Have faith in love – How to date people with different religious beliefs
By: Ryley Howard
An ideal-partner checklist of someone dating in the 21st century might include requirements such as: has a good career, similar education, makes me laugh, is the right height, and gets along with my parents. However, not everyone considers the importance of their partner’s religious beliefs. A study from 2014 showed that approximately 60% of Americans said that their spouse shares the same religion as them – down from 80% decades ago.1 Today there is evidence to suggest that fewer people are practicing religion in general. In 2014, 23% of Americans indicated not being affiliated with a religion whereas in 2018 the number rose to 26%.2 This could contribute to the decrease in the number of couples of the same religion, but this brings up a more important question: Does having different religious beliefs make a difference in the quality of relationship? The role religion plays in a relationship varies from couple to couple. For some it might influence their lifestyle or child-rearing practices and for others it might just influence what day they attend services. Regardless of where you land on that spectrum, it is possible to date someone with different beliefs if you follow a few tips.
Tip 1: Decide if having the same religion is a relationship ‘must have’
When thinking about your ideal partner, do they have the same religion as you? Is that a non-negotiable for you or is it something that isn’t very important? These are important questions you should take into consideration when deciding whether to date someone. In order to get to know yourself and your desires better, make a list of pros and cons of dating someone with the same religion. What aspects of religion or religious beliefs are especially important to you? Will it be beneficial for your children to learn the same thing from both parents? Will being with someone of the same religion set you in your ways and not allow you to be open to new ways of thinking? If you decide it is something that you do ultimately want in your partner, then seek out dating pools where you have a good chance of finding like-minded people. For people in college, this might include attending the campus faith organization meetings. For others, look to attend church groups or bible studies and be open to meeting people there. There are also dating apps for singles of specific religious affiliations. Any of these avenues can help you meet people if you decide that you want to date within your same religion.
Tip 2: Be open and communicate about different beliefs
Having differences does not mean you are incompatible; it just means you need to work to understand the differences and similarities. Being open and trying to understand each other will help a lot in deciding if you are more similar than you are different, because odds are you are similar in at least some areas. Many of the world religions are very similar and revolve around some core ideas such as loving others, treating people kindly, and being generous among many others. However, one difference lies in that Christians and conservative Protestants are less likely to be supportive of interfaith relationships than Evangelicals.3 If your partner is of a different faith background, put in effort to learn more about that religion. Not only will this help you understand what your partner believes, it will show your partner that you care about them and want to know them more. However, it is important to note that not everything that the religion teaches is what your partner believes. They might agree or disagree with certain aspects of their religion, and this is where becomes important. Ask your partner what they believe and inform them of what you believe. A longitudinal study of interfaith relationships showed that higher levels of this kind of open communication led to less relationship distress and that having interfaith relationships did not predict higher levels of breakup.4 Perhaps set up a date for this discussion so that you can both dedicate time and effort to a meaningful conversation.
Tip 3: Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about sex.
People of different religions have different beliefs about sex and its place before and during marriage. If sex is in important part of a dating relationship for you, then you make sure you communicate that to your potential or current partner so that they can tell you their preferences and stance on the topic. It is important to know that not all people who practice religions are against extramarital sex. Studies show that people who attend church or religious services regularly are less likely to engage in premarital sex. In contrast, people who are practicing but do not attend organized services tend to have more casual sex.5 For example, practicing Christians who attend religious services might be less open to the idea of having sex in a dating relationship and their religious beliefs might permeate other aspects of the relationship as well such as cohabitation before marriage. There should never be a pressure on you or your partner to do something that is outside of your or their religious beliefs; if sex is something that one of you is not sure about doing, then it might be a good idea to give it more thought before rushing into it. Having a partner who does not practice the same religion as you might make it more difficult for you to stick to what you believe in and abstain from sex – especially if they see nothing wrong with it and try to convince you of why you should. Ultimately, the partner you are with should want you to do what you feel is best for yourself, especially if that means sticking to your religious beliefs and practicing your faith.
Tip 4: Do not change just to appease your partner
After discussing your religion and beliefs with your partner, take note of how receptive and respectful they are of what you have to say. If they say something that puts your beliefs down, then it is time to consider if this is the right relationship for you. Religion often is connected to your family, culture, and identity6, so it’s important they respect that part of you. There can be benefits of having a partner of a different faith and your differences should be celebrated because ultimately who wants to marry a clone of themselves?
To date, or not to date, the decision is up to you. It is important to remember that just because you and a partner are a different religion does not mean you are more likely to break up. As long as you take the extra steps necessary to know and understand your partner, it is possible to thrive in an interfaith relationship. First, make sure it’s what you want. Next, be open and communicate about what differences you might have. Then, bring up important relationship topics (like sex). Finally, do not change anything about yourself or your partner to make a relationship work. Be intentional about considering these steps, but ultimately, choose a relationship that you know is right for you, and have faith in love.
- Murphy, Carlyle. Pew Research Center. “Interfaith marriage is common in U.S., particularly among the recently wed” 2015. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/02/Interfaith-marriage/
- Pew Research Center. “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace” 2019. https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/
- Perry, S. L. (2013). Religion and interracial romance: The effects of religious affiliation, public and devotional practices, and biblical literalism. Social Science Quarterly, 94(5), 1308–1327. https://doiorg.access.library.miami.edu/10.1111/ssqu.12017
- Reiter, M. J., & Gee, C. B. (2008). Open communication and partner support in intercultural and interfaith romantic relationships: A relational maintenance approach. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 25(4), 539–559. https://doi-org.access.library.miami.edu/10.1177/0265407508090872
- Pedersen, W. (2014). Forbidden fruit? A longitudinal study of Christianity, sex, and marriage. Journal of Sex Research, 51(5), 542–550. https://doiorg.access.library.miami.edu/10.1080/00224499.2012.753983
- Brimeyer, T. M., & Smith, W. L. (2012). Religion, race, social class, and gender differences in dating and hooking up among college students. Sociological Spectrum, 32(5), 462–473. https://doi-org.access.library.miami.edu/10.1080/02732173.2012.694799