Religion and Marriage, Mixed. Can It Work?

I admit, this distressed me.

Adolescents who attend religious services with one or both of their parents are more likely to feel greater well-being, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. Ours does not.

Now,our son, who is 13, might have a better excuse than most.  His father is Jewish, his mother, Christian, and though he was bar-mitzvahed, he also celebrates Christmas (Christmas Eve in church) and Easter.  My rules.  (He was also baptized, but my husband doesn't really know what that means.  Just blame it on my Catholic cousins who taught me that those babies who aren't, and die, go to Purgatory, and even though it's undoubtedly untrue, I wasn't taking any chances).

The study looked at how spiritual beliefs or behaviors have appeared to strengthen generally happy marriages and how a person’s religious and/or spiritual functioning may influence that of his or her family members.

Sadly, once kids have their bar mitzvahs, many if not all never go back to temple (my husband, included).  So I don't know how much my son will get out of his commitment to the Jewish religion, in the end.

(He started out saying he didn't believe in God, and then he had the ceremony, and suddenly he wasn't so sure.) 

“These studies exemplify an emerging subfield called relational spirituality, which focuses on the ways that diverse couples and families can rely on specific spiritual beliefs and behaviors, for better or worse, to motivate them to create, maintain and transform their intimate relationships,” according to Annette Mahoney, PhD, of Bowling Green State University, and Annamarie Cano, PhD, of Wayne State University, who edited sections of the study.

Religion has never been a big factor -- at least a positive factor -- in our marriage, as we both come from such different backgrounds.  I'm a baptized and confirmed Presbyterian who's also an elder and Sunday school teacher.  Did I want my son to grow up in my church?  Of course.

But when he was little and starting Sunday school, we gave him the choice and he went for the temple (they had challah).  

So has it had a big effect on our marriage?  Of course.  But something funny happened to me when I was forced -- at first, very grudgingly -- to help Phillip get ready for his bar mitzvah.  Parents have to give a talk about their child at the service, and when I sat down to write mine, I realized the anger was gone.  Part of it was that the temple welcomed me, and I even developed a friendship with its wonderful rabbi.  It was a beautiful ceremony and our son came out the other side, if not yet a man, as the bar mitzvah is supposed to make him, a teenager with a better sense of the world, and who he is, in it.

And who was most changed by it all?  Ironically, me.   But he's definitely getting married in a church!



  1. Deb -- A touching and heartfelt column. I know that whatever path Phillip chooses, he has been given the right values and foundation by both his parents. It all comes down to "love one another" and The Golden Rule, anyway. Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year Blessings from North Carolina, Nancyann


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