QUESTION: My boyfriend and I have dated for 2 years and need to decide whether to marry or not. The one issue we have is that we have religious differences in our relationship. He is protestant; I am Catholic. Neither of us is willing to give up our faith or religious affiliation, but we truly love each other. Any advice?
ANSWER: I remember reading a study a few years ago which indicated that couples who disagree about their differing churches tend to do much better if they each leave their church and go to a third church that they find together. Though I do not remember where I read the study (and do not have the time to go find it again, unfortunately), I see the wisdom in the idea. Rather than feeling that he must give up his or she must give up hers, they find mutual ground in a church where they can both be happy.
However, if you are convinced that your Catholic faith is the ONLY faith and that you would sin to go to any other church, that compromise will not work for you. If he believes his protestant church (you did not identify which one) is the ONLY church God approves and that he would sin to go to any other church, it will not work for him either.
If each of you believes that you could go to another church and be right with God, that compromise likely is your best hope for working this out.
Typically, people do not like to compromise because they feel that they give up something important to them while the other person does not give up as much. Therefore, when the compromise is completed, they feel that they have been taken advantage of. That, with time, builds resentment. When a couple reaches a compromise with either person feeling that way, the compromise eventually may well cause greater difficulties than the original problem.
When compromising, each person should figure out what his core issue really is and work on fulfilling that. By understanding a core issue, one can understand what to give up without feeling that she loses. For example, is your core issue for wanting to stay in the Catholic Church any of the following?
- You believe you must attend the Catholic Church to be right with God.
- You want to stay in this church because your family would be hurt or even devastated if you were to go to another.
- You like the way the Catholic Church does things, such as the wonderful liturgy.
Of course, the core reason may be something entirely different from anything I listed. Nevertheless, allow me to use those three to illustrate.
If your core issue is that your love the liturgy, then there could be compromise if your boyfriend would be willing to find a third church (not his, not yours) that has rich liturgical services.
If your core issue is your family, then before you try compromise with your boyfriend you must decide whether it is more important to you to make your family happy or to develop a life with the man that you love. If you choose your boyfriend, then as part of your compromise both you and your boyfriend should seek to find ways to strengthen your relationship with your family that does not necessitate remaining in the Catholic Church.
If your core issue is that you feel you must attend the Catholic Church to be right with God, then no compromise concerning another church could work for you unless you decided you no longer intended to please God. If you agreed to go to another church, you would seriously harm your relationship with God.
All of the above considered possibilities from your side. The same has to happen with your boyfriend. Only when each of you can fulfill his and her core issues will a compromise work. All other efforts are doomed.
If you were to decide to get married with the idea of working out your religious differences later, you would make a grievous error. You indicated that your faith is crucial to each of you. You must not push that to the side and hope that you find a solution later. You already understand that it is a major problem. If you were to marry, you would find it much larger than it is now.
It would hit is peak when you have children.
Too many times, I have witnessed couples ignoring or delaying resolving their religious differences until children come along. Even people who rarely go to church and involve themselves only peripherally in their religion often find that religion moves to center stage with the birth of children. If you think that you disagree now, think of how intense that disagreement would be if you wanted your child to be Catholic and your husband wanted her to be protestant.
That leads me to my final suggestion.
If you feel that you must remain in your church to please God…
…do NOT sacrifice that for your boyfriend, no matter how much you feel you love him.
Moreover, he should not sacrifice his religion for you if he believes that doing so displeases God.
Love for a lifetime is wonderful, but love for eternity is essential. Always choose God over any person, no matter how much you love him or her.
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