Faith-shy couples and the future of a marriage relationship


A lot of newly engaged couples fail to talk about faith in their relationships for several reasons. Some have never engaged in such conversations before, so they are not sure how to start one. Some might have tried it and hated the outcome in the past. Some wonder whether it would trigger a negative feeling in their spouse, hence impact the decision to go ahead with marriage questionable. Others wonder how they will be perceived for appearing too religious. Some think it is not an important conversation to have, so they get on with the “important” things on their lists. Do they understand the implications, or do they not have the capacity to look twenty or thirty years down the marriage road? Maybe the problem is a lack of appropriate information about their future. I will say this right at the beginning of this article: Do not shy away from putting your Catholic (Christian) faith on the table for your future partner. Better that your fiance knows your religious stand from the beginning and either accept it or not.

So, why talk about faith?

Factors to be considered in a potential marriage relationship include: communication, trust, forgiveness, honesty, holiness, fidelity, and affection. My outlook about God may, for instance, affect my understanding of forgiveness for my colleague, my perception about sincerity, holiness, fidelity or my sense of commitment. If I believe that God forgives me, I might be quick to forgive the other person. If I believe that I received generously from God, it might make me become generous with whatever I have. If I see God as a mean father, that can also affect my relationship with my spouse. It might make me deficit in trust and prone to shame. Looking at faith in this big-picture becomes pertinent in a relationship.

A healthy engaged couple should assess themselves in different ways. For instance, discussions about finance, careers, communication, social life, sex, personal stressors, commitment, health, family, friends, and their likes/dislikes should all be on the table. They should navigate their family maps, evaluate their desires, growth areas, and strengths. Engaged couples should have conversations about their physical, emotional, and psychological well being. Most of these topics are easier to discuss than faith.

Some of the things that engaged couples need to know about their faith and religious life as a couple would begin with an understanding that God is at the center of their marriage relationship. God should not just be a part of the marriage relationship, rather the center. The relationship should therefore be oriented towards God’s will. Faith means entering into God’s plan and doing His will.

Engaged couples intend to form a community. First, they become a community of life and love through their conjugal love. They also become part of their immediate community. By their readiness to exchange marriage vows, they accept to bear public witness to their love before the community. Having a conversation about an active community life would be a great way to learn to embrace this responsibility.

Couples who are faith-shy can encounter parenting challenges as that may manifest in their unpreparedness with decisions about the faith of their children. Let’s look at it this way; God gives parents a special privilege of giving life to their children. This is not just a physical life, but an eternal one. Parents are responsible to create this path for their children, especially from infancy through adolescence, to lead them to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Faith-shy and spiritually confused parents cannot properly undertake this task which is one of the main purposes of marriage. Sometime ago, I posted the question on Facebook, “Is faith an important conversation to have before marriage?” and here are some of the responses I received:

P: “Marriage cooperates and co-creates with God to bring about souls who will live forever. It’s mind blowing to consider. These children live forever and we are obliged as parents to do everything we can to get them to heaven, their true home. Parenthood comes with a grave obligation to teach our children to know, love and serve God and parents will answer for the way they raised their kids. It was the driving factor for me. There was no way I would allow my kids to be confused about who God is and the beauty of the Sacramental church He gave us. My parents gave me a treasure in the Faith and no man, love or no love, is ever worth giving that up for. My kids would receive what was freely handed down to me. I look at them and their love for God and the church; their openness to life. We reap what we sow.”

C: “Yes, it absolutely must be an important conversation before marriage. As the old adage goes “United We Stand, Divided we Fall”. Couples need to be united in Faith so they are united in prayer & beliefs as they move forward in life & encounter difficulties along the way.”

D: “Absolutely! How can you plan the wedding? Plan the raising of the children? Plan the attendance of family activities (traditional and non-traditional) on both sides? Faith is woven in all of life.”

Cr: “Most definitely yes!”

Marl: “Definitely! A marriage doesn’t fair well without God in the center.”

Tn: “Yes, absolutely”

H: “I think the issue of faith should even be the most important issue to be discussed and an agreement made before marriage, this is so especially when both spouses hold faith so dear to their heart,....if it is not discussed, it would form the basis for many regrets and quarrels in the future.”

Chin: “Faith should be an important thing to consider before marriage for the sake of Peace...For example, as a Catholic, if I get married to a Pentecostal, issues of saying the Rosary alone can cause a big misunderstanding. Most of them do not believe in it and so he won't be comfortable and as the man, he would want me to yield to his belief. Sacramentals including Holy images and others which we may decide to hang on the walls of our homes will also be an issue.”

Juan: “Because people don't know that faith issues are one of the factors that threatens the peace of a home.”

Au: “Faith is of great importance because your faith determines 80% if not 95% of your way of life. Your faith is like your culture and as such your reaction to things, your attitude towards things, your level of trust, in fact your stability in handling things are often moderated or enhanced by what you believe in. Without going to specifics people of different faith barely live together for a very long time because there is a limit to tolerance in every human person.”

Iyk: “Faith is indeed an important part of the foundation of marriage. If it's kept aside....an element to support marriage has been removed. And that's where the cracks will start.”

Pat: “I think faith should be discussed especially if it is really important to one or the other.”

Hill: “Of course, faith is the most important conversation that the couple needs to have, even if both are Catholic. Faith is personal and in marriage they have to be able to make good compromises and when children come along they will have to have a consensus.”

Sh: “If a person truly has faith, they will strive to live like Jesus lived and as He taught the apostles to live and do the works He did here on earth. If you are unevenly yoked, the relationship will struggle or fail.”


Certainly, not everyone would be courageous enough to bring up discussions about faith before marriage. Some individuals keep faith in a separate box and avoid touching that box as it could cause disputes. Yes, there is always that feeling of, “I don’t want to lose my man/woman.” Others may not be afraid to discuss their faith and religious life. Still, others might want to talk about it but do not consider it as important as talking about their bills. They lump it together and simply move on. The challenge comes when an individual who values her faith becomes attracted to another only to discover that he is not open to discussing faith matters after they had officially become a couple. The following are some tips for a comfortable faith conversation:

  • Start small.

  • Time the conversation well.

  • Make your partner understand your background.

  • Be assertive about it.

  • Pay attention to her/his body language when you bring up the topic of God.

  • Compare the energy level when talking about other issues such as sports, school, business, politics, or family.

  • Find out what she/he thinks about going to church.

  • Get him or her to commit that you will take your kids to church.

The Pew Research conducted in 2016 states,

“Overall, 44% of U.S. adults say shared religious beliefs are “very important” for a successful marriage. By that metric, religion is seen as about as important for a successful marriage as is having an adequate income or having children, and it is considered less important than having shared interests, a satisfying sexual relationship or an equitable distribution of housework.” The report maintained that, “Religiously affiliated people in mixed marriages tend to be less religious than those who are married to spouses who share their religious identity. Among Catholics married to other Catholics, for instance, seven-in-ten are highly religious, according to an index of key measures used to determine levels of religious observance in the Religious Landscape Study (including frequency of worship attendance, frequency of prayer, belief in God and self-described importance of religion in one’s own life). By comparison, only about half of Catholics married to non-Catholics are highly religious.”


From the statistics above, religion occupies a high place in marriage. If faith pairs with the hope for adequate income and having children in the statistics, that speaks to its high placement on the scale of marital values given how much couples would want a good income and children in marriage.


So, how does faith affect marital satisfaction? Research shows, “In general, religious attendance dissimilarities between partners were positively associated with overall frequency of conflicts. Moreover, theological differences between partners were associated with more frequent conflicts and also with disagreements over household labor and finances” (Ricaurte, 2012). Therefore, faith can be a contentious issue for other conflicts if not addressed in time.


Therefore, to all young people and those intending to marry, talking about faith is important before giving your consent. The caveat is: don’t presume that your spouse would let things happen when you get married. Don’t imagine that your children will be fine being raised in a mixed faith background if you don’t talk about it. Don’t dream that your man/woman would switch over from his/her faith to yours just because you feel so. Faith’s role can be pervasive -finance, sex, socialization, communication, trust, sense of justice, family connections- all are tied around faith. Be gentle but courageous to open up the critical conversations about your faith. Tell your partner, “I’m wondering what you think about having a discussion about my faith values and beliefs.” You may be surprised at the answer you get.

References

Ricaurte, M. (2012). Factors influencing relationship satisfaction, conflict and compromise

among individuals in interfaith relationships (Order No. 3569373). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (1356023961).

Religion in marriages and families. (2019, December 31). Retrieved from

https://www.pewforum.org/2016/10/26/religion-in-marriages-and-families/


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