Risk of Dissolution and Marital Instability
Studies have shown that interfaith marriages are at greater risk of dissolution than same faith marriages. A qualitative research examined the tensions experienced within interchurch marriages, where the partners came from similar but not identical Christian traditions. The partners reported spiritual challenges and threats to marriage where the differences were minimal compared to Jewish-Gentile couples. Stresses only increase where spiritual commonalties are not as natural. Religious faiths, along with differences in ethnic heritage, have been found to be a factor in marital stability and satisfaction. Social scientists are aware of the significantly higher risks of marital dissolution and dissatisfaction among partners like the Jewish-Gentile couples.
However tensions also rise from the inability to find spiritual intimacy as well. Marital stability and spiritual intimacy have been studied. One study found that marital satisfaction and marital spirituality both diminish dramatically when there is not mutuality of belief. In the fieldwork for this study, I found that couples often were aware of the longing for intimacy in their relationships while not grasping that a significant cause was the inability to share spiritually. Couples are at even greater risk of relational failure when they do not know the source of the tensions.
Within Judaism, the answer to the problem of spiritual intimacy is conversion of the non-Jewish spouse. However, that solution is to the mutual exclusion of any other personal faith. The Christian response is the unique salvation in Jesus. However, since the holocaust, Christians are more aware that Jews regard conversion to Christ as mutually exclusive with Jewish identity. A way to a new community must be demonstrated for both spouses, where the answer is not either/or, but both/and. Spiritual intimacy is only possible when both partners are able to share a common faith in God, without having to disregard their different cultural identities. I suggest that such a resolution of the tensions is possible through a mutual faith in Christ while respecting the cross-cultural differences in the marriage partners.
Identity of Children
Another serious threat to intermarried couples is tension over how to raise the children. In qualitative research I found this to be not just a common concern, but most often the greatest. Jewish partners want to maintain the Jewish heritage of the children. This is traditionally understood as mutually exclusive with any faith but Judaism.
A doctoral study at USC examined how intermarried parents choose the method for religious training of their children. The most common plan was the delegation of the training to one spouse exclusively. That process resolved the tension of a two-religion family, but it did not address the issue of bi-cultural identity and neglected the faith of the other partner’s family.
Spiritual intimacy is important for family identity and marital harmony. A strategic approach is needed for evangelistic ministry to intermarried partners and among dual-identity children. It should be able to embrace the cultural heritage of both parents, while advocating a mutually satisfying spiritual solution for both parents and their children. A both/and answer is needed.