Ministry to Mixed Marriages
by Fr. Peter deSousa
We find several people today marrying someone from a different culture,
upbringing and religion from their own. Many of such marriages run into
difficulties within a year or two.
When people fall in love, they often endow their partner with those
qualities that they desire in a spouse, even if the other does not really
have them. It is only after they actually live together for some months and
face various problems and crises that they see the other as he/she really
is. If they enter into a joint family after marriage, the adjustments are
likely to be much more than if they were living on their own.
A girl may marry a much older man because he is quiet and gentle or
protective and caring like her father. A boy may marry a girl who is older
than him, who is capable and assertive like his mother and assumes
responsibilities that leave him free to enjoy his life. As the years go by
the woman wants a husband and not a father. She now resents his
paternalistic advice, protection and controls. So too the man wants a wife
and not a mother. He wants to be treated as the head of the home and not be
looked after or treated like an irresponsible adolescent. The system has
changed, but the partners cannot change their behavior.
A quiet man may be attracted to an outgoing woman who can express herself
freely. He is happy to have her do the talking. But after a while she may
find his quietness disconcerting. Her talking may get on his nerves.
Now when people come from a similar religious, cultural and economic
background, there are less adjustments required. If both of them are
flexible people who are easily pleased and are not set in their ways, they
will be able to appreciate the differences in their spouse. But if they are
rigid and unyielding and want things done their own way, they will find it
hard to appreciate the otherness of their spouse and to adjust to marriage.
Generally children from large families have to make more adjustments than
only children. Those who went to a boarding school or were involved in many
extracurricular activities, developed better adjustive resources than those
who were at home and were loners. Those who had a difficult life learn to
adjust easier than those who are pampered and get what they want. People
marrying young before they are set in their ways adjust easier than those
who marry late and get used to having things done their way.
Those who are flexible and have good adjustive resources have a better
chance of a happy marriage than those who are rigid and unyielding,
especially when there are marked differences in the way they were brought up
or in social, cultural and religious differences.
Catholics who derive strength from prayer, the sacraments, the Word of God
and belonging to a small Christian community will more readily find support
from these in the adjustments they have to make in a marriage. But if the
two spouses do not have common bonds like these, they are more open to
escapes that drive them further apart.
Engaged couples today , in some pre-nuptial programs are asked to share
their opinions, likes and dislikes, needs and priorities, frankly with each
other on a variety of topics. Regarding money, they may share about
spending, saving, budgeting, priorities, life-styles, single or joint
accounts if both are working, whether they are required to support their
families, marriage expenses and so on.
Regarding in-laws, how much will they be dependent on them? Will they live
separately or have privacy?
How will they handle unsolicited advice? What adjustments are required in
such marriages and are they ready?
How many children do they want to have? How will they space them? What do
they feel about using natural family planning or contraceptives? Do they
accept abortions? How will they bring up their children when there are
differences in religion? If the mother is not a Catholic, how much effort
and conviction does the Father have to bring up the children in the faith?
If the parents have different faiths, how will they explain their
differences to the children ? Will they pray together to God as a couple
and as a family? What cultural and social customs, from both sides, are
acceptable to both parents? Have some of these got religious overtones that
one may find objectionable?
We need support groups in the Community or parish for couples from different
backgrounds to come together, so that they can receive help in adjusting and
living together in peace and harmony.
There are some couples from mixed backgrounds who are married more than 7
years and have made good adjustments. They would be helpful in offering
practical help to newly-weds.
All couples have to adjust, to die to selfishness and wanting their own way,
to egocentricity and coping with difficulties. But the strong bond of a
shared faith in Jesus, the strength that comes from the Word of God and the
Holy Spirit in prayer, the encouragement to live in love they receive from a
church support group, are great helps to young couples.
If the non-Christian partner studies the faith and is familiar with the
values of Catholic believers, it is also a great help in adjusting. One
cannot be baptized however unless one believes in Jesus. The person with
another faith may be strong in his/her own belief and be a person of prayer
and conviction. That is to be respected by the Catholic partner.
The children however will have to grow up in a home where their parents have
differing belief systems and religious practices. It is not a good idea for
them to wait to the age of 21 to decide for themselves, because they will be
confused. Jesus is caught rather than taught by children from a parent who
is strong in his/her faith in Jesus. This should be resolved before entering
A Catholic who enters into marriage with a Muslim, Hindu, Parsi, Jain, Sikh
or Buddhist should be well acquainted with the religious tenets and customs
of their intended spouse. If they are going to enter into a joint family of
that faith, what will be expected of them? Visit such families and meet
Catholics who have done this and learn from their experiences and
adjustments. There are some girls who have had terrible experiences and
because of the children are not free to leave.
The physical attraction one has towards another is passing. Romance is
ephemeral. Shared values are more lasting. Marriage is not a superficial
choice. It is for life and it affects the children born of such unions. So
all this needs to be carefully considered.
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For Better or for Worse copyright © Fr. Peter deSousa. All rights reserved.