Thursday, December 27, 2007

Potential for marriage: how different is too different?

This post was inspired by Dana, who sent me an email that got me thinking about the following questions: to what extent should husband and wife be similar? Which things you absolutely must agree on in order to have a successful married life? Can different points of view actually be an advantage sometimes, and when? And how different is too different?

Of course, as someone who isn't married yet, I understand my view may be somewhat limited – and as always, I appreciate and encourage input from married ladies. Having said this, I will humbly share my thoughts.

I believe that when you are looking for a spouse, it's important to focus on a few basic qualities that will be truly essential for your future marriage. Many people start a relationship based on superficial interests, hobbies that make a good subject for conversation but aren't something you can base your married life upon. Maybe you both like classical art, but that's hardly something to help you understand whether the person you are considering as a future spouse will "rough it" with you through bad times as well as good times.

I think it's essential to choose someone who shares your faith, and preferably more or less the same level of religious observance as well. I know many might disagree with me, giving examples of how this can be worked out, but I'm convinced that as a rule, crucial religious differences will more often than not eventually challenge your relationship, and the likelihood of this happening will increase with your level of adherence to your faith. That's why – apart from the obvious and clear prohibition of intermarriage, of course – I would never consider marrying someone who isn't an Orthodox Jew. Personally, I'm willing to allow some flexibility on the part of religious observance, but when I try to imagine life with someone who wouldn't observe Shabbat, or keep kosher, I can foresee conflicts arising in about every moment of our marriage.

Then comes the matter of personal convictions. I think it's entirely possible to have a good, solid marriage if you have disagreements over some things – and indeed, it's difficult for me to imagine two adults not ever having a disagreement – but I understand there are some things that cannot be compromised. Only you can decide which differences you can live with, and which have a potential of ruining your future marriage. But I would still encourage you to be open-minded and not too picky. Sometimes different opinions can bring a special broadness and richness of mind to your marriage, if you don't allow them to end in an argument. Sometimes, though, it can become a major obstacle.

If you want a personal example, I cannot imagine having a peaceful discussion with a husband who supports abortions in the name of "free choice" (although the part about considering only observant Orthodox Jews pretty much rules this out) – but I'm more than willing to marry someone who isn't vegetarian; in fact, I'm most likely going to marry a carnivore, so I plan to learn cooking meat.

I feel we should be extra careful during the period of courtship, and while we make the decision, because once it is made and you are married, in my eyes there is no walking out (unless we are talking about very, very extreme circumstances). So be reasonable; evaluate all the pros and cons; and above all, be prayerful.


Terry said...

I know you read my post about being married to my husband, whose temperament is so different from mine. He's a vegetarian and I'm not, etc. You know the story. When we were immature and naive, it made things difficult from time to time. But as you noted, on matters of faith and family, we are in total agreement and that makes all the minor differences seeem insignificant. I agree with you also that the differences have caused both of us to broaden and grow in ways we never would have otherwise. I would advise young ladies to be open on some things as long as you are in sync on the major issues: faith, what your family life will look like, and your degree of religious observance as well. For an unmarried lady you expressed a lot of wisdom on this issue. I think you'll enjoy a solid, happy marriage.

Alexandra said...

What Terry said. Major issues that are importatnt to you both should be in sync. Otherwise, choosing someone who complements you, a bit of an opposite can be a good thing. You grow together over the years learning from each others strengths. Patience and kindness is always a good character trait in a need this over the years together.

Ahuva said...

Some differences naturally lead to conflict. I've seen people divorce because one person wanted children and the other one didn't. I think it's also a mistake to compromise on non-spiritual religious issues. I know a Lutheran who is deliriously happy with her Catholic husband-- but a woman who wants to keep the Jewish Family Purity laws marrying a man who doesn't is just asking for trouble. If your belief system affects your day to day activities (particularly in Orthodox Judaism where EVERYTHING from food to sex gets regulated by one religious law or another), then it's important to find someone who is at least willing to go along with those laws. If it's something theoretical like the exact status of the Host, then there might (depending on how strongly you feel about people who believe differently on that issue) be some room for compromise.

I also believe that it's important to make sure that you have compatible philosophies as far as women working, children's education, birth control/family planning, and saving for retirement. I look for how the man deals with conflict and whether or not he's interested in compromise.

Looks change, hobbies change, financial status changes. We need to look for those qualities and beliefs/philosophies that don't change all that much.

Anna S said...

Ahuva, precisely. As an Orthodox Jew, about every breath you take is determined by your faith. From "Modah Ani" in the morning until "Shema" before bedtime, your day is shaped by being a Jew. Building a marraige with someone who doesn't share this lifestyle is VERY difficult.

USAincognito said...

Excellent post. Too often people in relationships forget to consider the more important issues and ask if eachother are compatible on those issues. They seem to focus more so on the smaller similarities (hobbies) in their relationship - and those can only last so long. Eventually the larger issues of life (faith, personal belief systems, parenting styles, etc.) will come to the forefront.
Too often young people jump into marriage without realizing just what is involved in making a marriage work. Here, in my state, it is requred a couple attend pre-marriage counseling and only if they have successfully completed this can they be married. I think this is a great idea as it gives a couple the chance to be asked some tough questions (pastors are the ones who do the counseling) that maybe they have not truly thought about.
Indeed, we must weigh the pros and cons of each person we consider marrying. We must truly evaluate if this relationship is God-centered and will truly last.
Like you, I do not believe in divorce unless in extreme circumstances (one partner is cheating and refuses to stop, one partner is abusive towards the other). Marriage must not be taken lightly but must be entered into with both eyes wide open.

Buffy said...

I think the most important quality is that he is willing to let you exercise your beliefs and support you in them, even if he does not believe exactly the same as you. If he is not open to the things that are really important to you I would see that as a sign that he does not love you selflessly enough. Even if he does not understand, if it is important to you it should be important to him (and vice versa of course).

(Just to clarify I am not talking about something like politics where you might have opposite views but more where your religious or spiritual observance is important to you but not to him.)

Anna S said...


I often wonder why people spend YEARS in relationships, becoming attached and intimate, yet not bothering to find out these basic important things.

USAincognito said...


When I date someone, I am always wanting to ask the deep questions that matter. And oftentimes I find that men really do not want to discuss them nor do they really think they matter. And that frustrates me!! Men should care about important issues. They should have an opinion on issues that matter. They should want to discuss these things!
This is probably why I have not yet found a man who is marriage material yet.
Well, okay, I thought I had once - I was even engaged to him - but that obviously never happened. He cheated on me and got some other girl pregnant before our wedding. So glad, though, I found out before rather than later!!
I don't know if it is just how my generation was raised or what but it is really difficult to find a man who has standards, who has convictions, who understands what is going on in the world and who actually has an opinion and is willing to discuss the important issues of life.
You are lucky you have found a man who is compatible. :) And I do so pray your courtship will continue to be a blessing as you grow closer to eachother and to God in the process.

Ahuva said...

I'm not so sure I agree with Buffy when she said "If he is not open to the things that are really important to you I would see that as a sign that he does not love you selflessly enough."

If I didn't want some rabbi telling me when it is and isn't allowed for me to have marital relations with my husband or even when I'm allowed to hold his hand (and some people really take that particular set of laws to an extreme), not wanting to go along with it because it's important to him doesn't mean that I don't love him selflessly enough.

Some religious laws have a really big impact on both your lives and how do you determine who "should" compromise or give in-- even (or perhaps especially) in cases where the observance is important to one person but not another.

Is the stricter person always right? What if my husband believes that G-d wants him to sire as many children as possible, but I can't emotionally (or physically) handle half a dozen kids and want to use birth control? Should I give in because the belief is important to him? Am I selfish for not being able to handle what he wants?

The question of whether or not the spouse comes first or G-d comes first is a real issue... and I don't know that there is a right answer. But I'm fairly certain that you can really love someone selflessly and not be able to accommodate all their religious needs. Compromise isn't always possible and sometimes no one is to blame.

Sue said...

I agree with what everyone has said, particularly Anna, who is very wise for her age. I'd only add one thing -- possibly so obvious that it goes without saying.

Before Alex and I married, we agreed that divorce would be an option only within the most dire circumstances - long-term adultery or continual bouts of short-term adultery; drug or alcohol abuse where the user had no interest in getting or staying clean; physical abuse, sexual, or emotional abuse, of each other or of children, porn addiction, again with no interest in attending counseling to resolve this issue, and that we would seek marriage counseling before throwing in the towel for any other reason. The last few years have been trying for us for several reasons -- I think the solid commitment to our marriage is what has sustained us.


Kelly said...

Great post Anna. It's really all about faith and family that you must agree on. And it's really important to discuss these things during courtship. Why so many today focus on hobbies, interests, and similiarities in personality I have no idea.
My hubby and I discussed our personal religious faiths all during our courtship. He was Lutheran and I Methodist but we found that we believed the same things. Now on the other hand my own parents to this day fight about religious issues. My dad is a devout Catholic and my mom a not very religious Methodist. So even when you seem to follow the same faith it is important to talk about what you believe and why before marriage.
Family issues are big too. I think it is vital to agree on children before marriage. I know so many couples to didn't discuss it and found out after marriage that one didn't want any children and the other wanted many, or some variation on that.
Hobbies, interests, and personality differences can be what makes a marriage interesting and shouldn't really be a reason, in my mind, to not consider a person as a prospective spouse. My husband and I are similiar but slightly different. And that's probably a good thing. In just the six years that we've been married it seems that he's becoming more like I was and I'm becoming more like he was personality wise. People do change.

Wanda's Girl said...


Thanks for blessing me with this huge collection of insight! God bless you and your readers!


Mrs. Brigham said...

I agree with everything you have said, Anna. Along with sharing the same faith, I also think that issues surrounding how to discipline & raise children, spend or save money, and beliefs about women working outside the home are also important to be shared between husband & wife, and are also issues that *must* be discussed BEFORE marriage. I unfortunately know too many couples who did not discuss such things, or were not honest about their true thoughts, and they now have some major difficulties that may have been avoided with some thoughtful discussion in the past.

I absolutely believe that differing opinions can be beneficial when they are not the "big things," and also when a couple has the maturity to both embrace true humility and compromise. Different experiences bring thoughts to a discussion that you may have never thought of otherwise, and in my personal experience, looking at a situation a bit differently can frequently make whatever decision that comes all the better.

As far as how different is too different, this is something that is largely individual. Sean & I had dramatically different upbringings, are of different races, and do not share every single opinion, hobby, and so on, but we are very happily married and have learned and changed a lot from embracing our differences and learning to live with them. This task has certainly not always been easy, but it has certainly been worth it. :o)

Anonymous said...


I agree with many things that you said, but I would like to add my story.

I am Catholic, and I am married to a Reformed Jew. I am a very observant Catholic. My husband is not that observant, but attends services for all the major holidays. Because I am very observant in my own religion, I always thought that I would marry a fellow Catholic. I dated many Catholics, but I fell in love with a Jew.

I was hesitant at first to continue the relationship, but when I prayed about it, I felt very, very strongly that it was God's will for me to marry this man. I talked to my priest for advice, and he agreed that we should be married. I know that not all inter-religious marriages work like this, but I know for a fact that I was meant to be with my husband. We have a wonderful, loving marriage and I couldn't ask for a better spouse. Despite some religous differences, we have a profound spiritual connection.

What I am saying is this: I generally still think that most people should marry in their own faith; however, marriage can be just as beautiful to someone of a different faith. Everyone must seek God's will for themselves. For me, God's will was to marry a Jew. I would also like to add that we had intensive pre-marriage counseling. I think that this is a good idea for all engaged couples, but especially inter-religious couples. We did not take our decision to get married lightly. We prayed often and talked to many for advice and guidance. Now that we have been married for almost 2 years, I can't imagine being married to anyone else, Catholic or not! It was meant to be, and I believe that God does call some, like myself, to marry outside of their faith.


EdibleEducation said...

One thing to realize is that as people grow and mature, they change.\

Someone who genuinely wanted "as many children as possible" when they were 20, may well change their mind at the age of 30, after having 8 children in 10 years.

I am a different person than I was at 17 and 25 and 35. Views and convictions on certain issues change.

The things I mentioned are "life" - it's natural for people to grow and change - and it's not necessarily something you have control over.

Even within religious beliefs - becoming more devout or less so over the years happens.

In situations like these - we need to be gracious and continue to accept our we would wish them to do towards us.

The things you can control are the things you prepare for, think about and consider before you get into a relationship or get married.

Because for many of us our religious beliefs are such a big part of who we are and what we do - to be unequally yoked - means you will begin a relationship out of balance.

At first it may not seem much of a big deal if you are say a Catholic but not a "practicing" one and you marry someone who is Jewish - though not "practicing". But once children come along, for a lot of people - this is when the problems begin.

I think it is wise to have a list (mental or written) of certain issues you are willing to compromise on or will not compromise on. A list of qualifications for a it important that he is just a "good guy" but irreligious? Is it important to you that you live in the same city you were born in?

There are literally hundreds of questions to think about BEFORE you even get involved in the relationship - b/c once feelings and emotions are involved...those questions easily get pushed aside...and you begin to think, well maybe I can change him or maybe he'll convert later...

If you go into marriage believing that it truly is "till death do us part", there is a bigger incentive to make sure you know what you are getting into.

Persuaded said...

Anna, as usual you are showing an extraordinary level of wisdom for one your age... I should be used to that by now, but you always do surprise me;-)

I especially agree with your feelings about someone who not only shares your faith, but also shares your general level of commitment. My daughters might marry a Christian and that would technically be within the commands to "not be unequally yoked," but if his commitment was nominal, then what heartache would follow! After all, our faith influences so very much- it is the basis for our decision-making processes and dictates our priorities.

Wonderful post, my dear!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thoughts, Anna. I too believe that it is extremely important to be like-minded in significant matters with the person who will be your best friend for the rest of your life.

Rebekah S. said...

What a thought-provoking post, and one that is much needed!

2 Cortinthians 6:14 says, "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?" It's quite clear that we are commanded to not marry unbelievers. As a Christian, I would never marry a non-Christian. But, at the same time, I think there are other very very important issues that must be agreed upon to be wholly equally yoked together. For instance, I will not marry a man who is pro-feminism, is against homeschooling, or is against having many children. Not only would that married life be sheer torture, and not only would that be disobeying God, but also, it would pose some huge problems! For instance, you would constantly be arguing over how you would raise your children (i.e. he would say they're going to public school and I would say they're being homeschooled.) As you can see, this would be horrible! So there definitely are some major topics that must be discussed and thought through before courtship begins!

Blessings to you, Anna!

Mrs. Mordecai said...

"I think it's essential to choose someone who shares your faith, and preferably more or less the same level of religious observance as well."

So true! Religion is such a huge part of life; it defines how you live and what you do and what you believe. It would be amazingly difficult to be married to someone who didn't share my beliefs. I think this is more of an issue for people with religions that set them apart from the world and affect their lifestyles.

Degree of observance is also so important. I would have such a hard time respecting someone who was in my opinion breaking God's commandments!

Like you said, little differences can be overcome, but some things go to the core. Excellent thought!

Karen said...

Another wise post! Because of the faith I am choosing now, it does matter a lot that I married someone who is at least tolerant of my religious practises and willing to raise the kids Catholic. That's the church's rules, not mine, but I'm still supposed to follow them. :)

The things I looked for back when I was single I would not necessarily stress now. I nearly broke up with my husband (then fiance) when I found out we didn't share a lot of doctrinal beliefs, but it turned out it really didn't matter in daily life. We both had similar goals and ambitions, and I think THAT is soo much more important. But then, we've also talked to and convinced each other more to our ways of seeing things over the years and grown together rather than apart. We've reached a lot of compromises at times, that def helps too.

Things I thought were so vital then are not so important to me now, now I advise single women to find someone who listens and meets you in the middle, someone with a mild temper and most of all, a good sense of humor! You will never get through the trials of parenthood without it!

injunkayl said...

I have a good deal of experience in the relationship department and I will tell you what I deem the most crucial traits that a couple must share

1 The reverent worship of YESHUA HA'MASHIAH

2 The same and correct Scriptural doctrine

3 Love

4 Agreement on the roles and rank of the sexes in marriage

5 Masculine dominance and feminine submission

6 That niether party ever threatens divorce, cessation of loving or harm to children

7 That the mans main interest and calling in life is something which inspires some degree of enthusiasm by the wife

8 A loyal and faithful yet unihibited and fun sex life

9 That your favorite type of art and music are the same

10 Domestic discipline when needed

Anna S said...

To Ellie:

You see, I don't know enough about other religions to agree or disagree with your statement that there's a possibility one might be called to be married to someone of a different faith.

In Judaism, the prohibition of intermarriage (Deuteronomy 7:3) is very explicit. We don't have any such concept as "being called" to violate a Law. If it's forbidden, that's it, period.

Anonymous said...

Since my husband is in human potentials, he used his knowledge and tested us for different kinds of personality characteristics. Well, we are exactly the opposite in any kind of psychological parametars; I am introvert, he is extrovert; I am goal oriented, he is people oriented; I am precise and decisive, he is reluctant, for him it is difficult to make a decision. He grew up in a rich family, my were average etc. etc. etc.

But, after we spent few years in marriage - and it wasn't always easy (Anthony Robbins books and videos helped a lot; and also our priest that we talked to) - we realised how different we are and how imposible it would be to live together if each of us would insist on his or her way.

But, we share, as you wrote, Anna, religion - we are roman catholics, and share believes that make our love possible - we put family, home, love, goodness, warmth, joyfullness, children first.

So all the differences are unimportant when we have our goals in front our eyes.

And most important - we realised that we choose each other to make ourselves whole; since we realised that, we more and more often just delegate things to the one who has better natural ability to do them.

It is not who's way - it is important what is our goal.

Of course, each of us needs something for the soul, body, mental health - and it is different for both of us. It is not difficult to give your spouse his space, time and whatever he needs when you love him or her, and you know he or she truly loves you.

So, Anna is right - crucial is to share faith and basic convictions. Other things can be arranged without too many problems.

Good luck to all of us in our marriages!

Anonymous said...

Hey Anna, I've enjoyed reading your blog. As a grown daughter of a very Catholic mother and Jewish father who only attends on high holidays, I would like to second Ellie's comments because I don't think I've ever met anyone better matched or more happily married than my parents. Because there is such a wide range of beliefs in any major religion such as Judaism or Catholicism, I think for many people, likemindedness can be found in other faiths, just as one could take two very devout Catholics and find that they have completely opposing worldviews.

Pendragon said...

Hi there,

I am married (happily). While I disagree with Anna and a lot of the readers here on many issues, my list of issues that spouses should agree on is very similar to that of other people here:

-- Religious faith. (I am an agnostic/atheist, and I do not think I could be married to someone who believes he knows the will of God. I am in fact married to a sort-of Catholic who believes vaguely in God but does not claim to know for sure or to have all the answers.)

-- Views of male and female roles, and a general liberal orientation on social issues. (I could not be married to a non-feminist. I also would have some problems being married to someone who was against gay relationships or in favor of the death penalty.)

-- Goals for our combined lifestyle and having children. (We are both very accepting of the fact that we may or may not have children, depending on whether the circumstances are right.)

-- The education and discipline of children. (My husband and I both believe that children should be educated as all the major world religions, and have the opportunity to make their own religious choices. We also oppose hitting children. However, we disagree on whether boarding school is appropriate -- an issue that we have a long time to deal with and may never actually confront if we don't have children.)

-- Professional aspirations. (This is not essential but I think it is very helpful if husband and wife are in the same profession. That way we each know that we will encounter a knowledgeable, interested, and empathic ear when we confide in each other about the professional issues that occupy so much of our thought and our time. I once dated someone whose profession I found fascinating but who had zero interest in my work -- and that was a real problem).

Besides the above, my husband and I disagree on virtually everything! We have different opinions on economic issues, our favorite political candidates, style issues, and what we like to do in our spare time. But the core values are similar so it works out.

Also, I did not realize until now that you are Jewish, Anna. For some reason I assumed you were a conservative American Christian -- my bad. My apologies if any of my prior comments reflected that false assumption.

Calamity Jean said...

I agree that you MUST discuss important issues before marriage including, religion, faith, extended family roles, and future children. The other less important things like hobbies, art/music/literature choices will change with time. After being with my husband nearly a decade its amazing how our hobbies and interests are still very different we are finding more and more things that we both enjoy.
Overall we are fairly independent individuals but it makes things a lot more interesting for us!!

neuropoet3 said...

I have been happily married to my best friend and almost exact "opposite" personality-wise for over 11 and a half years now. :) BUT on issues of faith, family roles and values, (which has a lot to do with our faith) and our parenting styles and goals we have always been on the "same page". We have been blessed to "grow" together through the years rather than growing apart, and I think the fact that we initially had the "important" things in common played a big part in this - at least what was/is important to us. We were both very devout in our religious beliefs when we first met, and this has continued even as we converted to the Catholic Church. The way we live out our faith has a large impact on our daily lives, and always has -- there would have been no way we could have married someone we were "unequally yoked" with in this particular area. It would have been a disaster! However, in many ways we are exact opposites as I mentioned before - i.e. he is an extrovert, I am an introvert - but our differences compliment each other very well. I am so blessed to have his strengths where I am weak! I have to strongly agree with Anna's last point, "above all, be prayerful" - God knew my husband was just the man I needed to walk with me on this journey of life, and I've never regretted following His direction.

Rebekah S. said...

I think one of the reasons there are so many divorces is because people marry just focusing on looks, hobbies, likes/dislikes, etc., rather than focusing on what's important-faith, convictions, etc.

In non-important areas(currently I'm speaking on something like: whether or not to tell your kids there's a Santa Claus, tooth fairy, easter bunny, you name it), then I think the wife needs to submit to her husband's choice of whether or not to raise the kids with that in their lives. I was raised with my parents telling me there was a Santa Claus, but if I were to marry someone who didn't want that to be a part of his kid's lives, then I would be more than ok with that, and I would joyfully submit, as the Bible tells me to.

Andrea said...

Anna-- after a long and lovely holiday with my family, I'm loving the chance to catch up on everything here! It was delightful to hear your point of view on this, and to see where you stand and on what points you will not bend. For some reason your mention of keeping a kosher household reminded me of a friend of mine whose mother was a Reform Jew and married a very Conservative gentleman; as they were preparing for marriage, soon-to-be Mrs A informed her husband that she would greatly appreciate him making one sacrifice: either his aspiration of a kosher household, or his well-stocked gun cabinet. Mrs A actually had no objections to a kosher house, but she had big issues with the gun cabinet, and, knowing her fiance as she did, saw this as the gentlest way to get him to get rid of it. It worked ;)

Joking aside, this was actually something I was reflecting on the other day, trying to consider what I really would not be able to compromise in a prospective husband and partner. I think most of what I considered has already been mentioned by your commenters, but it really helped me to have to clarify it.

With regards to my faith I would want my core beliefs to be echoed, for sure, though I don't expect we would be of like minds on every little doctrinal detail! I want a husband who loves and wants children; ideally he'd be jumping all over the idea that we might adopt, but failing that he'd at least be willing to consider it (I know one couple where the wife knew from the age of nine that she would be adopting her children; she just needed to wait for her husband to see it, too!)

In a similar vein I would never be able to marry a man who believed in striking children to discipline them, and if it ever seems I've found a man I might marry, I would want to clear this point up immediately. I would also not want to marry a man who insisted on one method of schooling (somebody who insists on exclusively homeschooling, private, public, etc.-- I think the validity of each method varies acording to locale and even according to each child) but I certainly want a husband who values education (oddly enough, HIS level of education doesn't concern me as long as he's able to provide).

I would want to marry a man who believes in the equal value of women and men, who would theoretically support my prayerful consideration of work outside the home as wholeheartedly as he would support my currently-expressed desire to stay at home, and finally, my "must have" that likely seems trivial to most, but to me, is an inescapable necessity-- he simply must love dogs!

Really, if I had a "fantasy man" it would be a veterinarian I met at an obedience match, but that's just me being silly ;) Though I am sure if my dogs could choose, that's probably what they would choose, too . . !

Thank you again for another delightful, insightful post :)

Ellie said...

To Anna,

Thank you for reading and responding to my comment! Catholics and Reformed Jews interpret different passages differently. For the both of us, marrying outside of our faiths was not forbidden. It is generally discouraged, but not at all forbidden. So, neither of us violated any law in our religions. In addition, we had the approval and blessings of many priests and rabbis.

To Megan,

Thank you for your comment! I hope one day our grown children will say the same things about me and my husband!