I thought I was a good person. For many, even though I was “better” for being religious, I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t adhere to every part of the church. I would be better if I did, which meant changing every part of me, even the parts I loved most. It showed me that although I had always been taught to love unconditionally, the love many people of the church had for me was conditional. It was conditional based on the teachings of the church and what I personally aligned with. That didn’t sit right with me.
It was then that I realized I chose religion for all the wrong reasons. I missed the person I was and loved. More than anything, I missed my view of unconditional love. Although it may seem like everything about my commitment to a church was bad, my time as a labeled religious person was a great learning point in my life. Committing to a religion opened my eyes to the fact that there are people in the world that would never associate with me without my religious assignment. It hurts, but it’s a reality that I, as well as many others in this world face. As grateful as I was for religion creating a foundation for my husband and I to meet, religion started causing more emotional damage than happiness. This was the point when I knew my relationship with this religion had to end.
I left the religion and I found out who my true friends and family were. Those who were with me before my commitment were the ones that were still there when I left religion. Those who entered my life because of religion slowly dissipated. Many tied to the religion continued to try to make me feel inferior for no longer being a member of their church. I would say I cared, but I didn’t. They were part of those who love conditionally and provided no positive value to my life. At the end of the day, the only person of the church that I cared about was my husband. Thankfully, he saw pass the religion and chose love. He continues to be the best part of my religious journey.
Who Blessed This Marriage?
My decision to end my relationship with religion was mine and mine alone. People think I forced my decision on my husband, but that’s not what happened. I loved my husband and still do and I encouraged him to stick to what he believed. He stood strong his beliefs, even if he no longer was as active as he was as a child. He is a man of faith and belief in the gospel who has been raised his whole life in a religious bubble. It was the only way he knew how to live and I had no problem with that. For him, the craziest thing he ever did in his life was marry me: the outgoing, non-modest, no filter girl from an extremely liberal, non-conservative family.
When I first denounced my religion and decided to live a life with the belief in a higher being without ever committing to exactly who or what the higher being was, my husband supported my decision. As hard as it was for him to understand, he knew he loved me and supported me regardless. But, his support didn’t come without struggle because without a religion to tie us together, I took away the only thing he ever knew: to marry and share a life with a woman of his religion. In choosing me, he went against everything he was taught. He stood against family and friends and received backlash from those he had known his whole life and loved for his decision to stay with me.
Without a common religion, everyone told us we wouldn’t last. People said with such different views on religion, we would never find happiness. Despite all that, I had faith in him as a person and knew he was a good person with a beautiful heart. To me, that was the most important thing. However, that didn’t make things easier for our marriage. Although I found the love for myself once again, sometimes my husband felt this new way of life was too much to handle. Other times, I thought I wasn’t good enough to live up to his expectations. For both of us, life became a constant battle.
Together we accepted marriage was hard and a marriage like ours was even more difficult. We had to let down some of our guards and altered our expectations. More than anything, we had to learn to depend on one another because we were all we had. My husband continued to lead his life the only way he knew how, by using faith as the guiding force. I continued to live my life with my heart and mind. The difference caused chaos and clash. As much as we wanted each other, we found it hard to navigate with polar opposites pulling us apart. It reached a point where we didn’t know if we would make it because it called to question: who blessed this marriage, the church or us?
Finding the Positives in an Interfaith Marriage.
It was that question that created a turning point in our relationship. Despite our love, a happily ever after seemed impossible. He said I wasn’t who he married, but the truth was, when he met me, all he saw was the religious characteristics. I was the same person he married, but now I no longer had the religious layers. He never bothered to look deeper. He was never taught how to love beyond religion and now he was being forced to do so. In that moment, when we didn’t think we could survive an interfaith marriage, we were faced with an obstacle greater than us as a couple: how do we raise our child? It was then, years after we were married, that the first real conversation of our marriage started.
We both set aside our religious views, or lack thereof, and began to learn about one another as people. When we dug deep, we found that we valued the same things: to be good people, to raise a kind and loving child, and to love unconditionally. None of those were specific to a religion, they were human characteristics. Regardless of religion, they were qualities that can exist in everyone, should one choose them.
It reminded me of the many religious people I had grown up with and reinforced that there can be good in religion. For him, it showed him that religion doesn’t have to be everything. A person can survive without a strong tie to a specific religion. He learned that people of all religions can love and be loved. I think it was something he always knew, but he forgot when it came to him being married to someone of a different faith. More than anything, our different religions proved that we each had so much to offer the other. Our different views and perspectives opened a world of insight. We had knowledge that the other didn’t and instead of fighting that knowledge, we learned to open our hearts and minds and learn from one another.
Our Key to Survival
Now, fourteen years later, people ask how we have survived our drastic differences because according to others, being of different faiths and religious affiliations means we are “drastically difference”. Here is what we live by:
1. Love ourselves first and be happy with who we are as individuals and the lives we live. We’ve learned that if we can’t first find happiness apart, trying to find happiness together can’t happen. People assume we are giving up something to be with one another because of our differences, but the truth is, as individuals, we are happy with our lives.
2. We don’t view differences as bad, but instead view them as learning opportunities.
3. We don’t force our individual religious views on each other and don’t allow others’ religious views and opinions to dictate our marriage.
4. We don’t force religion on our children, but have open discussions about religion as controlled by our kids. We want it to be their choice when they are ready. Until then, we both talk and answer whatever questions they have. In that, they receive views from both of us.
5. When things get rough and we are challenged by our differences, we remember the foundation of our love and remind one another that we complete one another.
Loving Beyond Religion
It is never easy, even after all these years, but at the end of the day, religion is only a part of who we are as people. For some, it is the end all be all, and that’s fine, but for us, we decided to love beyond religion. For my husband and I, the depth of our love is greater than who we each pray to as long as we commit to always giving our heart to one another unconditionally.
I can’t speak for most, especially in a day and age where everyone is easily offended, but I can speak for myself when I say that learning to love beyond religion has been the best decision of my life.