My husband and I are both practicing Catholics. But out of all the couples I’ve had go through CatholicMarriagePrep.com, I’m guessing close to half of them are Catholics marrying a person of another faith, usually a protestant denomination. But even for those who are Catholics marrying another Catholic, often times one is stronger in their faith than the other. And so for the sake of good, holy, happy marriages, I want to talk about what you can do when your spouse doesn’t share your faith. Here are 4 things to keep in mind:
At the altar, you promised to honor each other. Honoring has a lot to do with respecting, and therefore it also has to do with how you respect each other’s faith. It’s important for you to acknowledge that your spouse is sincere in what they believe and not to ridicule them over your differences in belief.
How you talk to each other about what you believe, how you talk about your spouse’ faith, how you see them created in the image of God are all areas where respect needs to be in the forefront.
You don’t have to agree, that’s okay. You can be respectful and still disagree. You just can’t be rude if you want your marriage to last.
2. Find What Unites, But Don’t Ignore the Differences
If you are both Christian, you can pray together in the name of Jesus. Your love of Christ will be what unites you. Even if your spouse doesn’t believe in Jesus, you can still pray together! Find what unites you, whether it’s the bible or moral character and virtue. Remind yourself of why you were attracted to your spouse in the first place.
While you focus on what you share in common, do not ignore the differences. Address these differences with love and respect, so you know what you disagree on and why. Do you disagree about Mary, the Eucharist, or the Priesthood? Do you prefer different kinds of music at your place of worship? Also, if you know everything about your spouse’s background of faith, whether they had a bad experience at a Church or their family was always slamming a certain belief, you can see where they are coming from. From there, look for answers together. Which leads us to our next point.
3. Understand Your Spouses’ Faith
Understanding your spouse’s faith is key to being respectful and united. You can’t communicate about what you don’t know. You can read books about each other’s faith, talk to your priest or pastor, or we know couples who go through RCIA classes together just so they can understand better what they agree and disagree about.
For a Catholic, there are a few non-negotiables. Going to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, and baptizing children in the Catholic Church are the first two that come to mind. We know a few interfaith couples who go to both Catholic Mass and Protestant Church on Sundays. By going together, you are supporting your spouse in their faith. But be up front that Catholics have got to get to Mass on Sundays!
“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obligated to participate in the Eucharist of the day of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit grave sin.” CCC 2181
Now, when you get married in the Catholic Church, even if only one of the parties is Catholic, you promise to bring your children up in the Catholic faith. This means you promise that your children will be baptized Catholic and receive their Sacraments. For two couples we know, their 3 children are under the age of 6, so they go to Bible class at the Protestant Church, which is a great way for them to gain an understanding of the Bible and God’s love, and then they will go to Catholic Religious Education when it comes time for Sacramental prep. They go to both Protestant and Catholic services on Sundays, and when they are young it has been easy to share the faith and pray as a family. It will get trickier as they get older, but these couples are committed to working it out, and the expectation has already been communicated that these children will receive the Sacraments.
It’s important to talk about these expectations before you marry in the Catholic Church and also agree on them! These are promises you consent to on your wedding day!
4. Don’t Force It!
You each have free will, and you cannot force another to believe what you do. But we assume if you married your spouse, it’s because you love them. So love them by helping them to be the best they can be without imposing your beliefs on them. If their form of prayer, worship, or service helps them to be a better person, support them in that. If you need to, go back to what you have in common. Then be respectful of your differences as you work to understand where the other is coming from.
Some ways you can be united:
-Going to each other’s service together.
-Pray together, even if you are just thanking God for the day or saying a blessing before meals. It’s a start! Even if your spouse doesn’t believe in anything, they can be at your side while you pray.
-Share openly. You can share what spiritual movements are on your heart without expecting them to do the same. If your spouse has something to share about what they feel or are experiencing, you should be the safest place that they can express those thoughts without judgment.
Finally, be patient with each other and pray for each other. God never imposes himself! He invites us to relationship and we each have to respond of our own free will in our own time. Trust and pray that God will bless your marriage and help you get closer to each other and to Him.