Can a Split-Faith Marriage Work?

By Brigham F.

Marriage is supposed to be about one-ness. The Book of Genesis says man and wife “shall be one flesh.” At least for me and my wife, when we got married we replaced our separate bank accounts with a joint account, got rid of our separate college pads in favor of our own one-bedroom, and, most importantly, embarked from the safety of our respective parents’ families to begin our own new family. Sure, we still have our separate interests–I love mountain biking, she loves making awesome cakes, but in all the most important ways we are (or try to be) united.

So what about faith or religion? Shouldn’t a married couple at a minimum share this most personal, spiritual aspect of their lives? As difficult as marriage can be in the best of circumstances, do two people who differ on something as fundamental as the meaning and purpose of life and where we’re headed after it have any chance at a happy, enduring marriage?

One of our readers, Sam, asked us for our take on this. He had fallen “head over heels” with a girl who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a Mormon). After investigating the church for six months, he still had not gained a conviction that it was true. While he had no problems with her being a member, and even liked the part it played in her life, he anticipated that there might be problems down the line with how they would raise their children, and so he decided to end the relationship. But his question remained: “do you think that a ‘non-member’ as you like to call them, could have a happy life with a member of the church, assuming that he never ends up joining the church?”

Here’s my take, Sam: yes, I think a ‘non-member’ could absolutely have a happy life with a member of the church, even if he never ends up joining the church. I think Mormons make excellent spouses–I married one myself! The values that we are taught to aspire to live by–honesty, fidelity, love, sacrifice, family–would tend to enrich any marriage, regardless of the religious persuasions of either spouse. But your happiness, Sam, is only one half of the matter. What about her happiness? Could she be happy even with no prospect that her husband would ever join her in her faith?

I personally know several examples both ways: couples where one partner was a faithful member of the church and the other to the very end was not, yet their marriage was lasting and happy, and raised a great family. I also know examples where at first one partner was far from ever joining the Church, but eventually did–my wife’s grandparents are an example of just this scenario. And sadly I also know cases where the split-faith marriage did not last and ended unhappily, although you can never be sure it was because of the difference in faith. But the fact that there are examples of happy, lasting, split-faith marriages is proof that it can work.

I won’t pretend to be able to give sound marriage advice (my wife would laugh at the prospect) but two thoughts come to mind: the first based on common sense, the second on my Mormon perspective. The first thought is that a difference in faith is a significant difference, and a potential source of stress among many that any successful marriage will have to work through. A difference in faith just adds one more piece to the mix, but like other inevitable differences, it can certainly be worked through. My second thought touches on what I alluded to before: what about her happiness? If she is a devout Mormon, chances are she believes in and hopes for marriage and family relationships that will last beyond this life. One condition for forming an eternal marriage, however, is that both parties have to subscribe to it. It’s hard to imagine that all other things equal, she wouldn’t find more happiness in a marriage that she believed was going to last forever, rather than until death do us part. But of course “all other things” are never equal, and it is possible that you and her truly are a match made in heaven, despite your differences in faith. In that case, I would only encourage you to leave open the possibility that at some point in the future you could experience a change in heart, and come to truly believe in the faith that is such a big part of her life.

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3 thoughts on “Can a Split-Faith Marriage Work?

  1. Tony Perkins says:

    I love this article

  2. Ryan says:

    Brigham,

    Thoughtful piece and I agree with everything you said. The most important discussion to have in these circumstances is whether each spouse is truly ok with going forward in life with different belief structures and with a very transparent understanding of how the agree to raise the children. Both can be tricky relative to the Mormon religion doctrine and culture but are navigated productively by thousands of couples. FacesEast is a discussion board for Mormon couples making marriages work with one practicing member and one either non-practicing or a non-member. Transparency and honesty have to be the key. If one is harboring secret thoughts that they will change the other that can be a real problem. Marry for who someone is not who you think you can make them to be.

    Another issue of course is what to do if one’s partner goes into the marriage as a honest believing LDS but then has an honest change of heart (or vice versa for people who convert to Mormonism after marriage and their spouse does not). That really can shake the foundation of any marriage.

    Incidently, on you last point given the aggregate statistics in the Church it is clear that many faithful LDS woman will be faced with the choice of either remaining single or marrying outside the faith. It is a taboo topic to talk about in many ways, but the fact is there are significantly more practicing women then there are practicing men. Even if the marriage market magically cleared for all temple-desiring couples (note not even temple-worthy couples) it still leaves many women unmatched. The severity of the discrepancy varies wildly across geography as well. This is another reason for us to support and foster good solid interfaith marriages when the situation arises.

    1. Brigham says:

      It’s true, there’s no getting around the cold, hard, accounting fact that there are many more practicing women than men in the Church, and it’s one I’ve also thought a lot about. It makes Sam’s question even more important. Thanks for making the point that you shouldn’t marry someone for who you think you can make them to be. I’m sure that has been the cause of lot’s of heartache in these situations.

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