When couples are on the verge of a major life transition such as marriage, they begin to think about life, love, values…and the future. To a great extent this is what spirituality is about – our human search for happiness and the meaning of life. Is life just about the here and now? Do morals make any difference? Is death really the end? Is there a reason to live beyond my own comfort? Is that all there is?
Perhaps you’re putting off some of these heavy questions for a rainy day when your job is more settled, or wedding pressures subside… or you reach retirement. Whether you address them or not, however, the big life issues will not disappear. They may go underground until a crisis appears – an accident, a child with a serious illness, or a looming divorce. All of a sudden, you start wondering what is the rock on which you ground your life? That’s the way some people discover their spiritual sides, but you don’t have to wait for a crisis. It’s so much easier to let faith keep your relationship strong, rather than rescue you in an emergency.
What difference does faith make to a marriage? This time before marriage is an opportunity to take stock of your basic beliefs. Share them with your beloved and chart how you will live out your beliefs and values together.
Does this mean you have to share the same faith? That’s nice, but it’s more important to talk about what God means to you, what spiritual practices you find meaningful, and how you can support each other once you are married. If only one spouse believes that faith is important, how does he or she stay motivated to attend services if the other is sleeping or recreating? It’s not impossible, but it’s more supportive to go to services together.
Research conducted by the Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton University (1999) showed a higher incidence of divorce among interchurch couples (20.3%) than among same-church couples (14.1%). (Interchurch couples are Christians of different denominations, e.g., a Baptist and a Catholic or a Methodist and a Presbyterian). Religion can bring spouses together or push them apart. Couples may be of different religions, but that in itself does not predict marital instability. What’s important is whether couples engage in joint religious activities. For example, do they pray together or read the Bible together?
Although research finds that greater religious practice is related to lower rates of divorce there is not necessarily a causal relationship. It may be that people who are more actively religious are more likely to oppose divorce, or maybe they work harder at their marital relationship.
Let’s say you are both religious, but from different religions. Perhaps you share spirituality but not a church home. Certainly some spouses, strongly committed to their faith, will continue to worship regularly and be active church members, but it’s harder to go alone, split financial support, and devote time to two separate congregations.
The solutions to these dilemmas are as unique as the couples who marry. Here are some steps that any couple can take, regardless of faith affiliation.
Talk with each other about important stuff.
Start with the basics:
- Who is God for you?
- What code of ethics guides your life?
- Do you value weekly worship?
- What kind of prayer is comfortable and satisfying to you?
- How important is it that your spouse shares your religious beliefs?
- Are you lukewarm in your religious commitment and likely to fade away if you have to do it alone?
If you’ve never practiced a religion, consider giving it a try.
Although becoming more spiritual is a value for anyone, styles of worship vary as much as the unique people who are seeking the meaning of life. Try out more than one place of worship. If the first one doesn’t fit you, try again. It’s worth the effort.
Visit each other’s church/synagogue/mosque.
If each of you belongs to a different faith tradition, learn more about the beliefs of that religion. You’re not trying to convert the other but to understand what shapes your partner’s values.
If you are getting married in a religious ceremony, use this opportunity.
If you are getting married in a religious setting it means that faith is important to at least one of you. Use this opportunity to discuss questions of faith with your spiritual leader. These are the kind of conversations that you may have intended to explore some day, but you’ve put it off. Now your life is about to change. Use your contact with the priest, minister, rabbi, or imam to go deeper.
Become a grown-up person of faith.
Often people are raised in a religious home. They attend religious education classes, and maybe even Catholic or other religious schools for 8, 12, or 16 years. But their faith formation got stuck in childhood. If you have grown distant from the faith of your childhood, check it out again on an adult level. If you were a lawyer or doctor you wouldn’t think of practicing your profession based on high school information. Update your knowledge of your faith. You don’t have to have a degree in theology but you should not rely on childhood explanations in an adult world.
Make your home a place of unity.
Even if the two of you come from different faith traditions and are committed to continuing them, make your home a place where you merge prayer, rituals, and religious traditions. Since prayer at home is less formal, you can develop creative, inclusive times of prayer and faith devotions together. Experiment with the rituals of each other’s faith and blend them to fit your family. The point is not whose church you go to, but rather that you bring it all home.
Don’t wait until you have a child.
It’s tempting to put off decisions about how you will share your faith (or ignore it) until you have your first child. Don’t! A child is too important to become a battleground. If faith is important to you, discuss how each of you wants to share your faith with any children you may have before you are married. If you are Catholic, this question will be part of your marriage preparation. Discussing how you will raise your children can clarify how committed each of you is to your faith and beliefs.