The Importance of Honesty in Mixed Faith Relationships

All told Andy and I have been together in some form or fashion for twelve or thirteen years. We met in college, started dating about a year after that and things quickly progressed once we were dating. So here we are now, 8 years of marriage, two kids, a cat and a dog. And most days the fact that we’re also a mixed faith couple doesn’t come in to play. We’re too busy living life to notice. But other times it does.

If you’ve met someone who has different religious belief than you do and want to pursue a relationship with them, let me share with you what would have made this journey a helluva lot easier. Honesty. Even if it’s difficult, even if it hurts, even if it may mean ending the relationship. Be honest. Because while there are a lot of good things in our relationship, it could all come crashing down because of the dishonesty that was sown at the beginning of it.

In my case, I was honest. I’m a Secular Humanist. Early in the relationship I was upfront. I didn’t want to get married in a church. I didn’t want to have my kids baptized. If they got older and wanted to be baptized that was fine, but I didn’t want to do it without their consent. They could go to church if they wanted to, but didn’t need to be forced to go.

Andy, a Catholic, told me he was fine with all that. His sister had children and he told me they would be the Catholic grandchildren.

Here’s the thing, Andy was lying because he expected that I would convert.

OK, Christians. I get it. You found something wonderful that gives your life meaning, and you think that everyone who is exposed to it can’t help but find it just as wonderful and meaningful, too. Here’s the thing, people who aren’t Christians have good reasons for rejecting Christianity!

Andy honestly expected that I would be won over by Catholicism. Instead, I now am rather disdainful towards Catholicism. Even though I was not raised Catholic I identify with people who describe themselves as Recovering Catholics.

Because as things got more serious and as I stayed firmly committed to Secular Humanism, what Andy wanted started to change. He HAD to get married in the church. He HAD to have the kids baptized, given first communion, and confirmed. It HAD to be this way. Nevermind that he told me something different. This was the way it HAD to be.

I was raised to compromise. Seriously, my parents sat down with my sister and I and role played compromising techniques. So I compromised. But if I could give my younger self one bit of advice, it would be to not compromise anything that would hurt my integrity. And under the banner of compromise I did. The process was slow, insidious, drawn out, and took years. At the time I thought I was being level headed and compromising even if I was seething on the inside. It wasn’t until the ground I was standing on became thinner and thinner and I was growing more and more resentful that I realized I had compromised way too much.

Likely if Andy had been upfront with me we would have separated a long time ago, long before we were married and had kids. We would have lost a lot. But as things stand now I’m on my final ultimatum and I don’t know which way things will go. I caved in long ago and agreed to let him baptize the kids but insisted on not being there for it. With Buddy he put me through the emotional ringer until I caved and went to his baptism. With Sissy I told him if he tries it again I’m leaving. I’m not going to her baptism. Now he’s says he’s not going to baptize Sissy, may be in an effort to make amends. Or may be to somehow trap me into going to her baptism. I don’t know.

Sissy is now past the age Buddy was when Andy had Buddy baptized and he’s honestly made no move to have her baptized. He says he’s not going to, but after being lied to for so many years I no longer trust him to keep his word. And I’ve told him this. I grew up with honest parents and was unprepared for how destructive lies could be. How someone could be so good at finding and telling you what you want to hear.

Here’s the thing. I’ve noticed Christians, not just Andy, will rail against lies, except when it’s in the name of getting people to convert or doing things for their faith. Then they will lie. Lying is sanctified in that case because it’s for the greater good.

However, they’re only harming the person they claim to love and giving their religion a big black eye. If lies and deceit are the only way you can bring people to your faith then you have a very weak faith.

He needs to put his actions where his words are, and I have been very clear with this. He needs to tell his family, who has started asking, that he’s not going to baptize her. And after years of dealing with my resolve being chipped away I now recognize how the process starts, and have let him know if it does I’m gone.

He seems to feel guilty, and I’ve come close enough to leaving in the past that he knows just how serious I am. To say that for years I’ve had one foot out the door is not an exaggeration. And in the past when I’ve given ultimatums on other, non-religious issues he’s toed the line (namely setting up boundaries with his family). So I have reason to believe he will in this matter.

In fact, I would say that being able to say, “this is unacceptable, fix it or I’ll leave” has been the saving grace of our marriage.

Most days we’re fine. On a daily basis we function well, divvying up the child care and house care and we keep busy with our jobs. We have similar hobbies and interests and spend most of our time focusing on those rather than things that divide us. Religion really does not play in on a daily basis. But when it does, it’s bad. And part of me is frustrated that it is such a big deal and wonders if it’s really worth dissolving all of the good things that have come from our relationship over it.

But for me there’s also a lot of hurt and resentment. I was honest and upfront and feel as though I was duped. I honestly do not think Andy meant to dupe me, I believe he honestly thought I would convert and when I didn’t was left caught between a relationship he was very invested in and a very intruding, demanding faith.

So if you’re taking this journey, here’s a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Be honest. If something is important to you, let your partner know, and early! It’s easier to get out of a relationship the earlier you are in it and you could save yourself a lot of heartache.
  2. Never assume that your partner will convert. I don’t care how swell you think your religion is, or how logical you feel your atheism is. Assume that they won’t convert, assume the most difficult possible outcome, and ask yourself if this is something that you can live with.
  3. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to see when you’re compromising too much. Do not lose sight of what is very important to you.
  4. If you agree to something and your partner changes his mind, this is a huge red flag. When it first starts it’s easy to think it’s just this one instance, but then just that one instance turns into two instances, and then three, and suddenly you’re the one doing all of the caving. I know this is the slippery slope argument, but in my case I went gliding down the slippery slope. If your partner starts doing this, it’s time to reconsider the relationship.

5 thoughts on “The Importance of Honesty in Mixed Faith Relationships

  1. Brendala

    Hey! Finally found time to poke around your new blog!

    I’m sorry to hear that this is putting a strain on your marriage. Compromise is good. But it needs to go both ways. And I sincerely hope your husband is able to let go and save the religious stuff for when the kids are old enough to voice their own opinions about it.

    This post is actually really helpful for me. I’m the product of an inter-faith/inter-racial marriage (Jewish and Irish-Catholic). But luckily it didn’t effect my parents the way it effected you because neither of my parents cared about religion all that much (the disputes came from wanting to please their parents and grandparents).

    I’m not religious; but Judaism as a culture is very important to me. Specifically, the comfort of being able to run to Israel should anti-semetism ramp up in this country (which it has been, unfortunately). But I worry about how to approach this with a potential boyfriend without sounding crazy (ESPECIALLY if he isn’t Jewish). And this is important because, if I have kids, I want to either home-school them or find a private Jewish school (because a public school near me had literal Nazis teaching Holocaust lessons and now I don’t trust any of ’em).


  2. roianna Post author

    Strangely, the afternoon that I wrote this Andy came back from church and told me he was no longer taking them to Mass (wrote a bit about it in Trying the UU). I’ve been taking them to the UU since, and the kiddos like the UU and Andy likes being able to go to Mass without them, and him letting me take them has started to mend a lot of the hurt feelings, especially since UU churches are so against indoctrination and focus on finding one’s own spiritual path that I feel it’s a better place for them to be in.

    I guess the real test will be Saturday when we go to one of his family functions, though, which has me nervous because I know his mother is going to ask about baptizing Sissy, and if Andy says it’s not happening it’ll be good for our relationship, but it will also mean a nasty fight on Saturday.

    And strangely I recently decided to homeschool my kids, though not because of concerns about neo-Nazis (yikes!) but hopefully I’ll get around to writing about that soon. Been so sick these past three weeks.


  3. Anna Nimmie Tee

    I also just found your blog! This was a very interesting posts to me. My mom was a Christian Scientist of western European ancestry and my Yugoslavian dad was Slavic Orthodox. His religion was dormant while she was alive, and I went to CS Sunday school until I was 21 and became at least agnostic, if not fully an atheist. They were married 49 years, and it wasn’t until after my mom’s death that my dad went back to his childhood religion and attended Orthodox church services , although Mom said, even though he wasn’t a church goer, he was religious in his own way. He was tolerant of my mother’s religion, unless there was a dire physical problem, when he would put his foot down and take a kid to a doctor. Then, too, Mom wasn’t a fanatic. Christian Scientist. She was pragmatic. I think to her, doctors were a back-up, rather than the other way around.

    When my daughter was seven, she wanted to go to a Sunday school because all her classmates did. She and I went to the UU, too. (My husband is a firm atheist.) After two or three years, she was tired of it, and we stopped going.


    1. roianna Post author

      Wow, CS and Orthodox! That must have been an interesting combination! I’m still wrapping my head around the UU and doing a church thing, especially as it goes against my self-image as a non-church goer. I think down the line if the kids say enough we’ll stop. I’m guessing when they’re teenagers they’ll want Sunday mornings to sleep in. I know I did!


      1. Anna_Nimmie_Tee

        Because Dad didn’t overtly practice his religion and let Mom practice hers and take us to Sunday school, there wasn’t any conflict that we kids could see. I think Dad had more cultural things to get used to, such as the “boldness” of American women. His village was and still is half Christian and half Muslim. He left in the late 30’s when his village was still very conservative. Christian women didn’t look men in the eye when they talked to them. It was too bold and asking for trouble to look a man in the face. He was from Macedonia, which didn’t get out from under Ottoman rule until after WWI and was divided by the Western Powers among Greece, Bulgaria, and the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Serbia). It was fortunate for my mother that he was very adaptable and a good listener, although they did have their culture clashes every once in a while, although they weren’t very visible to their kids. (Mom confided more to me when I was an adult and married.)


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