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Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist: How Can I Make My Interfaith Relationship Work?

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Q: I’ve been dating a man for several years. He’s wonderful to me in every possible way and a perfect fit except one: we don’t share the same religion and he’s not tolerant of my Latter-day Saint beliefs. He practices another Christian faith. We pray and study the Bible together, and I’m happy to attend his church services since they’re after mine, but after a couple of tries, he has no desire to return to Latter-day Saint services with me. 

I could live with that, but he fully believes we’re a cult and doesn’t want me reading The Book of Mormon, practicing my cultural traditions, or talking about our doctrines around him. I love him and I don’t want to lose him, but I feel like he’s asking me to sacrifice a core part of myself. I love this man. I want to marry him, but I also feel suppressed. Can it work?

A: Thank you so much for reaching out to me with this. It’s so hard when you love someone and have given them your loyalty and energy, yet there’s a major part of you that’s held back. Having many friends of other Christian faiths who love the Bible fiercely and believe it is the final and only word of God, I can understand where he’s coming from. Many good people have developed a strong bias against Latter-day Saint beliefs, seeing them as heresy. I, of course, disagree, seeing them as an extension of the groundwork the Lord laid in the Bible. I imagine you do as well.

There are many factors to consider here, and you no doubt have. The elephant in the room is whether or not temple marriage for eternity is your goal, because it’s not fair to your boyfriend to expect that he’ll convert. You’re not saying this; I’m just putting it out there. While as many as one third of part-member marriages end up in the other partner converting to our faith, at least two thirds do not, and if you expect him to join you at the temple altar, you may find yourself hurt and resentful if that doesn’t happen, which again isn’t fair to him when he’s making it clear that, in his eyes, that will never happen.

That said, I’m not opposed to mixed-faith marriages. They can be beautiful, happy, and successful. I know wonderful couples in that situation. But both partners must enter with eyes wide open. Statistically, those marriages are more likely to end in divorce, largely because of the type of intolerance and suppression you’re talking about. These can lead to unhealthy conflict and attempts at control, not to mention the disharmony of divergent values. Those mixed-faith couples who do thrive share a healthy appreciation and tolerance for one another’s beliefs, practices, and cultures. I know a Latter-day Saint woman and a Jewish man who are very happily married, but this is because they both practice their faiths openly, they have mutual respect for one another’s doctrines and traditions, and neither religion is given preference in the family. Their lucky kids get both Hanukkah and Christmas! They learn from the Torah, the Bible, and the Book of Mormon and are allowed to choose what their conscience guides them to.

In that sense, your partner doesn’t need to believe what you believe, but if he cannot even allow the expression of your beliefs in his presence—if you cannot speak of them, watch general conference, or read the Book of Mormon when he’s around—he is effectively saying, “I love parts of you but not all of you.”

You say he’s a good man, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but I’d not be surprised if this controlling behavior shows up in other areas as well. Even if it doesn’t, even if it’s only in this one area and it comes from a genuine concern for the welfare of your soul, what are you being asked to sacrifice for this relationship? Is it worth it? Are you willing to give up the blessings of the restored gospel, not because he doesn’t believe in them, but because he intends to limit your practicing and receiving of them?

I feel impressed to share a teaching of the Savior: 

“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter [or, I might add boyfriend] more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” —Matthew 10:37-39

If that comes across harsh to you, take it up with the Lord, but remember when you do so that “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world” (2 Nephi 26:24).

Every teaching, commandment, and principle, especially the hard ones, are for our benefit and joy. Remember the teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “All your losses will be made up to you . . . provided you continue faithful.” Take comfort in the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:3-4).

Marrying this man would mean sacrificing general conference, full commitment to Church activity, and rejoicing in shared beliefs together. I know people for whom that’s okay. They’re in love with someone from a different faith and want to share their life with that person. I’m cool with that. People have agency and get to make choices. I know couples like that who are extremely happy.

But The Beatles were wrong when they sang “love is all you need.” You also need the freedom to believe and to practice those beliefs. You need the ability to let your light shine and, in the modern vernacular, “You do you.” My advice? Tell this man that if this relationship is going to work, you’re happy with him openly being Christian, but he has to be okay with you openly being Latter-day Saint. Otherwise, you set a precedent that anything about you which he disagrees with he can silence. That’s not a foundation for a happy marriage down the road. If he can’t do that, ending the relationship now will hurt but will also spare you both from greater suffering down the road.

God bless you both. I wish for both of you the ability to live true to your beliefs.

Lead image from Getty Images
Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily Gospel-based relationship tips. 

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