"Our Two Faiths Are Tearing Us Apart"
The Counselor's TurnSurviving an Interfaith Marriage
"Arguments over how to honor each partner's religion can be the cause, as well as a symptom, of problems in an interfaith marriage. For Kristina and Steve, it was a little of both. As they tried to figure out who they were separately and as a couple, they centered their arguments on their differing faiths. Before they could begin to end the standoffs, they had to learn how to communicate.
"It's common for couples in the early stages of romance to overlook issues of religion. But especially after a child is born, many find themselves feeling the pull of religious roots.
"Having grown up in a hot-tempered family, Kristina fell into the pattern of expressing her feelings loudly. Steve's instinctive response was to distance himself, which only reminded Kristina of her mother's disapproval. When Steve pulled away or refused to make love, she panicked, and her temper tantrums escalated.
"Given Kristina's temperament, it was also inevitable that she'd plunge into power struggles with her equally strong-willed and critical mother-in-law. To stand up to her intrusiveness, Kristina needed to know that Steve was on her side. Steve, fearful of confrontation, found his wife's fiery personality difficult to live with. Growing up, he was rarely encouraged, frequently punished for expressing his ideas, and often felt invisible. Having felt like an outsider in his own family, it was especially painful for him to feel criticized and rejected by his wife.
"The couple needed to change. Kristina prided herself on her frankness, but honesty can also be cruel. I showed her how to rephrase her hurtful comments. For instance, instead of: 'Why don't you ever make love to me?' she's learned to say, 'I miss you and I can't wait to be with you tonight.' Soon, Steve lowered his protective armor and was affectionate again.
"To keep their disagreements civil, Kristina and Steve have learned to 'coach' each other. When either feels that the other is being rude or disrespectful, they ask permission to point out the offensive comments so the speaker can express himself or herself another way. To build Kristina's confidence, I suggested that she seek out new friends through mother-child play groups, music classes, and in the park. After broadening her social network, she was happier and less dependent on Steve for attention.