More than 50 percent of all Jewish marriages are to non-Jews, and over 70 percent of all Jewish romantic partnerships are with Gentiles. Unfortunately, research indicates that interfaith couples experience more threats to their marital stability than same-faith couples.
According to a study entitled “Religious Influence on Marital Stability,” the divorce rate among Jewish and Gentile couples is approximately double that of marriages wherein both partners are Jewish. The study further reported, “Couples with no religious affiliation also have fairly high rates of dissolution.”1
In my work studying cross-cultural communication between interfaith couples, I’ve found that to be the overarching issue.
It’s understandably challenging. Blending two distinct cultural upbringings in a way that doesn’t lead either partner to have to choose one faith at the expense of the other can feel nearly impossible.
Often, bringing up such matters with your partner can result in miscommunication – feeling unheard, disrespected, or pressured to “change.” Yet if left unresolved, these cross-cultural challenges can compound, resulting in marital complications and, in some cases, divorce.
But interfaith couples don’t have to be a statistic. There is hope within this growing trend of Jewish Gentile relationships for greater understanding and the foundation of a common ground.
Here are a few practical tips to get you started:
- Take the time to clarify what you mean – assumptions can lead to miscommunication. Not everyone means the same thing when they use words like “God,” “heaven,” “saved,” “creation,” “repentance,” and more.
- Be honest and courageous enough to allow new perspectives to expand any deeply held ideas. Both parties must feel it’s safe to say things with which their partner may not agree.
- Try not to interrupt. Make eye contact with your partner, and use body language that conveys you are present and engaged.
- Focus on listening as your partner speaks rather than thinking of what you’ll say next. You can always allow a pause in the conversation to gather your thoughts.
- Agree and affirm where you can, but don’t try to force agreements where you differ. You may have to settle for respectfully acknowledging your differences of opinion.
There is hope for struggling Jewish Gentile couples. It’s possible to create a safe space wherein both parties feel secure enough to speak their minds, mutual trust begets mutual respect, and both partners are able to express their unique cultural experiences and beliefs.
Dr. Tuvya Zaretsky has an MA in missiology concentrating in Judaic studies from Fuller Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies and the Doctor of Missiology degree from the Division of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the founder of JewishGentileCouples.com, a free coaching service for interfaith couples.
1. Vaughn R.A. Call and Tim B. Heaton, “Religious Influence on Marital Stability,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 36:3 (1997): 390.