Two of the most common messages I get from my followers are from young Catholic women who are dating/engaged/soon-to-be engaged to a non-Catholic Christian guy OR from single Catholic women who want to know my opinion on if a Protestant/Catholic relationship can work. The messages generally go something like this (this is a general hybrid of many messages):
“Hi Leah! I wanted to reach out because I am a Catholic and my boyfriend is a Protestant. We have been together for some time and we are getting close to seriously talking about marriage. We love each other very much and he definitely loves the Lord, however, as we start getting more serious, I am starting to get worried. I want to be able to stand firm in my faith and get him to see beauty of the Church but I am struggling. I know you came from a Protestant background and didn’t know if you had any advice?”
“Hey Leah. So I know when you and your husband were dating, you were a Protestant and he was Catholic. I am single and as I look for my future spouse, I wanted to know your honest thoughts on if a Catholic/Protestant faith relationship can work?”
I have debated for months whether or not to address this topic. You have probably already figured this out but I am always hesitant to speak about controversial topics online. Just because this is a personal blog and not CNN, doesn’t mean I don’t take what I post out in cyberspace seriously. You never know who is reading. Therefore, I feel a real sense of responsibility to handle potentially controversial topics ONLY when necessary and with careful consideration. I decided to write this post because frankly, I keep receiving these messages from some awesome women. I wanted to be able to express my feelings on this topic more thoroughly, completely, and thoughtfully than I have previously been able to through Instagram messages (for those who I have had conversations with, you know I tried to write you a novel! Lol.). There is so much to say. There is not a simple answer, nor is this a simple topic. I don’t have a quick list of advice. It isn’t an easy, “Yes, it can work no problem,” or a, “No, it can never work.” I am not a relationship expert and I can only share from my own experience but I will do my best. 🙂
I can’t assume everyone here knows my past and regularly follows my blog so let me give a little context (I will be brief). Very long story made very short… I am a Catholic convert. I am a former Catholic-bashing nondenominational Protestant (and Agnostic for a time) who converted to Catholicism Easter of 2016. I started dating my husband (aka Andy), a cradle Catholic, in 2012. I never had a single intention of becoming Catholic and Andy knew that. Andy never had a single intention of becoming Protestant and I knew that. He went to Mass every Sunday (sometimes I would go with him) and I would go to my church service some Sundays (more likely, I attended online). In 2015, we got engaged. Nothing had changed. I would never be Catholic and he would never be Protestant. We were prepared for a mixed-faith household (although I would have NEVER called it that) and we went through our pre-marital counseling with that understanding. The very end of 2015, *insert a really long explanation and way more context that this blog post doesn’t have time for* I decided to go to RCIA. In 2016, a couple of months prior to getting married, *insert another very long explanation with a lifetime of context* I came into full communion with the Catholic church. No one was more shocked than my husband!
Okay, now that you have an idea where I am speaking from, let’s start with this difficult topic.
“My Boyfriend isn’t Catholic… Any Advice?”
Gosh, this is hard. No relationship is the same. No Catholic is the same. No Protestant is the same. That makes the conversation surrounding this topic particularly tricky as it is prone to slipping into vast generalizations that simply may not be true. What also makes this hard is that I know if this topic is weighing heavy on you, you more than likely love this person very much. With the understanding that every person and situation is unique there are four general pieces of advice I would give.
- The first thing I would say is that most importantly you need to know that there is nothing you can do that will MAKE your significant other Catholic. You could be the most amazing person. You could say all of that right words, read all of the right books, do all the right things, be the best, most incredible example of a humble servant of Christ and that will not make them believe anything. The truth is, you don’t hold enough power to do that. While that may seem harsh, I think it is important to be blunt about it. Free yourself from that burden. That burden is not on you no matter how much you love someone.
- The second thing I would say is don’t waiver in your faith. Seriously, please don’t. Stand firm. If they ask you questions you don’t know the answer to, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer. I PROMISE you there is one. One of the most incredible things that my husband did for me was not anything he said. He isn’t overtly passionate about apologetics or theology (I got those answers from others). It was how relentlessly and lovingly Catholic he was. That man would not miss a Mass for ANYTHING and not because he felt obligated to go with his parents or his family (he lived alone, hundreds of miles away from them), but because he felt so strongly about it. Rain, shine, sick, tired, that man was RELENTLESS in going to Mass. I will never forget when we would have long road trips together, I would always fall asleep in the car (still do). One time in particular, I remember waking up and I saw him praying a rosary (at the time I didn’t know what that weird thumb thing was). Apparently, he did it all the time when I fell asleep. He wouldn’t tell me about it. He wouldn’t go on and on about how amazing Mass was or how great his rosary was. He just did it (and trust me, I noticed).
- The third thing I would say is don’t put pressure on anyone. I promise you that will do nothing. My husband never once pressured me into the faith and had no expectations that I would convert. He loved me unconditionally. So much so that he was willing to live a relatively lonely Catholic life to make our relationship work. This allowed me the space to figure out MY feelings and understanding of the Catholic faith outside of the context of our relationship. Meaning that my decision to become Catholic was wholly and fully a result of my love for the truth instilled within the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church- not a result of a love for my husband and I am so so grateful for that.
- The final piece of advice I would give is to understand that you do not fully understand. What I mean by that is I will never fully understand what it is like to be raised in a Catholic house, just like my husband will never fully understand what it is like to be raised in a Protestant house. You can listen and you can learn (which you should!) but recognize that you cannot fill that gap. One of the biggest ‘lightbulbs’ for me was when I was able to talk to a former Protestant, Catholic convert. I am telling you, they were able to ‘speak my language’ and really understand where I was coming from, in a way that my husband just couldn’t! This was not because he didn’t listen or care, but because he just didn’t have the same life experiences and that is okay. I didn’t need him to be my apologist, I needed him to be my boyfriend/fiancé.
The best way I can describe my conversion is this: Picture a door that someone needs to walk through to conversion. My husband showed me where the door was, apologetics opened the door, and the Holy Spirit pushed me through. All you need to do is show them the door. It’s up to them and the Holy Spirit if they want to go through it.
“Can A Catholic/Protestant Marriage Work?”
Ugh, man. Seriously, this is a quick way to piss some people off right? To answer this question?? I am sure many have strong opinions, but I am going to speak from someone who is married to the love her life and that decision, that relationship, that love, was cultivated in a Catholic/Protestant one.
So here is my answer… CAN it? I think it can.
With that said, I also think there are some things you need to know.
Compromise is Inevitable
To me, this is an unavoidable truth. I think a Protestant/Catholic marriage can work with the understanding that compromise, from someone at some point, is inevitable. I think compromise has to happen particularly because of the likelihood of children being involved. “Compromise” is also an extremely subjective term and I am well aware of that. For me, I was willing to compromise for the sake of my future husband. I was willing to have a Catholic wedding and to raise our children Catholic. I obviously cannot predict what compromise will happen, but I believe it does happen. Also, when I say compromise will happen, I don’t mean this in a negative connotation at all! Relationships work because of compromise! I am more bringing up the point because I think it is important to set realistic expectations.
No Conversion Expectations
This is paramount. The reason why I believe my husband and I could’ve made our relationship work even if I never became Catholic is because we had no expectations that someone would convert. This is pretty standard relationship advice: never marry someone under the personal pretense that they will someday change to the person you want them to be. When my husband and I got engaged we were fully aware of what we were signing up for (at least when it comes to our faiths). We were both prepared to live relatively lonely faith lives. Hear me out for a second. Yes, we could pray together but I would never cross myself and he always would. Yes, we could go to church together but it would always be either ‘his’ church or ‘my’ church. I also knew that there may be many Sundays that if I wanted to go to my church, I would probably go by myself and vice versa.
I also had agreed that we would raise our future children Catholic. I understood how lonely at times I may feel in my own house as our kids grew up. I thought about how our kids would grow up praying rosaries and I didn’t even really understand what the rosary prayer was (not to mention that I fundamentally disagreed with the concept). I also realized that there was a chance that as our kids grew up, they would likely question the differences in our faiths and we would have to address that issue. However, we were okay with all of this because of how strongly we believed in our own faiths and how strongly we felt for one another. I had convinced myself that our beliefs were much more similar than they were different (and yes, there is a lot of truth in that!) but we were also fully aware of our differences (and I believe you should be). I was prepared for this life with him. We were both prepared to stand firm in our faiths with no expectations from the other. Do not go into the relationship with the expectation that your significant other will one day become Catholic because honestly… no one can promise you that.
Hindsight is 20/20
Looking back, I see a lot more now than I did then. Mainly because I now see a Catholic perspective but I still know a Protestant one. I have also seen a relationship that has seen both sides of the aisle. Can I say that our relationship was the same as before? Absolutely not. Is our being unified in our Catholicity a contributing factor to that? Absolutely. Do I think we would have made it had I never converted? Absolutely. Do I think we would have the same relationship as we do today? Absolutely not. As I think back, I find it even more incredible what my husband did. How steadfast he was in his faith when he knew all of my misgivings with the Church. Seriously… the patience, the faith, the love, and the understanding that man had to exude. Now that I am Catholic, if I was put in his shoes, if I am being 100% honest… I would have struggled. How he never compromised his love for the one holy Church without loving me any less… that is easier said than done.
Since coming into the Church, I can without a doubt say that our being unified in our Catholicity has brought a deeper sense of intimacy that we wouldn’t have otherwise known. However, this is not to say that we may have found a deep sense of intimacy in other aspects of our marriage down the road. I cannot accurately tell you what our relationship ‘would have looked like’ had our stories not played out the way that they did. I can only speculate based on what I see now. So as I say all of this, please remember that I am not in your relationship. I do not have your perspective. I do not know your significant other. Your experiences will be unique to you. However, for those who wanted to know my perspective, now you have it. I will leave you with this…
God IS love. Therefore, I believe wherever real love* exists so does He.