6 Things Not to Say to Interfaith Couples

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Paul was raised Catholic and, while I’ve been inside a synagogue only a few more times than I’ve been inside a church, I was raised Jewish. Paul and I have always been okay with that. Some people around us, though, are confused by it. Here are some wacky things they’ve said to me upon learning that Paul and I don’t share a religion–and why you should think twice before you utter these to your intermarrying friends.

“Have you talked about how you’ll raise your kids?”
Besides the fact that this is very personal (along the lines of “How will you explain to your kids where babies come from?”), it’s insulting to ask someone who’s been with her partner for any substantial amount of time. I’ve been tempted to say, “No, the topic hasn’t come up in the 16 years we’ve been together, ” but if I’m not that close with the person who’s asking, I simply say, “Yup, we’re all set.” And if a good friend asks, I’ll explain how we’re handling it (read on for that answer, because I consider you all to be good friends).

“So who’s converting?”
Uh, neither of us. This one stings because it implies you have to feel exactly the same way about religion in order to have a happy marriage. That’s not at all the case. It’s way more important that you have similar morals and values–Paul and I firmly believe that doing bad things to others is bad, so it’s cool if one of us is a bigger Jesus fan.

“It’s confusing to raise children with two religions.”
One day, I’m going to respond with, “Don’t worry; our kids will be smart enough to figure it out.” For now, though, I smile and nod because people like this usually can’t be reasoned with. The first time someone said this to me, it hurt because I was 18 years old and unsure how we would one day deal with this (because, like I said, I was 18 years old). This particular woman married someone of another faith and decided to raise her children with her religion exclusively. But guess what–her kids have had issues with drugs, eating disorders, and the like. To me, that’s proof that there are far more confusing things in life than celebrating two sets of holidays (which is likely what our future little ones will be doing).

“How do your families feel about it?”
If you ask me this, I infer that you either 1. think our families have a problem with it or 2. have a problem with interfaith marriage, yourself. Neither makes me feel like talking to you. To be honest (as I always am with you, my fabulous readers), would my parents have preferred I marry Jewish? Sure. Are they 100,000% thrilled that I wound up with the wonderful human being known as Paul? You better believe it. Had they given me a problem with marrying an Italian Catholic, I had the perfect comeback planned: “Perhaps you shouldn’t have raised me in Staten Island.”

“Was it weird at your wedding ceremony?”
Yeah, it’s SO weird when a bride and a groom who are madly in love profess their devotion in the presence of a rabbi AND a priest. CRAZY! Watch out world, I think the end is near. In all seriousness, it wasn’t weird at all. We intentionally chose a priest and a rabbi with a history of performing wedding ceremonies jointly (that’s them behind me and Paul in the photo up there), and they seamlessly worked together to pronounce us man and wife. It was a beautiful way to unite us, our families, and our friends.

“Do you wish you married Jewish?”
If I answer yes, then I’m admitting I settled for Paul, which I did not. He was my number-one choice for a husband since I was 13. I joke with him that I wish he were Jewish (mainly because he looks hot in a yarmulke), but if he were, he wouldn’t be exactly who he is, and I love him exactly the way he is (well, maybe minus the video game habit). So why would I change that?

What’s the rudest thing you’ve ever heard someone say to an interfaith couple? Are you in an interfaith relationship?

And while we’re on the subject, don’t say these 6 things to childhood sweethearts.

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Photo by Gail Chatelain

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  • Shannon Hughes

    I just stumbled upon your blog and read this post! This totally hits home for me. My husband’s family are themselves, interfaith. His mom was Catholic and his dad was Muslim when they married. My husband is not religious but was okay getting married in my church because he enjoyed the services and our minister and thought it was a great place to marry. We get questions like that ALL of the time. It’s so obnoxious! I also didn’t change my last name, so you can understand how some people reacted about THAT, haha. Good luck with all of your future awkward conversations :)


    • http://twitter.com/mereditor Meredith Bodgas

      Hey, Shannon! Glad I’m not the only one who finds these questions a tad off-putting (though I’m sorry you’ve had to face this ridiculousness too!). Sounds like I need to do a post on what not to say to women who didn’t change their last name.

  • Alix Honore

    Hey Meredith, i’m interested to here what you have to say if the couple involved includes a male Jewish party and a christian female. What if the male party wishes that his kids should be jewish. Is it ever ok to change just because?

    • mereditor

      Hey Alix,

      Pretty much any situation is okay as long as both the husband and wife agree on it. If a Christian female doesn’t feel particularly Christian, then sure, she can raise her children Jewish if her spouse feels strongly that his kids are Jewish. And if she’s interested in Judaism, then she can go ahead and convert. But if she doesn’t feel inclined to make that switch, then I couldn’t support someone who’s pressuring her to do that. And the Christian wife would have to decide to what extent she’s comfortable with her children being Jewish–getting a bris/baby-naming and a bar/bat mitzvah? I know that wouldn’t fly with Paul. Or is it just a matter of teaching them Jewish culture, celebrating Jewish holidays (and not Christian ones) and have them associating with being Jewish (rather than being Christian)? Whatever you decide, it’s smart to decide before children arrive on the scene and before grandparents have expectations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=604696321 Teen Bailey

    Hi Meredith! I don’t know if you would call my relationship “interfaith,” because I don’t prescribe to a faith and my long-time boyfriend is Catholic.  Anyway, I’ve gotten TONS of questions like, “So, are you going to have a Catholic wedding?” and “Won’t his mother be upset if you don’t get married in a Catholic church?”  I usually tell people that A) This will be my wedding and not his mother’s and B) No, we will not be having a Catholic ceremony because I refuse to stand in front of our family and friends and tell lies.  That usually shuts them up.

    • mereditor

      Go you! Love those responses.

  • likes2watch

    The most rude comment I ever heard came directly from my father. A few years prior to my wife and I getting married his comment was, “Well, at least she’s not black.”

    • mereditor

      Um, wow. I can’t believe he thought that was okay!

      • likes2watch

        I was raised Jewish and was always told by my parents that made us “better than others”… how sick is that??? My wife was raised Protestant… we are both now Unitarians.

        • Tzipporah

          Yeah but at least Jews only kill in self-defense not to get someont to convert.  Ever hear of the Nazis, the Spanish Inquisition or the intifada.  Never mind.   

          • likes2watch

            With a statement like that, you are showing your ignorance.

  • Kerew

    My husband is Catholic and I was raised Protestant.  My mother-in-law considers that an “interfaith” marriage.  While we have agreed to raise our children Catholic, but I am not converting.  My kids constantly ask what it feels like to be Jewish.  On the other hand, when I feel judged by others because I did not “appropriately” acknowledge a religious moment – I ask if my horns are showing and then say – wait, I’m a heathen, I’m going to hell anyway.  Usually quiets people down.

    • mereditor

      Ha, awesome!

  • http://twitter.com/lastseptemberrr Emily Nixon

    my dad is catholic, and my mom is pagan. they’ve been married for 26 years this april, and have never had any problems when it comes to religion. my parents raised my sister and i to explore whatever religions we felt drawn to, and always said that they would support us it whichever religion (if we chose any, or even none) we felt we belonged to, no matter what. we were never confused about religion, and if anything we’re much more knowledgeable about world religions than most of our peers who were raised in one specific religion. nothing wrong with interfaith marriages! good for you to have found someone so perfect for you, regardless of your belief system. :) 

    • mereditor

      Sounds like you have some very cool parents :) And thanks!

    • http://www.facebook.com/bridgette.reyes1 Bridgette Reyes

       My husband and I have been married almost 17 years now..for me it is my 2nd marriage. I’m Catholic and he is Christian..I did take his name…we married in our mid 30’s so kids were not an option for us. My in-laws (now both deceased) were very well involved Christians and extremely vocal about their beliefs..I too was judged and condemned to hell for my beiefs if I did not follow in their footsteps. I simply pooled out a mirror and approached my father in law and told him to look in the mirror before he judged anyone else and asked him “who made him God to judge anyone and what gave him the right to say that to me when he behaved like a heathen himself”. After that he never spoke the Bible to me again.

      • http://alittlepracticality.blogspot.com/ AmyK

        Catholics are Christians too.

        • http://www.facebook.com/avitale8259 Anna Elizabeth Vitale

           Yes, but in my experience Christians and Catholics consider themselves separate faiths–the same book, but different principles. I mean a die-hard Baptist and a true-blue Methodist are both Christian, but very different kinds of Christian. The Christian/Catholic services are inherently different, and each feels that their service offers something necessary to their worship.
          You’re not wrong, but it’s also not hard to understand how these two branches of faith would consider themselves completely separate.

    • Monica Hoger

       I’m kind of in the same boat too. I was raised catholic and my boyfriend, who used to follow the catholic faith as well, is now a pagan. We aren’t ready to marry yet, but knowing that it’s worked out quite well for your parents gives me hope in my relationship :)

  • wicca13

    You want a weird interfaith marrige, that would be my wifes and mine I’m  Wicca and she is Morman. The most off the wall commint was, one is going to heaven and the other is going to hell.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607798571 Annie Resnicoff-Guditus

    My husband and I are interfaith, we were just married last September. And really I think we communicate better than most couples, interfaith or not. And small world, we used the same Rabbi and Priest that you did…and everyone – Jewish and Catholic told us that the ceremony was beautiful. 

    • http://twitter.com/mereditor Meredith Bodgas

      What a coincidence! Yes, we had the same reaction from our guests.

  • Katie Berger Tremaine

    My partner and I are interfaith – Pagan and atheist – and we get along just fine. The people who think we’re going to confuse our kids are probably even MORE confused by the fact that *I’m* trans and *she’s* the one who sees herself as the dad.

  • 5un5

    The questions that are really questions sound reasonable to me. I think people who want to engage you in a thoughtful conversation may actually care about what you have to say. I’d welcome the chance to talk about inter (or no) faith love and marriage because I think it could help spread peace among people of different perspectives.

    • mereditor

      That’s a fair point. I am happy to chat with folks who are genuinely interested in our relationship. What saddens me is even the questions are imbued with intolerance when I get them.

  • Kanukipper

    My fiance is Japanese and Buddhist/Shinto and I am a white Catholic/Lutheran. We are not only interfaith, we are an interracial and international couple. The rudest comment we’ve had came from the pastor of a church we were looking at for the wedding ceremony. The pastor was very welcoming when I first called to inquire about the church, but after he found out my fiance is Japanese and not Christian he told me he thought my marriage would fail. He also called into question my parents 29 year marriage because they were an interfaith marriage as well (because people do get divorced even after 30 years of marriage). I was also lectured about how difficult it would be for our children, just like how difficult it was for me.

    At this point I have had all of the questions above except for the one about whether or not the  wedding ceremony was weird (I am sure that one will come), and I know I will probably fielding these types of questions long after the wedding as well. As long someone say such judgmental and hurtful things, I’ll take the questions at face value….questions from curious people who’ve never been in that situation and just want to know this can work out.

    • mereditor

      That is so frustrating that the pastor said that to you! And what nerve to assume you had a difficult childhood. I hope that’s the last of the ignorant comments you face.

  • Shagufta Dsa

    im a muslim and have married a christian. Although we agreed to bring up our children as muslims, now my husband wants me to pretend that our children are Christians to please his mother and sister. i hate lying and i dont know what to do. he himself converted to marry me but ive never forced him to follow. his mother comes to our house with crosses and wants it placed on an altar. my husband wants me to pretend all the time his mother is around. this is getting to me!

    • meredith

      I’m really sorry to hear you’re going through that. I understand your husband wanting to avoid conflict, but living a lie isn’t a fair position to put you in if he agreed to this choice. He needs to ‘fess up, explain to his mother that he hopes she still wants to be in your lives and if not, he hopes she comes around someday. Parents have a funny way of being angry for a while and then missing their children too much to stay that way.

  • Betty

    My boyfriend’s family is fundamental Christian, the kind I have big problems with when I hear their divisive sermons. I am Wiccan/Pagan and his mother is still weirded out by it. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least.

  • Chaz

    You discuss what you and your spouse were raised, but no t meaningfully your own spiritual beliefs.

    Is your spouse a professing Catholic who believes in the doctrines of the Catholic Church?

    What are your spiritual beliefs?

    As you rightly say regarding children, “there are far more confusing things in life than celebrating two sets of holidays” which is what bi-national people Canadian/American etc. face.

    But if having two religions means both believing in the Trinity and the Incarnation of God and the Infallibility of the Pope, and simultaneously believing that none of those are true, then it is hard to understand how that could be possible.

    A religion, for some, is not merely a set of holidays, it is a set of fundamental ideological beliefs.

    As such, I think that you have dodged the question by not stating what you mean by a religion.