article will describe the challenges that dating partners face before
marriage. Subsequent articles will feature information about interfaith
couples at other junctures of the marital life cycle. The observations
and descriptions that follow are representative of the observations
and descriptions that emerged from the Interfaith Research Project
(IRP). This project included over 350 interfaith couples and spouses.
Denise and Gus
whose religious and ethnic roots are Polish Catholic, and Gus
(26), a Greek Orthodox Christian, have been married for 2 years.
The couple live in the southwest where Denise works as a bank
clerk and Gus is a sales representative. Both spouses describe
their relationship as stable and happy, but also admit to having
worked through a number of challenges over the past several years,
"especially when we were dating."
during the Dating Process
to describe the challenges related to their ethnic and religious
differences when they were dating, Denise smiles, and then succinctly
responds. "Sometimes it was like a bad dream that never seemed
to want to end."
The couple laughs, and she continues. "From the beginning,
our parents discouraged us from dating each other. Gus' parents
wanted him to date more Greek girls, and my mother - my parents
are divorced - wasn't too keen with the idea that I was dating
someone from the Greek Orthodox Faith."
At this point Gus enters into the conversation, "More Greek
girls - that's a hoot. My Church is small, and there were only
a limited number of Greek girls that I could date. And yes, I
attended some YAL conferences in hopes of connecting with someone,
but I just never felt the same kind of chemistry between the girls
I met at these conferences, and what existed between me and Denise."
Denise giggles at the last comment and then continues. "We
met at Kansas State in my junior year, and his senior. At first
we wanted to keep everything relaxed and casual. But soon we realized
that this wasn't like any other relationship either of us had
Gus picks up the conversation and states, "I think we both
pretty much knew after a few months that this was something special.
By the end of our first year of dating, things had gotten pretty
serious, and be began to discuss marriage."
"And just when everything was going so well, we decided to
inform our parents of some of our feelings and intentions, and
that's when things got interesting. At first, Gus' parents and
my mother were politely unresponsive to the news. But as we continued
seeing each other, the disappointment and concerns from both sides
started coming with regular frequency. There was this awful tension
between my mother and Gus, and Gus' parents grew rather cold and
aloof toward me."
"My parents kept on trying to dismiss my feelings for Denise,
as if they were some fanciful whim. When this didn't work, they
began to apply pressure on me to break things off," Gus stated
while shaking his head…. "My parents also asked me
not to bring Denise to the house, or to Church. And they kept
suggesting Greek girls' names that I hadn't dated. It was really
"Then there was the issue of the Church wedding," recalls
Denise. "The Orthodox Church wouldn't recognize the Catholic
Sacrament of Marriage. To accommodate this rule, we began talking
about getting married in the Orthodox Church. I think this made
it easier for Gus' parents, and broke some ice between us all,
but at the same time irritated and hurt my Mom. She believed that
the wedding should take place in the bride's church. To make things
worse, Gus couldn't explain his Church's position. It was a real
mess again, and people weren't talking to each other, and things
didn't look good."
Gus continues, "I think one of the turning points was when
we decided that if that's the way our parents were going to act,
then we would simply get married by a Justice of the Peace. And
we proceeded to respectfully inform them of this decision. I think
that's when both sides began softening their position and accepted
the marriage, but also subtly predicted its demise."
"I also think that our priest's advice really helped,"
states Denise. After asking us some rather pointed questions,
both priests were super supportive, and guided us through these
and other land mines, until things began to become tolerable."
"Things are better now," Gus adds with some relief in
his voice. "My' folks really love Denise, and Denise's mother
has warmed up to me. But for a while, things were really touch
and go, and I wasn't certain how our desire to marry would effect
our relationship with our parents."
Key Points That Emerge From This Conversation
interfaith and intercultural couples can expect to encounter
challenges from their family of origin during the dating process
that are connected to their religious and cultural differences.
some tension can and often does develop during the dating process,
it is important to note that much of this tension is healthy,
because it compels couples to face some of the realities behind
their decision to enter into an interfaith and intercultural
may politely tolerate their adult children's dating partners
until the dating process moves from a casual to a more serious
level. Parents may seek to undermine the dating process
couples become serious by revealing displeasure and withholding
their blessings. In most instances, this occurs because
care for their children and are concerned for their well-being.
It is also important to mention that while some tension typically
emerges between the dating couple, and their extended families,
this tension generally does not result in cut-offs between adult
children and parents. A reduction in intensity and regularity
of this tension usually occurs over time as new and healthy
boundaries develop that meet (a) individual dating partners'
needs, (b) the couple's needs, (c) extended family needs, and
(d) faith community needs and expectations.
faith community rules can also create some conflict, and dating
partners may feel caught between a desire to have a church wedding,
meet their individual and couple needs, please both sides of
the family, and respect and obey their respective Church's rules.
these and other challenges, information from the IRP suggests
that the following coping strategies can be useful. Honest,
respectful premarital discussions about their religious and
cultural differences are vital. Continued communication of the
type that serves to increase intimacy and understanding is also
helpful. An acknowledgment by the couple that their relationship
is a work in progress, and that all the answers will not be
immediately apparent can also be of assistance. Couple's mutual
love is also a chief factor in assisting couples to resolve
their religious and cultural differences in a mutually satisfying
manner. And finally, A healthy prayer life can serve to bridge
the distance that they encounter.