Here on the iRemit blog, the challenges and the perks of interracial marriages are a common topic. As more and more Filipinos are migrating abroad (and more and more Westerners are discovering their charms), I suppose such unions aren’t so unusual anymore.
Now, interfaith marriages are a different story altogether. It’s one thing to learn how to speak Tagalog or English (or to eat sinigang or Vegemite). Staying true to your religious beliefs while respecting those of your spouse’s AND raising children in such an atmosphere is a whole ‘nother beast, especially when most Filipinos remain steadfast Catholics.
Australia is a somewhat predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines (with 25% of the population identifying with this religion and the remaining percentage divided up between other faiths). But don’t despair if you want to marry someone with different religious beliefs (or even a lack thereof) and you’d like to retain your own. As with interracial marriages, there are things you can do to make it work, such as:
1. Examine your own beliefs.
Have you ever thought about the reason behind your beliefs? If the answer to that is solely “Because it’s what my parents taught me,” then it’s time for some serious self-examination.
The less grounded you are in your beliefs and the shallower your understanding of them is, the more likely you will be to lose your way in an interfaith marriage.
2. Don’t try to change your partner.
Remember Shamcey Supsup? The girl who represented the Philippines in the 2011 Miss Universe pageant?
During the Q&A, she was asked, “Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person you love? Why or why not?”
To which she answered, “If I have to change my religious beliefs, I would not marry the person that I love. Because the first person that I love is God, who created me. I have my faith and my principles, and this is what makes me who I am. If the person loves me, he’ll love my God, too.”
It was a textbook Binibining Pilipinas answer (since outwardly religious people are revered in this country), but it was a rather narrow-minded thought. (Maybe that’s why she didn’t take the Ms. Universe crown that year, but I digress.) Look, it’s fine, admirable even, to hold to your beliefs, but you should also respect your partner if s/he wants to do the same.
Any attempt to convert to your religion should come purely from their own desire and not because of any manipulation (“If you love me, you’ll convert!”), nagging (“So, when are you going to convert???”), or ultimatums (“I won’t marry you if you don’t convert!”) from your end.
3. Plan ahead.
One good thing about interfaith relationships is they allow you to foresee and thus accordingly plan for certain roadblocks ahead.
For instance, if and when you get married, where should the ceremony be held? Should you have two ceremonies to accommodate each other’s beliefs? If and when your children are born, would they be subjected to baptism or to a bris (Jewish circumcision ceremony)? Or would you both rather wait till your children are old enough to decide for themselves which religion they’ll follow? How would you celebrate holidays?
Think about all the possible points of contention, and then brainstorm solutions for it together. Forewarned is forearmed, after all.
We’ve always pointed out the need for effective communication in effective relationships, and this is especially important in interfaith marriages.
You both need to sit down and talk about your non-negotiables, concerns, and things that you’re comfortable working out compromises on. It should also be noted that effective communication should remain a goal throughout your entire marriage, in the sense that neither of you should hesitate to speak up if you need to reassess the issues that may arise in the different stages of your relationship.
The same goes for your children. You should both freely encourage and uphold accurate and open discussions regarding your respective religious beliefs (or lack thereof) if and when the little ones come along.
5. Educate yourself (and your spouse).
Familiarize yourself with your spouse’s religion: read up on their basic tenets, learn about the significance of their holidays, and ask your partner about anything that confuses or arouses curiosity in you.
Being well-informed not only helps you explain certain things to your parents or to your children, but it will also give you a deeper understanding of the things that are important to your partner. Bonus: it also shows them that you genuinely care, and could very well encourage them to return the favor.
6. Build on similarities rather than differences.
Speaking of educating yourselves, strive to find commonalities in your beliefs.
It really shouldn’t be that hard, considering that there’s a lot of common ground among religions. Even Atheists believe in a higher code of conduct if not in a higher power, so you can talk about values like love, trust, charity, and respect in whichever context you feel most comfortable in.
7. Support each other as parents.
In other words, don’t consciously attempt to sway your kids over to your religion or worse, criticize their father’s/mother’s beliefs in front of them.
Should your kids express a greater interest in following your way of life, be open and understanding about their questions and concerns. Ditto if they decide to go for your spouse’s religion too.
When all is said and done, most religions pretty much encourage the same thing: respect for the world/universe and love for your fellow humans. Once you understand that, the specifics will be far easier to work out.