When Religion Breaks Up a Marriage

For most of us, religion forms a pretty big part of our lives, right from when we are born up to when we become adults and begin thinking of who to partner with for the rest of life's journey. It becomes an even bigger deal then because not only do people have to share the same morals and values, most of which stem from their early religious/non-religious upbringing, you also have to consider where what role religion will play in your wedding, the marriage proper and in raising your children.

When a couple have different religions, there is potential for conflict, especially when one of their faiths is not conventional, such as Tom Cruise’s Scientology. After jumping with exuberant and love-pumped joy on Oprah's couch and the whirlwind romance that followed, Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes in an Italian Castle with all pizzaz and paparazzi. To those of us reading about it in the papers, it was a fairy tale and the princess would spend happily ever after with her prince charming.

Not so. Katie Holmes walked out of their Hollywood mansion last week, 5 years into the marriage. According to sources, the split could have been caused by differing opinions on religion. According to the Daily Beast,
Holmes’s papers cite “irreconcilable differences,” and TMZ’s sources say the two couldn’t see eye to eye on Suri’s involvement in the church. Holmes was raised Catholic and converted to Scientology before marrying Cruise in 2006, but she’s reportedly worried about their daughter’s involvement in the religion. Suri, who’s 6, is now old enough to participate in what a Village Voice report describes as a Scientology practice called “sec checking,” which is a security interrogation by an ethics officer of the church. The report also implies that Holmes didn’t like what she saw of the religion over the past six years and has chosen the opportune moment to pull out. - Source

If it is true that it is religious differences that caused the marriage break-up, I really don't find it surprising that it was Katie Holmes who began to chafe. The truth is that when marital gender roles are in play, as they often are, it is the women who are more impacted in most tussles including the place of religion in the home. Most times, it is the woman that has to convert to the husband's religion, and then make sure to bring up the children in that religion, no matter how she feels about it.

Some homes and some couples are able to come to a compromise, and I have seen when the couple in the marriage decide to allow each person to continue to practice their own religion as a way of maintaining peace  in the home. This may even extend to how they raise the children. This Muslim/Christian couple I know split the children by gender, girls go with their mum to the mosque, and boys go to church with their dad :)

In another family, where both were Christians but from different denominations split the children based on order of being born. First child goes with the father, and the next with the mother, and so on. This may sound strange or funny, but it worked for them.

There is of course the thinking to totally avoid religious difference by only marrying from one's denomination and even from the same church. This may work, but again, individual opinion on certain theological topics may differ and if one doesn't know how to talk things through in a level-headed manner, small issues may blow up into daily warfare.

Another area of pressure may come from outside, from parents, friends, family and even from the people in the person's religion. While a Christian man may be happy to bear with his Muslim wife who is fasting for Ramadan, the people from his church who make snide comments may rub him off the wrong way and create cracks. This goes the other way too. A Christian wife's friends may deride the white garments or method of prayer of her husband's celestial or Aladura church.

This is where even I am guilty. As much as I try to respect most religions, I still find that some aspects of other religions I am not too familiar with, either get me laughing, or thumbing my nose. I catch myself sometimes and zip my mouth before I say something stupid. If I have already spoken, then I have to apologize. I think even as bystanders we can help couples retain their equilibruim in the face of religious differences by each being more tolerant and understanding.

But what is even more important is for the couple to respect each other, respect their differences, and actually respect the other person's religion. They also need to sit down and discuss how their religious differences will affect them, right from when they are still dating and courting, and as and when ever it becomes an issue again. They should never take it for granted.