Should you marry someone with different beliefs? If you do, what impact will that have on your relationship long-term, and how will you deal with those differences?
Watch Brian Holdsworth’s video about marriage and beliefs.
Should you marry someone with different beliefs than your own. Before I get into the content of this video, I should probably explain the degree of difference that I have in mind.
Because every relationship will have points of disagreement and it’s part of the purpose, I believe, to overcome those differences and work to understand each other, but in the case of what we’re considering in this video, I’m talking about significant differences of belief.
Like they might be an atheist, and you’re a theist. they might be really conservative and you’re a really liberal. They might like superhero movies and you, aren’t 8 years old.
In his story the Symposium, Plato lays out a case for what we should aim for in a relationship. He tells us that we should look for someone who has qualities that we admire and want to possess ourselves.
He goes on to say that, “A couple should not love each other exactly as they are right now.” He argues that we should be committed to helping each other become better versions of ourselves. But what if you each have incompatible ideas about what constitutes good and better?
The point I take from Plato’s concept is that love transforms us into something we currently are not. This means we will be changed by the relationships we participate in from who we are into a version of ourselves that is more like the person we are with, whether we want to be like them or not.
And anyone with any common sense could tell you that. You see it, even, in basic friendships. People tend to act like the people they spend the most time with and the longer you act a certain way, the more you will become that way.
So in the case of romantic relationships, Plato’s advice would be to choose someone that you admire, not just someone you’re attracted to. Choose someone who’s qualities inspire you to the degree that the possibility of becoming more like them doesn’t bother you.
Plato says that, “True love is admiration.” So, if you can’t say you admire the person you’re infatuated with, it’s probably not a good idea to move beyond that. Infatuation fades and eventually, you have to find something in that person that carries the relationship beyond that.
If you’re a person who really knows what your about and holds to certain principles and morals that guide your life, then that really should be the measure of any question of admiration for other people.
Do they reflect the moral conclusions that are important to you?
And this is an important question because anyone worth their integrity will hold to morals that exceed their own ability satisfy. What I mean is, it’s not admirable to base your values on what you happen to be good at. Your morals should be of such a standard that you have to aim high to achieve them.
They should propel you to growth in moral maturity and if they do, then we have to admit that aiming to live according to your morals isn’t going to be easy because it requires you to change for the better.
But if you choose to marry someone who doesn’t try to uphold those same morals, then you’ll find yourself being pulled in a different direction. And not just pulled. Like I said in the beginning, you can’t help but be changed by the people you live your life with and if they fall short of the morals and beliefs that are important to you, then they’ll act like a dead weight that will persistently keep you from growing in the direction that you’ve identified as your path to maturity.
Now, where this really gets amplified is when kids get introduced to the equation. Nothing can prepare you for how much you will love your kids. I’ve seen people who were self-centered, egotistical, and mean-spirited, but once they had kids, their whole attitude and demeanor changed.
Once you have them, your kids will be more important to you then anything else and if your moral priorities aren’t enough for you to pursue them with all your effort, your kids will, at least, make you want what is good and true for them.
But this will also be true for your spouse and if they believe things that are fundamentally different from you, then you’re going to find yourself in a struggle for your children’s lives that can get really ugly and nobody wins in that situation, least of all your children.
I’ve resolved to never get a tattoo for one simple reason. I don’t trust that my future self will gratefully accept the decisions I make today and the evidence for that is that I can look back on things that were important to me 10 years ago, and frankly, I’m a bit embarrassed by then. I don’t want a past version of myself imposing lifelong decisions based on things I happened to like back then.
So, instead, if I’m going to make serious decisions, I make them based on my moral convictions because they are what I aim to become, not merely what I am. What you know to be good and true should be what informs a decision like marriage. If the person you’re with contradicts those things, it’s going to be a constant struggle and marriage is hard enough as it is. You don’t need to disadvantage yourself further by choosing someone who is going to diminish your resolve to live a good life.
My answer to this is, it depends on the couple. EVERY case is different.
Nearly 40 years ago, this cradle RC lady from the Midwest married a secular NY Jew. We met overseas as young Army officers. He was and is very smart ( a must have in my book because you can’t fix stupid) and he made me laugh A LOT (I’m too serious). Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, thought we’d never make it, but his family loved me. People actually betted on us splitting up (some of them are now divorced). My mom always had doubts and my dad grew to love my husband a lot (so much so, that when we did have problems, my dad pointed out I was not easy to live with!). At the 22nd year we almost split up in the midst of all kinds of difficulties hitting at once, but decided to give it another try because we loved each other. We still have some different views (often cancelling out each other’s votes in elections for example) but I loved him so much, and do even more, to this day.
Over the years, we had two wonderful daughters who I raised as RC. I love to cook and hosted seders and other dinners at our house for Jewish holidays. These acts made me closer to his family, and actually made me more religious. I made many Jewish friends as well. My Jewish relatives by marriage attended baptisms, first communions, confirmations and the like without a fuss. Today one daughter remains RC and plans to send our grandsons to the parish school. My other one is studying Judaism. I am OK with it; better that than a “none.” And my best personal friend is a female rabbi. I actually became a better Catholic over the years (although God will not be finished with me for quite a while) and more observant (with my rabbi friend’s encouragement). My husband has no interest in conversion, but happily and generously donates to Catholic Charities and CRS, largely because he’s a successful entrepreneur and likes their management practices. Hey, whatever works….
Another family member married a Christian guy who readily agreed to convert to Catholicism. He joined a men’s group at their parish. My mom LOVED him. After they married and had a couple of great kids, he was incredibly irresponsible (to put it very mildly) in personal and financial conduct. After much counseling, he still did not change, in spite of the peril he caused their family. As a result of his behavior, he put her through bankruptcy, foreclosure, and divorce. She went through an earthly form of Hell for several years with this, and is just coming out of it.
So my point once again is, it all comes down to love and commitment, as well as a shared vision of the future, which we always had, even through the greatest difficulties. Only God knows why it works, other than these qualities. There is NO magic formula other than these.
Mixed marriages ultimately cause indifference to God and to the Catholic faith.
I think the name of the religion you supposedly hold is not enough. It can be a false security. Like the author says find some someone who morally challenged you because of their virtue- someone you admire. And I would add, you loves you for the same reason. What you see in each other comes from God and will change you both for the better. But be prepared. To be with someone of different faith causes really hard moments and can cause you (RC/s!) to fall in to mortal sin over those differences in beliefs. St Paul gives the best advice in the Holy Bible about this. I’ve been married 25yrs as an RC to a pseudo-atheist, hopefully on the road to conversion through God’s grace.
Sometimes marrying a fellow Catholic is not enough to sustain a marriage. Despite Gods grace, and supposedly shared values, the spouse has fatal flaws that are revealed during daily living that were obviously well hidden during courtship.
We are not psycho-therapists unfortunately, and bad decisions are made with incomplete information.
With maturity and pain we become wise too late.
Having a good relationship with God is primary for a believing Catholic. Its a relationship that will sustain you.