Do You Need Interfaith Therapy?


Ah, the Internet. A place where you can buy anything in the world online. A place where you can meet your spouse across the country. A place where you can get angry mail from all corners of the globe.

Back in 2008 when I announced my nuptials to my Irish Catholic wife, I got a copy of “Why Marry Jewish?” anonymously sent to my house. Another email compared me to Hitler for destroying the religion. God, I love this job.

The same way there are specialists for dating and marriage, there are now specialists helping interfaith couples navigate this potentially rocky terrain.

So, given how much people like to meddle in each others’ business, I figured I’d share this from the New York Times – a new development in counseling called “interfaith therapy.” It kind of makes sense; the same way there are specialists for dating and marriage, there are now specialists helping interfaith couples navigate this potentially rocky terrain.

Given that most couples avoid having detailed and calm discussions about the minutiae of religion, this presents a healthy opportunity for the 40% of interfaith couples out there to assess how to integrate religion and culture into their new household. My wife and I have managed well, but I know many couples who broke up all because they couldn’t agree to terms after they were married.

Do you know any interfaith couples that have succeeded in creating new traditions? Do you know any interfaith couples that fell apart over this. Comment below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Join our conversation (18 Comments).
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  1. 1

    I know a couple whom both were atheists when they met, then she became a fairly devout Christian.  He still married her, but it’s certainly caused soms strain on their relationship at times.  If the couple love each other and want to make it work, they will make it work.

    1. 1.1

      I dated an atheist for a while. (I’m Christian, he is not.). At the start he asked me if his lack of religion was a problem, and I said no. I told him as long as we both feel comfortable being ourselves, it shouldn’t be an issue. And it wasn’t. It was a very nice relationship, which unfortunately only lasted a couple of months (probably due to the age difference). I am now looking to date someone closer to my own age. I find most men my age are already married. I’m currently seeing someone who is sort of informally separated (not legally separated) from his wife. I used to think I could *never* date a married man, but I’m beginning to see it is just about my only realistic option at my age, so my dating parameters have changed. You have to be flexible and willing to be accepting of the other person’s differences in situation and worldview, or it won’t work anyway.  Any type of relationship can work, as long as there is mutual respect, and ground rules are established up front. I can see how it might be difficult for a relationship to survive if it depends on both individuals sharing the same vision of the world and belief system, and then one changes his or her mind. But if you are dating someone very different from the start, it is less problematic I think, because ground rules can be discussed early on before problems arise.

      1. 1.1.1

        ‘Dating’ a married man is a bad idea for multiple reasons. Some are he is not going to divorce and his wife is clueless,  he is in the I’m scare and hold my hand faze, he just needs someone right now, someone who will settle for less in a relationship.  At any rate,..he is not divorced and not really emotional available.  Consider as well, if he is not divorced he is cheating on his wife and will cheat on you,…if you last that long!  There are wonderful men of all ages, that are emotional available and looking for you.  Sharpen your man skills and don’t waste your time on a guy who really can’t invest in you other then Phyically.  You really do deserve more,…!

      2. 1.1.2

        Hi Vicki,

        Honestly, I could not date someone who is religious.  For their sake as much as my own.  Religion is one of those all-or-nothing concepts.  I understand why people are religious, so empathy isn’t my problem.  I just couldn’t devote ANY time to a cause which I don’t believe in.

        Relationships are tough at the best of times.  Understanding, mutual respect and an ability as well as desire to want to effectively communicate are the foundations of a good relationship.  Religion would significantly inhibit my ability to follow these core requirements for a relationshipmto work.

        My wife and I are both atheists.  Our relationship and the dialogue within our marriage is strained.  We’re both good people, people with a lot in common yet ironically incompatible as time goes on.  If we disagree to the degree that we do, then the addition ofa religious belief of one party would have made it untenable a long time ago.

        1. Vicki

          I understand what you’re saying. However, I do disagree that religious conversion is the core problem here. I think the problem is the extent to which men are able to accept women as equals. If a man is fairly open minded and loves the woman not only for who she is but also for whatever she might become, he will give her enough room in the relationship to grow and change. Even when that growth might encompass critical experiences in her life such as a spiritual awakening or religious conversion – or even things like a major health crisis, or just the normal ravages of time and age on her looks and outlook on life. We live in a very sexist society. Men generally see women as accessories to their own lives. Men go around thinking they deserve a woman who will always be a compliant Barbie-doll, Stepford wife, who will simply go through life reflecting the parts of the man that are important to him. Most men do not see women holistically, as human beings who grow and change and have meaningful, life-changing experiences of their own. I think that is the fundamental problem in most cases.

          I happen to know a couple who are active members of a church. She actually decided to go to seminary and become a pastor. He is completely non-religious, but he supports her decision 100%, and even serves as kind of a mentor or chaperone to the youth ministry at her church. His commitment to her and to their relationship goes way beyond just “I will stay with you as long as you and I agree on everything and you never change.” He devotes significant time to a cause he doesn’t believe in because he believes in her.

          See the difference?

  2. 2

    If I only dated Buddhists, let alone Buddhists who ascribe to the same school as I do, my dating picks would be slim. I married a Buddhist and our shared faith didn’t keep us together.

    Thanks to your advice, Evan, the things I’m looking for in a partner have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with how a man treats me and his overall character.

    My last boyfriend was an evangelical Christian who freaked out when he discovered that, as a Buddhist, I don’t believe in God.  He felt torn because he thought I was going to hell. The one before him was an atheist who thought people who believed in any type of religious ideology were stupid. He ranted about this frequently and ended up breaking up with me because I “really believe that stuff.”

    So now when I message or receive a message from a man online who clearly states he believes a certain way, I tell him I’m a practicing Buddhist and I don’t believe in God. After that, we either keep talking or that’s the end of our communication.

  3. 3


    My ex husband and I were both Buddhists, as I said. But since both of our families (my parents, siblings, etc. and his older children and ex wife) were heavily Christian, when our three kids were very young, we did all the usual Christian holiday stuff–including Christmas trees and presents and Easter baskets and egg hunts.

    As American Buddhists, we didn’t have Buddhist traditions for American holidays and the Buddhist traditions that we participated in at large gatherings were more cultural (Japanese) than religious because of where our school of Buddhism originated. So they weren’t part of the traditions in our household.

  4. 4

    It’s funny, I thought it was important to marry someone of my same faith UNTIL I did!

    He wasn’t practising, and while I was, I wasn’t super devout, but I thought it would be helpful to marry someone with a similar background, upbringing etc. Whilst it helped in a few ways, mostly it was of no benefit whatsoever.

    Next time I will be more focused on our compatibility globally and give much less thought to religion and similar cultural traditions etc. I feel like I would’ve been much better off with someone who didn’t necessarily share & understand my faith, but shared common goals, had respect for me as a person, could communicate well, regardless of any differences in religion.

    I think it’s quite important if you’re very devout, or have practices that people from other faith’s don’t understand, but otherwise, it’s much more important how you get along, communicate and view each other in other ways. The rest can be worked out.

  5. 5

    Hi Marika.

    I agree with you that “the rest can be worked out.”

    In addition, as someone who is “very devout, [and] have practices that people from other faith’s don’t understand,” from my experiences, the fact that very few people in the U.S., relatively speaking, practice like I do–including other Buddhists–means absolutely nothing when it comes to whether or not we’d make a good and thriving couple.

    If two people respect each other, share the same goals and values, and are compatible, religious beliefs have no bearing on their relationship. It’s like Evan has often said, it’s only a deal breaker if you make it one.

    I’ve not only had people who weren’t Buddhist make my practice a deal breaker, I’ve had Buddhists who are of a different school (denomination) than me do the same. Obviously, as Evan has also said, they weren’t the right men for me.

    What is important to me, however, is that my companion be curious about my beliefs and willing to discuss them with me. I will be the same toward him–not only about his religious beliefs or lack thereof, but about anything that’s important to him and that he wants to discuss with me.

    My faith is central to my life. It is my foundation. It is me. So I can’t e in a relationship with someone who was unwilling to acknowledge or discuss this fundamental part of who I am. I tried it with the atheist and the fundamental Christian I dated. I had no problem hearing about their beliefs–a lot–but they had real problems reciprocating my open-mindedness. To stay with them, I would have had to deny my identity. I will never do that.

    1. 5.1

      P.S. Interesting that this topic came up today. I just received a dating site message from a man whose profile says he’s LDS (Mormon). I have my own preconceptions about Mormons but I’ve only personally met the ones who come to my door trying to sell burglar alarm systems.

      I wondered if this man had noticed the box I checked off that said “Buddhist,” let alone if he realized that Buddhists have no belief in a supreme being, God or otherwise. So, I asked him both questions.

      This is exactly what I tried to say previously: His reply? Character is what matters most to him. Now we can talk because I feel the same way. Who knows what will happen? But this illustrates my point perfectly. Religious beliefs are not a deal breaker–even two very different ones–unless you make them one.

      On a foundation of self-confidence and absolute respect for self and all others, you can appreciate another person as they are and not take their personal beliefs as a threat to yours. This is what I think my atheist and fundamental Christian boyfriends had in common–they felt threatened by my beliefs, as if my beliefs would infect them somehow, or diminish what they believed. I had no similar fear about them.

      I didn’t always see these issues the way I do now. In the past, I was way more close-minded than I am now and I’m still working on becoming more accepting of others. It’s a process, probably a life-long one.

  6. 6

    Hi Mattie and Marika,

    What both of you say about faith not being as important as character or how they treat you is true


    The problem is that with the exception of Evan and “possibly” a few others… 99% of the dating and relationship written material, academic as well as the self-proclaimed experts, and even every thing that pops-up in a google search will all say that having the same religious beliefs is a requirement/sign of good compatibility or a successful relationship.

    Take for example Steve Harvey whose only qualification is that he is a comedian, yet when he made a relationship book it sold extremely well; women took his advice as gospel truth. He made a statement that women should not date a guy who does not believe in god because that man has no moral compass.

    I remember hearing that and thinking, “so are you saying men who go to church never lie, cheat, or abuse their wives?


    1. 6.1

      I am actually surprised that Evan did not mention Steve Harvey’s 90 day rule in his sex podcast.

      1. 6.1.1

        LOL!  I think Evan has said he’s against artificial timelines.  For sexclusivity, he can be your boyfriend at four weeks or still a casual date once a week guy at 90 days.

    2. 6.2


      I think with religion, it’s not just about what goes between the two partners, but it’s also an area where family and friends get involved.  A mom may see her daughter’s fiancé as a nice _____(insert religion here) but totally miss that he is controlling or verbally abusive.  OTOH she may be engaged to a really wonderful man who is not from the same religion but the Mom wants her to dump him because he doesn’t share the same faith.

      So I think religion, to outsiders, is a superficial indicator of compatablilty.  For a couple, shared faith means one less thing to negotiate over, but it doesn’t necessarily mean automatic deep compatibility.

    3. 6.3

      Only in America could someone claim such absurdities in a book and that book not only survive, but thrive.  Believing in God is the only way for people to have a moral compass?  What rot!  There’s good religious people and there’s bad religious people.  There’s good non-believers and there’s bad non-believers.

      We derive our morality from within ourselves; if we want to be good people, if we’re even capable of being good people, it will be because of who we are and our own values – not becauss we’ve read some dogma written in an unsubstantiated book.  I’d be weary of anyone who only behaves ethically because they were told on threatened to do so.

  7. 7

    I disagree (for the most part) although of course it works for some (like Evan).  However, as we all know, there are exceptions to every rule.
    It depends largely how devout you are and to what religion you belong.  Religion has a way of largely affecting how one views the world, one’s idea of God/the afterlife/heaven or hell, etc., what your children are thought, the holidays you celibrate, the time you spend on prayer/worship if that is relevant to your religion, the underlying pinnings of one’s political views (such as concepts of abortion, racism, etc., and even why someone has the moral compass he/she has and many, many more factors. I once went out with a muslim guy who expressed to me that if we were to ever get married, he would want me to ‘cover up’. And, his idea of me covering up where I could never dress the way I’d like to was not something I could live with (I am Christian by faith). Also, the Christian faith states that one should not marry out of his/her faith…I just outlined two fairly basic examples on how, IF DEVOUT, there will be huge clashes between two people. Marriage can already be challenging, so why add this aspect?  To conclude, for some it works but for the vast majority, it is not a good strategy to choose someone not of your religious beliefs (again, if your religion is important to you).

    1. 7.1

      Hi Adrian and Stacy.

      I am a very devout Buddhist and my faith is inclusive, not exclusive. The type of Buddhism I practice embraces all living beings. It’s core principal is that there is only one entity that exists. So we are all one with each other and everything. No exceptions.

      It is against my faith to place value on whether or not a man identifies himself as Buddhist. My basic criteria for a potential life partner is simple: He must treat himself, me, and all others with respect–doing so reflects the principal of oneness. Meaning, you can’t disrespect another without simultaneously disrespecting your self.

      Anyone can live this principal, whether or not they are religious. To me and in the Buddhist scripture I follow (the Lotus Sutra), behaving this way is the behavior of a Buddha, which literally means “an awakened living being”.

      As I stated previously, if I only dated men who call themselves Buddhist, I would never date. Instead, my profile reflects my non-materialistic values and the fact that I want a life mate who embodies the concepts I listed above.

      I have gone on more dates this year than I have in my entire life. The men I date know I am a devout Buddhist and have no problem with that. Perhaps these man are rare among men. But I realize that my views as a devoutly religious person are also rare. I even know Buddhist who are less open than I am.

      Because my views about what is important in a relationship are atypical, I don’t expect that most men will share them. What is true is that I only date men who do and, based on following Evan’s advice, most of my dating experiences this year have been lots of fun.

      Things didn’t work out with the LDS man I talked to recently. For one thing, he wasn’t LDS he was Lutheran but so computer illiterate he mis-typed his religion. More importantly, he was socially awkward. He told me religion wasn’t a factor for him, a woman’s character was. He wanted to date me but I couldn’t deal with his poor social skills.

      I just went out with a man who was so interested in my faith that he performed my evening prayer with me and has practiced at home on his own as result of our talks in messages, on the phone, and in person. He enjoyed doing the practice. Our first date included kissing and just enjoying each other’s company. He’s taught me how to bend a long thick screw with my bear hands, which was a kick. So we didn’t just talk religion or make out. We had a holistic, sexy interaction (without having sex or getting naked).

      I don’t know what will happen between us. He said he wants to take me out again this coming weekend. We’ll see whether he follows through or not.

      In any case, I’m not speaking as a social scientist, psychologist, motivational speaker, or any other type of relationship authority. I’m speaking from my own life experience:

      For me, a man’s professed religion or lack thereof is a non-issue when it comes to his potential to have a quality relationship with me. Therefore, I only choose men who feel the same as I do. I’ve found this to be a very effective dating strategy.

  8. 8


    Stacy, you said “It depends largely how devout you are and to what religion you belong.” I beg to differ. I don’t think that the potential to have a relationship with a person of another faith has anything to do with the religion you practice. I think it has to do with your values as an individual. Your religion may have strong moral codes that dictate how you should behave. But it’s up to you how you incorporate those into the way you live, or if you follow them. You can be devout but decide to not follow certain religious dictates.

    For instance, you can be a devout Muslim or a fundamental Christian but personally choose to respect the beliefs of all people and be flexible about your worldview. I would definitely date a devoutly religious man like that. Because a man like that would respect my religious practices as I’d respect his.

    If a man was rigid about religion–unable to discuss it, unable to learn about mine as I’d learn about his and him in general, I wouldn’t date him. So the problems you describe wouldn’t arise in my relationships. I had to learn how to screen out men like that.

    When I’m first meeting someone, I never talk about my faith. If they’ve looked at the factual details in profile, they can see I’ve checked off “Buddhist.” If we discuss it during our initial dates, it’s always because they’ve asked me about it. In the same way, I don’t tell men I’m vegetarian unless they ask me about the kind of meat I like or something along those lines. Many have asked me to suggest a vegetarian restaurant for our date. I always defer to their choice by saying I can always find something to eat on any menu. This is true. It’s just like limiting myself to Buddhist men; if I only ate at vegetarian restaurants I’d go hungry on lots of dates

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