Exercising Prudence: Why Interfaith Relationships Won’t Work For Me


Published: September 24, 2009

I have always been picky when it comes to guys. I certainly have a “type.” I have an extensive list of preferences, and even though I’m open-minded, it’s the  qualities on this list that really catch my eye. Missing from my list until recently, however, was one incredibly important detail that I had surprisingly overlooked: faith.

I met my last boyfriend through a mutual friend last summer. I thought he was cute, and he was surely my “type” on the surface. He turned out to be sweetly shy, charming and funny. On top of all that, he was also an extremely talented musician—check, check and check!

Before we started dating, I found out that he was a very devout non-denominational Christian. I think I was a little nervous about how that would affect our relationship spiritually, and I was curious about what that might mean for our future, if we had one. I’m Catholic, but my friends might describe me as “really super Catholic.”

In the first few months of our relationship, I was uncertain about the implication of the difference in our religions. I started to see early on that it was not a subject he was keen on discussing with me. This was challenging, considering my love of discussing religion. I decided to look past this, however, and didn’t really consider it that much of an issue. It was certainly not an issue I would have considered ending the relationship over.

Very recently, however, after a year of dating, we started talking about the future. We talked about where we were headed, how to reconcile some of our personality and life-outlook differences, and how we could improve the communication in our relationship. I noticed that the conversation was getting tense, so I stopped and told him that I didn’t want to fight with him, that I only thought there were certain things we should discuss now instead of sweeping under the rug. As an example of issues demanding consideration, I mentioned the prospect of raising his children Catholic, wondering how he might feel about that. He responded without hesitation: “No, absolutely not. No.” After asking him if I had heard him right, I told him we’d have to break up. He understood.

It does not make sense for a devout Catholic to agree to raise his or her children in a faith other than Catholicism. If one accepts that the Church has the fullness of the Truth, then it follows that one would want one’s children to partake in that. But the Church makes this very simple for people who have a hard time accepting it. If you marry a Non-Catholic in the Church, both parties have to promise to raise the children in the Catholic Church to the best of their ability. So while you might see my break-up as random, abrupt and even unnecessary, I see it as mandated by my conscience, which is guided by the Church. I can’t marry someone who won’t raise my children in my faith. I can’t date someone whom I would absolutely not consider marrying—to do so would be highly cavalier. I couldn’t, therefore, continue dating my now ex-boyfriend in good conscience.

My family supports me, but the majority of my friends don’t. I’ve heard a lot of “God just wants you to be happy,” and “It’s too soon for you to be thinking about this stuff anyway, Helen.” The general sentiment is that, in a relationship, both parties need to make compromises. This may be true, but not when we’re talking about God. I believe that my faith is true, and that you cannot make compromises with Truth. If a relationship challenges the Truth, then that relationship needs to change or end. I would be quite the phony if I decided to put God on the back burner and choose my own present happiness over eternal Truth.

I certainly received a wake up call. I had been placing so much importance on unimportant details, forgetting the single most important aspect of my life: my faith. Since some time has passed, I’ve come to realize that someone as serious about her faith as I am should enjoy a strong spiritual component in any relationship she is in. I should be able to attend Mass with my boyfriend and then discuss theological issues with him over lunch. By sacrificing these parts of my life in my relationship, I was stifling a part of me that is essential to who I am.

A healthy relationship must have a strong emotional and psychological base. If both parties are highly spiritual, however, it makes sense that they would need a strong spiritual base as well. If you extend this further and consider that the Catholic understanding of marriage is a union of a man and woman who strive to bring one another closer to salvation, then the importance of a spiritual component in a romantic relationship becomes even clearer.

While there are certainly cases of successful interfaith relationships, these cases usually contain one party who feels more strongly than the other. Rarely, in my experience, is there a successful marriage between an equally devout Jew and a devout Catholic, or a devout Protestant and a devout Catholic. If both parties are so devoted to religious beliefs that are presumably opposing, it seems that they cannot truly strive to bring one another closer to salvation. The challenge becomes even deeper when you consider that a great deal of non-denominational Protestants (mostly those of the Calvinist persuasion) tend to view Catholicism as an inherent obstacle to salvation (whereas the Catholic Church does not maintain that an individual must be a member of the Church in order to be saved). In a relationship where one member is a Catholic, and the other believes that Catholicism is an obstacle to Salvation, how can the two truly strive to lead one another to Salvation?

I see the importance of looking for someone who can be a partner in all things. The things that are important to you should be important to your partner as well. If religion is important to your life, then search for someone with whom you can share that. They will be able to relate to you on a deep level that few others can. This is not closed-mindedness; this is prudence.