Religious Differences

Q: My girlfriend of several months is Catholic. Her parents are devout, and they insist she only marry another Catholic. I'm neither Catholic nor religious. I see two options if we decide down the road (years not months) to get married: either I convert to Catholicism merely to please them (not sure if she'd go along with this), or we're honest and she stands up to her parents. For now, let's assume that she and I are fine with each other's religious beliefs. If we married and had children, will their religious upbringing be that important? Is this the real issue I need to consider? I know I need to have a detailed religion discussion with her, but it seems like a dangerous place to go, since things are so pleasant between us now. Can't I procrastinate on this until I decide to marry her? -- Rob

Dr. Susan: It's good that you're thinking seriously about this ahead of time. The "pretend conversion" option is risky, both wimpy and somewhat unethical. Getting married is not about the wedding only, but all the years and rituals to follow. Would you be able to participate comfortably? Crucially, devout Catholics will insist that their grandchildren be raised as Catholics. You said her parents were devout and that you're not, but what about her? You didn't say where her beliefs fall on the continuum. Many Catholics have specific rules about sex, birth control, the body, and so on.

Standing up to her parents is the more reasonable (mature, honest) choice, in my opinion. But is she also willing to stand up to her priest, her God, and whatever else her religion might mean to her that she's not paying much attention to now but that may become important if and when she has kids? You need to talk with her about every possible way that your religious difference might cause conflict in the future. This can be done in a fun, hypothetical way without a great deal of teeth gnashing. Consider it a warning light that you're hesitant to rock the boat by bringing up deeper issues. How the two of you talk about sensitive topics will give you valuable clues as to whether you should keep heading toward marriage.

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