Download Religious Intergroup

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts
no text concepts found
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
ISSN: 1747-5759 (Print) 1747-5767 (Online) Journal homepage:
Identity Management and Relational Culture in
Interfaith Marital Communication in a United
States Context: A Qualitative Study
Laura V. Martinez, Stella Ting-Toomey & Tenzin Dorjee
To cite this article: Laura V. Martinez, Stella Ting-Toomey & Tenzin Dorjee (2016) Identity
Management and Relational Culture in Interfaith Marital Communication in a United States Context:
A Qualitative Study, Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 45:6, 503-525, DOI:
To link to this article:
Published online: 26 Sep 2016.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 719
View related articles
View Crossmark data
Citing articles: 1 View citing articles
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 2016
VOL. 45, NO. 6, 503–525
Identity Management and Relational Culture in Interfaith
Marital Communication in a United States Context: A
Qualitative Study
Laura V. Martinez, Stella Ting-Toomey and Tenzin Dorjee
Department of Human Communication Studies, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA, USA
This study explored the identity management processes in interfaith
marital communication in a United States setting. Sixteen marital
partners participated in this interview study. Interviews were
transcribed verbatim, interpreted, and analyzed. Guided by identity
management theory, the interview data analysis revealed three
general themes: development of the interfaith relational identity
via the co-creation of a superordinate spiritual and value system;
implementation of relational boundaries to prioritize the relational
identity; and identification of key milestone decisions (i.e. wedding
plans and children socialization coordination) interfaith partners
face in their intimate relationships. Contributions, limitations, and
directions for future studies on interfaith marital communication are
Received 8 April 2016
Accepted 14 September 2016
Identity management;
relational culture;
intercultural communication;
identity management
theory; interfaith marital
Identity is the framework through which individuals interpret their selfhood and their
social belongingness. It is a complex and socially constructed concept with two conceptualized facets: a social identity and a personal identity (Stets & Burke, 2000; Tajfel & Turner,
1979). An individual’s social identity may include identification with sociocultural group
memberships, while a personal identity refers to the “unique attributes that we associate
with our individuated self in comparison to those of others” (Ting-Toomey, 2005; p. 212).
Communication scholars have explored numerous aspects of identity. These include cultural,
relational, gender, sexual orientation, racial, and ethnic identities (Eguchi, 2011; Imahori
& Cupach, 2005).
One aspect of identity and identity management that has been overlooked and merits
increased attention is religious identity. A religious identity is comprised of an array of
factors, including an individual’s “religious beliefs and values … attendance at services,
priority of religion relative to other life roles, an orientation toward collectivism or individualism, and rebirth experience or scriptural belief ” (Dollinger, 2001, p. 72). In spite of
the comprehensive definition of religious identity, this study will define religious identity
CONTACT Laura V. Martinez
[email protected]
© 2016 World Communication Association
L. V. Martinez et al.
as “a process in which individuals explore and commit to a set of religious beliefs and/or
practices” (Balkin, Schlosser, & Levitt, 2009, p. 420). This definition specifies a degree of
commitment to religious identity. Religious identity can be an integral and multifaceted
component of an individual’s selfhood, drawing from both the individual’s personal and
social identities.
An interfaith marriage occurs when relational partners identify with or subscribe to different belief systems, and also between different denominations of the same faith (Schaefer
Riley, 2013). For example, a marriage in which one spouse is Jewish and the other spouse is
Christian would fall into the interfaith marriage category. Possibly, even within a larger faith
such as Christianity, members of different denominations (e.g. Protestants and Catholics)
may experience faith-related intergroup dissonances in their marital relationships. In this
context, two different identities merit discussion: the religious identity and the relational
identity of both partners. Relational identity represents the “aspect of self that is defined
in terms of a particular interpersonal relationship” (Imahori & Cupach, 2005, p. 197).
Relational identity consists of a sense of “we-ness” in which the individuals involved develop
a set of characteristics that are unique to their relationship. However, when one’s cultural or
religious beliefs and practices may be at considerable odds with the partner’s cultural beliefs
and convictions, partners may find it increasingly difficult to reconcile those differences
without feeling they are being disloyal to their own belief system (Leeds-Hurwitz, 2002).
This study is interested in how individuals manage and negotiate religious identities in the
relational context of an interfaith marriage in a U.S. setting. The article is organized in five
sections. First, the rationale for researching interfaith marital communication and relevant
literature review of studies are presented. Second, the key ideas of the identity management
theory (IMT) framework that inform the study are articulated. Third, data collection method
is described. Fourth, detailed thematic analysis and findings are presented. Fifth, a summary
of major findings and directions for future research are proffered.
Rationale and Literature Review on Interfaith Marital Communication
A review of literature on interfaith couples indicates three research trends: (1) Interfaith
couples encounter overall negative perceptions of their relationship with external and internal challenges; (2) almost all the studies on interfaith marriages are atheoretical; and (3)
the majority of these studies used quantitative methods. These are briefly discussed below.
First, interfaith couples largely encounter negative perceptions of their relationship and
face challenges both external and internal to the relationship. External challenges include
negative perceptions of interfaith unions by outsiders and the influence that the partners’
social networks may have on the relationship (Hanassab & Tidwell, 1998; Ortega, Whitt,
& William, 1988). The internal challenges that the interfaith couple may face include the
degree of disparity between the religions each partner subscribes to (Chinitz & Brown,
2001; Lehrer & Chiswick, 1993), how partners approach the communication of religious
topics (McCurry, Schrodt, & Ledbetter, 2012; Willimon, 2013), religious rituals and practices
(Andrews Horowitz, 1999), and deciding on the religious upbringing of children (Williams
& Lawler, 2003).
Furthermore, research suggests that the opposing religious viewpoints of interfaith marital partners are a source of conflict in the relationship (Reiter & Gee, 2008). Perceived
threats, as opposed to perceived support, to an individual’s identity by a culturally dissimilar
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
other (in this case, the spouse) can easily result in an intercultural conflict. Ting-Toomey
and Oetzel (2013) define intercultural conflict as “the emotional struggle between persons
of different cultural communities over perceived or actual incompatibility of cultural ideologies and values” (p. 635). Religious ideologies or beliefs can shape a person’s core values, norms, and sense of being. Furthermore, intimacy ritualistic practices (e.g. interfaith
wedding planning) can also create further frictions and cultural bumps in the interfaith
couplehood relationship (Leeds-Hurwitz, 2002, 2009). Concerning an intimate interfaith
relationship, partners’ religious identities are often in contact and in trial with one another
due to divergent religious doctrines, rituals, and practices. Thus, the rise of interfaith marriage in the United States strengthens the rationale for exploring how the marital couples
negotiate the identity dialectics in their relationship. For example, according to Schaefer
Riley (2013), 42% of all marriages in the U.S.A. are reported as interfaith. This percentage
is substantially greater than the 15% of interfaith marriages reported in 1988 and the 25%
reported in 2006. In this regard, understanding the unique challenges and communicative
strategies in interfaith marital relationships can enable people of different marital status to
relate to these challenges effectively in interpersonal and workplace interactions.
Second, most of the studies on interfaith marriages are atheoretical. They tend to focus
on a variable-analytic investigation of the relationships among variables with correlational
results (Balkin et al., 2009; Cila & Lalonde, 2014; Haji, Lalonde, Durbin, & Naveh-Benjamin,
2011). These do not provide deep understanding of how interfaith couples make sense of
and deal with their unique challenges strategically or constructively. One exception comes
from McCurry et al.’s (2012) research work. Using the relational turbulence model as a guide,
the researchers delineate the communication breakdowns between interfaith couples and
provide informative findings on the negative association between religious topics’ avoidance and marital satisfaction. Although the study reveals interesting turning points in the
interfaith union, it does not explain in detail the complexity of religious identity negotiation
and how the process intersects with relational culture development in the couples.
Three, the bulk of research on interfaith marriage has used quantitative data collection.
Most of the literature available presents self-reported data obtained from questionnaires
(Chinitz & Brown, 2001; McCurry et al., 2012). These findings are useful in indicating
sources of conflict, heightened dissolution rates, and lessened marital satisfaction among
interfaith unions. However, these quantitative studies do not provide deep insights into the
contexts and the meaning coordination processes of “interfaith-intimate relationship” and
how the interfaith couples deal with them communicatively. With this literature review as
a backdrop, our rationale for the study is advanced via the following reasons.
First and foremost, interfaith marital unions are increasing at an accelerated rate in the
diverse U.S. society. According to the American Religious Identification Survey (Kosmin,
Mayer, & Keysar, 2001), Episcopalians, Buddhists, and Protestants reported the highest
percentages of interfaith marriages in the U.S. Thus, interfaith marital relations are noteworthy and merit urgent intercultural-intergroup to interpersonal communication research
attention. An interpretive analysis of how interfaith marital couples construct meanings
concerning their respective religious identities, while simultaneously managing their intimate relational culture, needs serious investigative attention.
Second, while most studies have indicated that interfaith marriages are fraught with negative challenges, Williams and Lawler (2003) contended that the actual religious differences
between couples may not necessarily be the cause of reduced marital satisfaction. Rather, it
L. V. Martinez et al.
is the ways in which these differences are negotiated that trigger further relational distress.
Unlike most other studies, they found that interfaith participants often experienced higher
religious tolerance than intrafaith partners and also developed a broad social network and
furthered spiritual growth from exposure to two different religions. Couples who experience
strong religious support from their partners appear to be able to harmonize their religious
membership identities with their relational culture development. Unfortunately, there have
been scant systematic studies that closely examined how interfaith spouses actually construct
meanings of their interfaith marital unions and reconcile their divergent religious talks and
practices in their everyday lives.
Third, an interpretive-qualitative approach to interfaith marital communication can
provide a richly-textured and nuanced perspective into the lived experiences and stories
of these interfaith marital couples’ voices. For example, Andrews Horowitz (1999), with
the use of grounded theory, provided a reflective understanding of the communication
between interfaith couples at a specific time of distress, when religious practices and rituals are observed. Using ethnography, Carnegie (2013) provided some insights into how
Muslim men in Indonesia perceived interfaith marriages. More specifically, informed by
IMT (Imahori & Cupach, 2005), this study aimed to discover how interfaith marital couples
used relational identity to manage the challenges of their interfaith relationship.
Identity Management Theory
The relational identity of an interfaith union is a salient factor of intimate relationship
development process (Imahori & Cupach, 2005). Relational identity refers to the interdependent-intimate culture that is forged, strengthened, and cemented in the context of
a unique close relationship tie. Furthermore, within any interpersonal relationship, the
cultural-ethnic membership identity of each partner becomes an essential component of
the relationship. In the present study, the cultural identity of each individual pivots on the
religious membership identity each brings to the intimate relationship. More specifically, in
the context of an interfaith marriage, partners often encounter different dialectical tensions
between supporting their own religious membership practice and the religious affiliation
practice of their spouse.
Identity dialectics is defined here as interactive tensions of “contrastive and complementary” poles of salient identity issues on both group membership and personal identity
domains (Ting-Toomey, 2005). Baxter and Montgomery (1996) identify relationship dialectics as “complex, overlapping domains of centrifugal forces juxtaposed with centripetal
forces” (p. 44). In the case of interfaith marriages, spouses may find it challenging or may be
indifferent to supporting each other’s contrastive religious identity. IMT proposes a similar
dialectic found within intercultural relationships, the “self-other face dialectic.” Imahori and
Cupach (2005) argue that when partners strongly support their own cultural membership
identities, they may unintentionally threaten the conflicting cultural/religious identities of
their partners. Through the tugs-and-pulls of the relational dialectics development, IMT
identifies three phases in which an intimate interpersonal relationship develops: Trial and
error, enmeshment, and renegotiation.
During the first phase of “trial and error,” Imahori and Cupach (2005) argue that the
cultural differences between partners are very apparent. In an interfaith dating relationship,
partners may choose to purposefully ignore these differences because of their underlying
romantic attraction. In the face of such differences, and perhaps in an effort to compensate
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
for these contrastive differences, partners may instead focus on shared interests and other
similarities. Once these similarities are established, partners can advance to the second phase
of “enmeshment.” Throughout this phase, partners continue to develop a relational identity
acceptable to both parties. They may continue to downplay their cultural membership differences and bolster their perceived similarities. They may improvise and negotiate their
own relational norms and rules to reinforce interpersonal support and synchrony. In this
phase, intercultural partners continue to solidify their relational identity base through combined affective hard work. The relationship can then progressively move to the third phase
of “renegotiation.” In this phase, IMT argues that both partners operate from a relational
framework and thereby view their cultural differences as an asset, a factor that sets them
apart from other unions, rather than as an obstacle. Due to their strong relational identity,
partners have now developed a mutually satisfying intercultural relationship.
Overall, the three phases of relational identity development of IMT occur in a cyclical
push-and-pull fashion. The relationship may revert to an earlier phase, such as engaging in
trial and error interactions, or never move forward to an advanced phase if the dialectical
tensions between cultural membership identity and relational identity are not reconciled
or the couple discovers new areas of their respective identities that need to be addressed
(Imahori & Cupach, 2005). The cyclical nature of the phases strengthens the applicability
of IMT to understand the complexities within the interfaith union. How marital partners
negotiate their differences on religious membership beliefs and practice issues and relational
culture coordination issues can profoundly influence the relational trajectory patterns and
dialectical tensions of the couples in their interfaith marital relationships. Therefore, guided
by existing research trends and recent statistics on interfaith unions and informed by IMT,
this study proffers the Research Question (RQ): How do interfaith partners use relational
identity to manage religious identity dialectics?
According to Tracy (2013), qualitative research “focuses on lived experience, placed in its
context” and can help “explain, illuminate, or reinterpret quantitative data” (p. 5). Given
the predominantly quantitative-based studies dedicated to interfaith unions, a qualitative
approach expands on the social meanings and contexts within and beyond current findings
(Manning & Kunkel, 2014). A qualitative analysis garners in-depth voices and shared lived
experiences that can allow researchers to understand the intricacies of interfaith marital
couples’ identity negotiation dynamics. According to Lindlof and Taylor (2011), “interviews
are particularly well suited to understanding the social actor’s experience, knowledge, and
worldviews” (p. 173). To answer the RQ comprehensively, an interview approach to this
study was chosen. This approach enabled interviewees to provide a richer set of data, stories,
examples, and connective contexts to illustrate the complexities of religious identity and
relational identity struggles.
The research sample consisted of 8 couples or 16 coupled participants. While seven couples
were legally married, one couple was legally registered as domestic partners. Participants
ranged in age from 28 to 67. One female participant chose not to report her age. The mean
L. V. Martinez et al.
age for participants was 50 years old. Eleven of the participants identified their ethnicity as
European American. The length of marriage of the participants ranged from one year and
three months to 29 years. The average length of marriage was 17 years. The most prevalent
religious combination was Catholic-Jewish (see Table 1). This study focused on interfaith
marital couples among different types of marriages including interdenominational marriage, and interracial/interethnic marriage. Studies have reported that despite challenges
of intimate intercultural-interracial relationships, many couples also experienced personal
enrichment and growth, greater diversity and emotional vitality, multiple cultural perspective taking, and a stronger and deeper relationship (Karis & Killian, 2009; Romano, 2001;
Rosenblatt, Karis, & Powell, 1995; Ting-Toomey, 2009).
With approval from the Institutional Review Board, the lead author utilized convenience
and snowball sampling methods to recruit participants in Southern California. California is
a culturally diverse state where people tend to be relatively tolerant of interracial/interethnic
and interfaith dating and marriages. Arguably, the same interview, if conducted in other
parts of the U.S., may yield different outcomes due to greater importance of religious attachment in the region (e.g. U.S. South), greater attitudinal polarity, or heightened pressure on
religious conversion (e.g. Islam and Orthodox Judaism) in an interfaith marriage (Homsey
& Sandel, 2012). In order to participate in this study, participants had to fulfill two criteria.
First, they must have been married for a minimum of two years at the time of the interview.
An exception was made for one couple that did not reach the two-year marriage mark but
had been in a relationship for four years. Second, participants must have identified their
marriage as an interfaith union with both partners believing in different religious faiths.
Procedures and Data Collection
Upon review of criteria fulfillment, the lead author then set up convenient times to interview
each individual participant face to face. Interviews lasted approximately one to one and a
half hour in length and were held at participants’ homes, office spaces, and local restaurants.
Prior to initiating the interview session, participants were provided with a consent form
describing the purpose of the study, confidentiality procedures, and requesting permission
to be audio recorded. In order to provide participants a secure and comfortable environment
in which to express themselves and maintain privacy, relational partners were interviewed
separately. Interviewing partners separately was integral to the research design given the
delicate nature of the research topic, as it would enable each partner, to the utmost possible
extent, to voice his or her genuine responses to the interview questions without influence
from their spouse’s simultaneous participation.
Prior to commencing the interview questions, participants were given a questionnaire to
share demographic information and preliminary information related to the topic of interfaith marriage such as sex, age, ethnicity, marital status, existence of children, and religious
affiliation and identification (see Appendix A). After completing the initial questionnaire,
the author conducted a semi-structured interview with three sections: Interview warm-up
questions on relationship and religious background information, “A Family Affair” critical
incident section questions, and interview questions related to the research question in this
study (see Appendix B). An originally-created short critical incident (written by the first
author) was posed to the interviewees to solicit their reactions and to evoke their own
interfaith marital stories and examples.1,2 When the interview concluded, participants were
provided with a $10 Starbucks thank you gift card.
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
Table 1. Summary of demographic profiles of interviewees.
Jose Antonio
2nd marriage
2nd marriage
2nd marriage
1st marriage
1st marriage
1st marriage
1st marriage
1st marriage
2nd marriage
2nd marriage
2nd marriage
2nd marriage
1st marriage
1st marriage
1st marriage
1st marriage
High School
High School
Thematic Analysis and Coding
The lead author transcribed each of the 16 audio files in their entirety verbatim. The interview transcripts were approximately between 10 and 15 typed, single-spaced pages. To
analyze the interview data for emergent themes, the research utilized Owen’s (1984) criteria
that consist of three themes: repetition, recurrence, and forcefulness. Repetition consists
of repeating sentences, words, or phrases within a discourse. Recurrence entails the use
of different words with similar meaning. Forcefulness refers to “vocal inflection, volume,
or dramatic pauses” (p. 275). During the interview process, the interviewer attended to
interviewees’ vocal modulations and variations to detect forcefulness. The qualitative data
analysis software program NVivo was used to augment the derived interpretive analysis.
For careful thematic analysis, both audiotaped data and transcribed data were reviewed
multiple times. Thematic categories were derived and identified via a constant comparison
method (Lindlof & Taylor, 2011; Tracy, 2013). This interpretive coding method resulted
in identifying three emergent themes for this study. Participant confidentiality was preserved through the use of pseudonyms and an identity line (sex, age, own religion/spouse’s
L. V. Martinez et al.
religion; each dyadic couple was given the same 1st letter as their pseudonym: e.g. Beatriz
and Benjamin).
Thematic Analysis and Findings
Upon repeated readings of the transcript data, recurrent listening to the audiotaped files,
and systematic dialogues among the researchers, an in-depth analysis of the interview
data revealed three general thematic findings, and six sub-thematic patterns. The general
three themes were labeled as: Minimizing Differences, Maximizing Similarities; Negotiating
Interfaith Couplehood Culture; and Facing Interfaith Milestones.
Theme 1: Minimizing Differences, Maximizing Similarities
The Research Question (RQ) in this study asked: How do interfaith partners use relational identity to manage religious identity dialectics? Interviewees elaborated on how they
acknowledged and managed their religious differences with their romantic partner. The
repeated thematic analysis (Owen, 1984) suggests that while most couples acknowledged
the existence of religious differences, they minimized the extent to which the “interfaith”
label defined their relationship. One interviewee described the religious differences in his
marriage as, “just another difference you have on the order of: I like baseball and she doesn’t”
(Marcus, Male, Age 49, Protestant-Jewish). In lieu of a shared religious identity, most couples seemed to emphasize their shared core moral and spiritual values. Congruent with the
stipulations of IMT, interviewees prioritized their relational identity over their religious one.
However, based on subsequent shared stories, richly-contextualized examples, and colorful illustrations, the emergent voices reflect some underlying interfaith marital tensions, ebb
and flow conflict ambivalences, and the use of specific communication strategies to handle
the elephant in the room situation, that is, the “religious topic” in their relational culture.
Depolarizing the religions
The first sub-theme that surfaced in managing religious dialectics was interviewees’ attempt
to downplay the differences and bolster the similarities of their respective religious doctrines.
Recurrent words describing both partners’ religions included: similar, same, overlap, alike,
not that different, in common. A representative voice said they “go through a different path
to get the same information” (Irma, Female, Age 49, Catholic-Lutheran). The following
excerpts underscore the depolarizing theme:
I’m Christian and she is Jewish, but I think the relationship there is, I mean the Christians
don’t really object to anything the Jewish people do believe … the way [wife] treated people
seemed to me to be really the test of the moral character and that was more important to me
than a religious doctrine. (Marcus, Male, Age 49, Protestant-Jewish)
If you think about it, Judaism is the Old Testament, it’s part of my religion as well, so they just
didn’t move on to the Christian part (laughs). So because of the overlapping, it’s probably easier
… I mean the last supper was a Seder, Passover Seder. So some of the things are correlated to
each other. (Emma, Female, Age 49, Catholic-Jewish)
Additionally, a second sub-theme emerged–Co-creating a Superordinate Spiritual and
Value System–explaining the process through which the interfaith couple unites to create a
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
third culture of spiritual value that underscores their shared moral and spiritual guidelines
for behavior.
Co-creating a Superordinate Spiritual and Value System
A key motif that echoed among the interviewees was that religion was not at the center
of their relationship. Repeated words and phrases in reference to this idea included: not
the center/centerpiece, non-issue, not important to the relationship, does not matter to the
relationship, not an issue in the relationship. For example, Irma (Female, Age 49, CatholicLutheran) said the following about religion:
For me it’s not like, “Ok this has to be the center of our marriage.” It’s just like we’re adults, we
like each other … we have a commonality when it comes to what we like to do or not do so,
I guess we’re ok.
Most of the couples interviewed seemed to be unfazed by their religious differences. About
his wife and relationship, Charles (Male, Age 31, Methodist-Catholic) described, “She’s my
best friend. I don’t think going to, in my mind, going to church doesn’t have anything to
do with that.” Likewise, Lucas (Male, Age 53, Shinto-Catholic) stated that religion was not
a priority in the relationship. Emma (Female, Age 49, Catholic-Jewish) also echoed, “It’s
not wrapped up in part of us … so it’s not a centerpiece to our relationship and that seems
to be ok for both of us.”
The research indicates two possible explanations for why the religious differences between
relational partners take a backseat to the relationship. The first is while the couples were
keenly aware of their disparities in beliefs and practices, they decided to suppress their
religious identities. Second, most interviewees also made references to the core moral and
spiritual values they shared, thus co-creating a superordinate spiritual and value system both
partners could embrace. One example comes from Beatriz (Female, Age 58, Jewish-Catholic):
The fact that we both believe in God, is a great springboard (laughs). Because, you don’t veer
off from that. So, yeah, religion doesn’t really come, it is not a part of our discussions in decision-making because I just practice to try to be a good person and so if that’s the basis … It’s
just being good. Because that’s what God would want …
Amelia (Female, Age N/A, Catholic-Jewish) also communicated the core belief in God she
shared with her husband:
I think having the same core values is the most important thing in life. Just knowing that you
believe in the higher power, just having that as your background, as your backbone and I don’t
see where it should really become a problem even in a marriage where the couples choose to
go to both churches … I just feel that as long as there is that spiritual side to the relationship,
I think it’s a good thing.
Through the process of centering on shared core beliefs and values, interfaith couples
were seemingly able to shelf their religious differences. Having forged a spiritual commonality, interfaith partners erected a relational shield that would block their religious differences
from distressing the relationship.
Theme 2: Negotiating Interfaith Couplehood Culture
In addition to finding a common ground for spiritual and moral values, interviewees described the ways in which they developed their relational culture and established
L. V. Martinez et al.
boundaries to buffer the marriage from their religious differences. Under the theme of
Negotiating Couplehood Culture, two subthemes surfaced: Emphasizing Relational Culture
as Priority and Fortifying Relational Boundaries.
Emphasizing Relational Culture as Priority
Most interviewees considered their relationship with their spouse to be more important than
their religion. For example, Irma (Female, Age 49, Catholic-Lutheran) noted, “I think it’s my
relationship that’s more important because I don’t have very, strict religious beliefs.” Beatriz
(Female, Age 58, Jewish-Catholic) responded without hesitation, “religion for us is separate
[sic] and relationship [sic] together.” Carolina (Female, Age 28, Catholic-Methodist), who
had labeled her commitment to her religion as “pretty strong … I think it’s a big part of who
I am,” gave the following explanation when asked which identity was most important to her,
Mmm, ooh that’s a tough question, but I think, yes. I would say our relationship is more important than religion … You know before religion, even before family, as hard as it sounds. I
think you should always put your relationship first, otherwise you risk it suffering, if you put
something else first.
The following terms and phrases were repeated among interviewees: respect, accept, understand, be open (about differences), open-minded. For example, Alejandro (Male, Age 67,
Jewish-Catholic) said, “We’re very respectful of the diversity and we’re very respectful of
something that’s very much the deep part of a person. It’s unconditional love.” Irma (Female,
Age 49, Catholic-Lutheran) also said, “It’s just like being kind of respectful for what he
believes but that’s what I expect from him too, that he has to respect what I believe.” Lucas
(Male, Age 53, Shinto-Catholic) said it best:
I respect you, you respect me. That’s it, that’s it. And in that particular context, I respect your
beliefs, you respect my beliefs, I don’t know how the conflict ever happens … I don’t know, my
comments may throw your study a little bit off the charts. My answers may be very atypical
answers for lots of people … As long as you work together, that it’s an open- minded discussion,
that could open up your views, your worldview, the big picture.
Interview data suggests the interfaith couple needs to manage the different religious
identities in the marriage in a respectful and accepting manner, demonstrating open-mindedness to the religious affiliation of the other person. By establishing relational boundaries,
couples were equipped to safeguard their marriage from religious differences.
Fortifying Relational Boundaries
During the interview process, each participant was asked to talk about the religious beliefs
and religious commitment of their spouse. Interviewees’ responses indicated some ambivalence toward explicitly discussing beliefs in the marriage. Most participants were largely
unaware of the beliefs, practices, and degree of religious commitment of their partners. These
findings suggest interfaith partners fortify relational boundaries from religious differences.
Some participants even had trouble filling out the demographic questionnaire concerning
the religious affiliation of their spouse.
In response to being asked to describe his wife’s commitment to her religious beliefs,
Lucas (Male, Age 53, Shinto-Catholic) replied, “Oh that I can’t tell, no I can’t tell.” The following excerpts also support the fortifying relational boundaries sub-theme:
You’ll have to ask [husband] about this but my take on what’s happened as he’s gotten older
is, his sense of his religious beliefs have become a little broader. Umm, he definitely believes
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
in God and he definitely believes in Christ, I think, he still does. (Marina, Female, Age 48,
Hmm, that would be an interesting question to ask him. Because I only see what I see so I
don’t know how it guides him every day … You know that’d be a good question to ask him too
… And I don’t know honestly how he stands on abortion or the pill. Yeah I couldn’t, I couldn’t
probably tell you. (Beatriz, Female, Age 58, Jewish-Catholic)
In reference to discussing opposing or different views, words and phrases such as don’t
talk about it, don’t argue, we don’t have those discussions, not a point of discussion, echoed
among participants. When sorting out religious differences, Irma (Female, Age 49, CatholicLutheran) expressed, “It’s useless to argue something that we totally think different [sic].”
When discussing differing religious viewpoints with her husband, Beatriz (Female Age, 58,
Jewish-Catholic) noted,
We’ve learned I guess over the years to not discuss it. It’s just not a point of discussion. It’s like
going to a party, you don’t discuss religion and politics … we don’t really argue-it’s not really a
point of discussion or argument because there will be no agreement.
Benjamin (Male, Age 60, Catholic-Jewish) expressed an affective reaction to the thought of
managing religious differences with his spouse as feeling “uneasiness.”
In addition to avoiding the “religion talk” with their spouses, relational partners appear
to manage their religious identity dialectics by setting boundaries in the relationship. When
asked about religious conversion, almost all interviewees immediately responded the topic
had either never been discussed or was immediately dismissed upon refusal. The following
interview excerpts support this finding:
You know if he would’ve said, “You need to convert for us to get married.” I would’ve said, “I
bet there’s somebody else that fits you better.” That’s like college acceptances, right? (laughs).
(Beatriz, Female, Age 58, Jewish-Catholic)
Nope, nope. And I’d never ask her to become a Jew. I mean I didn’t ask my first wife. I don’t
believe in that. You know, if someone wants to do it, some churches insist on it. If someone
wants to do it, I’d have to question their motives. You know, if you love somebody you can love
them without being in the same religion. (Alejandro, Male, Age 67, Jewish-Catholic)
Likewise, participants expressed a sense of relief for not being exposed to constant proselytising from their spouse. Most of the couples had an unspoken understanding of not
to infringe on the other person’s beliefs. Common phrases such as not forcing anything on
me, not imposing beliefs, not trying to convince, don’t push, resonated among participants.
Religious imposition would be a breach of respect to both the individual and the relationship. Lucas (Male, Age 53, Shinto-Catholic) appreciated the fact that his wife, “was not
forcing anything on me, or vice versa … She is not imposing her beliefs on me or trying to
convert me or anything.” The following excerpts reiterate this finding:
She didn’t try to proselytize you know, try to force views or anything on me. As long as that
doesn’t happen, it would be fine. Believe what you want. It’s fine … Like I said in the onset, I
have a “live and let live” kind of attitude. And, that transcends itself into less problems all over
the place. I’m not gonna force my beliefs, whatever it might be on you, I’m not gonna allow you
to do it on me. If we have that same kind of understanding, we’d get along fine. (Jose Antonio,
Male, Age 67, Protestant-Jewish)
I’ll respect you, you believe in whatever you want, don’t force it on me. This is what I believe,
you’re not gonna change me … And I don’t push my beliefs on him, he didn’t push his on me.
L. V. Martinez et al.
Even the beliefs I have. Even if we upped it one, which we don’t. I respect what somebody
believes even if I don’t believe in it. That’s what keeps us together, as far as the religion side.
(Julianne, Female, Age 53, Jewish-Protestant)
At the core of managing religious identity dialectics in the relational context, interviewee
responses reveal an ongoing, conscious effort is in place that secures the relationship from
any possible damage due to having opposing belief systems. Relational boundaries were
fortified to prevent the “religious issue” from hindering the marriage. In spite of their best
efforts to construct a fortress around their relationship, interfaith partners discovered key
situations in which the dialectics of their religious differences managed to seep through.
Theme 3: Facing Interfaith Milestones
Although interfaith partners did not perceive their religious differences to pose a significant
threat to their marriage, they indicated two fundamental stages of life when they needed
to sort out their religious differences head on: getting married and planning the wedding,
and raising children. According to Ernesto (Male, Age 53, Jewish-Catholic):
Really the two biggest issues were how we were gonna get married, and what are we gonna do
with the kids … as far as conflicts, really just the kids. That’s the biggest, biggest issue. What to
do with the kids … those are pretty much the biggest issues, the kids, where we got married.
Thus, two sub-themes emerged: Deciding to Marry and Planning the Wedding and
Coordinating Children’s Religious Upbringing.
Deciding to Marry and Planning the Wedding
Most interviewees did not consider the religious differences in their relationships a deal
breaker to their intimate relationship and failed to consider such differences until the time
came to plan their wedding. For an excellent and detailed ethnographic study of intercultural
weddings and the meaning construction of material objects (e.g. clothing, food, objects) and
multiple identity displays, see Leeds-Hurwitz (2002, 2009). However, some interviewees in
this study did admit to considering that factor prior to making the decision to wed. Benjamin
(Male, Age 60, Catholic-Jewish) recalled having a pre-wedding conversation regarding how
the religious differences with his wife would potentially affect their marriage and raising
children. However, he also noted that those differences were not a factor in getting married:
We got married because we loved each other and because we wanted to be together and because
we wanted to have children together and … We had to deal with what religion we were as a
result of some of those issues, the decision to get married, the decision to have children, but
it wasn’t the driver of those decision. It clearly was not the driver. And it shouldn’t have been
the driver in my opinion.
However, Ernesto (Male, Age 53, Jewish-Catholic) recalled different religious affiliations
were “a big obstacle” in getting married. He noted that, “Both [sets of] parents wanted their
kids to marry in the same faith, so that was really the pressure. And neither was comfortable with the current situation of different religions.” Most interviewees recalled having to
acknowledge and sort out their religious differences in planning the actual wedding ceremony. The following interview excerpts relay the challenges that the couples encountered
in planning their interfaith weddings:
Even our wedding was a compromise, from the very beginning, we didn’t get married in a church,
he didn’t want to get married in a church … but we were married by a cantor and then a deacon
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
and he came and blessed the wedding and it was held in a hotel, no one felt out of place, so from
the very beginning we had to compromise, we really learned how to compromise from the get
go. (Emma, Female, Age 49, Catholic-Jewish)
When we got married, we searched for a nondenominational pastor and it was harder then
than it is now. (Beatriz, Female, Age 58, Jewish-Catholic)
Although religion may or may not be a significant obstacle in the actual process of getting married, participants had to face the challenging issue of religious upbringing of their
children. Coming to a consensus on what sort of religious education their children would
receive proved to be a very daunting communication task.
Coordinating Children’s Religious Upbringing
Four of the eight couples interviewed had children together from their current marriage.
While none of the interviewees suggested that their religious differences factored into their
decision to have children, they did relay that once the children arrived they acknowledged
the need to address how religion would factor into the life of their kids. Without a doubt,
relational partners identified raising children as the stage in their marriage in which their
religious differences factored into the most. The following repeated phrases resonated
throughout the interviews: the biggest issue, the biggest thing, the big change.
Marina (Female, Age 48, Jewish-Catholic) recalled that religious differences with her
husband “didn’t become an issue at all until we had to figure out what to do about the kids.”
Beatriz (Female, Age 58, Jewish-Catholic) echoed, “neither one of us held much importance
to the difference until we had children.” With the exception of the couples with no children
with their current spouse, all of the interviewees described how their religious differences
were an issue that needed to be addressed when children were introduced to the relationship.
In some cases, the couples had an added pressure from their family and social networks
in terms of how to raise their children properly. For example, Ernesto (Male, Age 53, JewishCatholic) noted, relating to his family and his wife’s family, “Well obviously the kids, was
the biggest thing … they wanted their grandkids to be the same religion.” Emma (Female,
Age 49, Catholic-Jewish) recalled facing judgment from people external to the relationship,
such as the parents of other schoolmates,
It’s more, explaining to the outside world our decisions. And having people being critical that
they weren’t raised in one formal religion, whether, regardless of what it was, they just kinda
feel that they should be raised with a religion.
In spite of the social pressure, once participants discussed how they would raise their
children, they came to either one of two conclusions. They would either raise the children
in one faith or expose them to both faiths without necessarily having them practice either.
Carolina (Female, Age 28, Catholic-Methodist) had discussed with her husband her wishes
for their children’s religious affiliation prior to getting married. For most of the other interviewees with children, however, the discussion of how to raise them religiously necessitated
a more significant amount of deliberation. The following passages outline some specific
We did discuss what we were gonna do with the kids and just decided that initially we were
just going to present all of it to them so that’s what we were doing … Because it’s a minority
religion (Judaism), where we live, we also knew that if we didn’t do something there the kids
would not, learn anything about it at all … So, we went back and forth on this for a long time.
(Marina, Female, Age 48, Jewish-Protestant)
L. V. Martinez et al.
We agreed that neither one, that they would be raised, mindful of both and then they can choose
when they wanted to … Because our wedding was a compromise, we pretty much knew our kids
would be compromise as well and, since we brought both [religions] into the wedding ceremony,
we brought both into the kids’ lives. And I think that’s pretty much how we made the decision
not to have them one way or the other way. (Emma, Age 49, Catholic-Jewish)
So we decided to basically raise our children agnostic (chuckles). We’ve given them the freedom
to choose. So our thing was, “Ok well we’re gonna teach them about all religions … when they’re
of sound age, they can choose, go about how they want. (Benjamin, Age 60, Catholic-Jewish)
The excerpts highlighted above from all of the interfaith couples who had children
together described a need to tackle their religious differences and reach a consensus on
how these would affect the lives of their children. Couples mulled over their differences and
revisited their options until they ultimately decided to expose children to both religions
and when the children were older, allow them to pave their own way.
Throughout the development of their relational culture, interviewee responses indicated
that religious differences were not a poignant centerpiece within the marital context because
they considered their relationship to be of upmost importance. However, in carefully listening to their voices, ambivalent feelings and tones do seep in with their expressed relational
convictions. The extensive analysis of the interview data brings to light the contexts and
efforts through which interfaith couples wielded their relational identity to manage religious
identity struggles.
Summary of Thematic Findings and Discussion
Identity is the core communicative construct through which individuals define group memberships and understand the unique attributes that differentiate the unique individual from
others. Identity in the interfaith marriage is a multifaceted concept that becomes manifest
along different relational dimensions. Through the developmental timeline of the relational
culture, the individuals involved become skillful negotiators when juggling their identities.
This section provides a summary of research findings, contributions, limitations, and future
research directions.
Prior to the present study, existing research suggests that the interfaith couple faces
specific challenges that result in reduced marital satisfaction, heightened conflict episodes,
and increased relationship dissolution rates (Lehrer & Chiswick, 1993). While recognizing
these challenges, this study uncovered the how and the meaning making contexts behind
the quantified data. Through repeated listening to interviewees’ accounts and stories, this
study discovered how interfaith partners used their relational identity to manage their
religious identity practices elastically. Echoing the developmental phases of IMT to the
interfaith marital union, interviewee data revealed that in order to reconcile their differences, relational partners initially choose to ignore or minimize the extent to which their
religious dialectics defined the relationship. These findings support the assumptions of
IMT that intercultural relational partners overlook their differences and focus instead on
their interpersonal connection during initial attraction. Most interviewees suggested that
an effective way for relational partners to overlook their differences was to depolarize the
disparity across their respective religious beliefs and focus on the commonalities between
both religions’ doctrines. Furthermore, the data revealed that interfaith marital couples
would attempt to co-create a superordinate spiritual and value system that encapsulated
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
both partners’ core moral and spiritual values, thereby molding a third culture relational
identity that transcended both religious identities and solidified the relational identity.
Importantly, interfaith marital partners developed a relational couplehood culture specific to their relationship, mirroring the enmeshment phase posited by IMT, in which they
prioritized the relational identity above their individual religious identities. Built into prioritizing their relationship was demonstrating respect and open-mindedness towards each
other’s religious differences. Doing so served a function of buttressing the relationship
against possible tension created by partners’ conflicting religious viewpoints. The research
found that relational partners regulated relational boundaries between the relationship and
each other’s religion.
That said, the research revealed two life milestones that would force the interfaith couples
to acknowledge and coordinate their religious differences. Interviewees revealed that the
first time they were forced to face their religious dialectics occurred when they talked about
marriage and had to plan a wedding service. In this situation, external stressors, such as
pressure from the couple’s social network to uphold certain religious traditions, coerced the
couple into managing their religious differences. However, because the focus was on getting
married, the couples were able to unify against external stressors and effectively manage their
religious dialectics for the sake of the relationship. The data revealed a second milestone that
highlighted the couple’s religious dialectics. Managing the children’s religious upbringing
was revealed to be the most challenging part of managing religious identity conflicts in an
interfaith marriage. These findings echo previous research detailing the difficulties associated with raising children in an interfaith marriage (Andrews Horowitz, 1999; Williams
& Lawler, 2003). However, having set boundaries to buffer against interreligious conflict,
couples managed to overcome the milestone by reinforcing their interfaith couplehood
culture. Figure 1 presents the summary findings and the interconnection among the three
major thematic patterns in the development of interfaith marital couplehood (see Figure 1).
Overall, this study makes several significant contributions to interfaith marital communication research: (1) this narrative study gathered rich data-set from both spousal perspectives
in illuminating insights into the meaning construction processes of how intimate partners
co-construct and coordinate their interfaith marital bond; (2) the interpretive findings
highlighted the various intricate pathways of how relational partners approach and negotiate
key religious milestone issues in the Southern California setting; and (3) this study also
provides several theoretical contributions to Imahori and Cupach’s (2005) IMT. In particular,
this study supported certain elements of the trial and error, enmeshment, and renegotiation phases of IMT. Interfaith partners’ initial decision to ignore their religious dialectics
underscores the trial and error stage of intercultural relationship attraction. During the
enmeshment stage, this study found that partners depolarized their religions and co-created a superordinate spiritual-value system that support IMT’s focus on commonalities
rather than differences during this stage. In the renegotiation phase, the study discovered
that partners prioritize their relational identity above and beyond their individual religious
identities and fortified relational boundaries while simultaneously displaying intercultural
religious sensitivity and respect in their interfaith unions. Figure 1 diagram illustrates the
interconnection of the three interpretive themes (i.e. minimizing differences: maximizing
L. V. Martinez et al.
Figure 1. Relational identity development in interfaith marital couplehood.
similarities, negotiating interfaith couplehood culture, and facing interfaith milestones)
and offers an initial model of how interfaith couples navigate the ebbs and flows of their
religious bumps in co-creating a conjoint relational culture. The overall finding connotes
that relational partners need to address and cannot evade religious tug-and-pull issues at
different major turning points of their relationship – and that there are strong overlapped
and transitional phases in the trial-enmeshment-renegotiation stages, a feature currently
lacking in the relational developmental stages of IMT. It must be acknowledged here that
treating religion as a private matter by the interviewees in this study may indicate the norm
of the larger U.S. culture in separating the two spheres of public vs. private lives. Religious
identities or convictions, and beliefs or practices are often considered as personalized private matters in the U.S. cultural context. In many parts of the world, however, religion is a
public matter (see Croucher, 2008, 2013) with emblematic socio-cultural significance such
as wearing the hijab (e.g. Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia) or carrying an encoded
religious identity citizenship card (e.g. in Indonesia).
Moving beyond its contributions, this study has its limitations both theoretical and methodological in nature. While IMT facilitated the deep discovery of the identity management
themes, this lens may delimit other discoveries associated with the interfaith marital relationship. Had alternate theoretical frameworks such as expectancy violations theory (Burgoon &
Ebesu Hubbard, 2005) or coordinated management of meaning theory (Pearce, 2005) guided
this research, the data analysis may have yielded alternative themes and emphases. The
thematic results also reflected interfaith marital partners’ interpretations of the intersection
between religious identity and relational culture development of a particular region of the
diverse U.S. cultural tapestry and do not represent the entire U.S. multiethnic viewpoint or
the global lens. Methodologically, there was a relatively low variability across the religious
belief systems of the participating couples. Interviewees stated that their partner’s religious
beliefs did not drastically differ from their own. Conceivably, significantly contrastive doctrines such as Christianity and Islam and negative perceptions of such interfaith marital
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
unions (Croucher, 2008; Homsey & Sandel, 2012) are hard to be reconciled. Even in rare
cases if interfaith marital relationship is possible, the non-Islamic faith female partners are
often pressured to convert into Islamic faith (Ramano, 2001). Fundamentalism in certain
faiths forbids interfaith marriages unless one is willing to give up one’s faith for love and
chooses relational identity above and beyond religious identity. Lastly, some participants
may have felt that their overall belief system encompassed a broader ideology than could
be encapsulated by a single religion. However, the parameters of the study only allowed
interviewees to label one religion they identified with and therefore excluded possible polytheistic leanings as are commonplace in some regions (Gries, Su, & Schak, 2012).
Future Directions and Conclusion
This study provided a rich expansion of the existing research on interfaith marital communication in a U.S. cultural setting. Through the lens of identity, this study underscored significant findings on identity management of the interfaith relational dialectics. Theoretically,
future research of this topic may use an intergroup social identity complexity perspective
(Brewer, 2010) on negotiating relational priority, religious faith significance, and also interracial-interethnic identity dialectics. In particular, the intersection of “racial/ethnic identity”
loyalty issue and “religious identity” commitment issue, and the perceived and experienced
internal and external stressors is worthy of an entire distinctive research study. Indeed,
issues related to multiple identity intersections and convergence and divergence practices
can be incorporated in understanding interfaith relational partners’ verbal and nonverbal
interactional styles more in depth (Gallois, Ogay, & Giles, 2005). Relatedly, future research
should investigate identity management within an intergenerational interfaith relationship
between parent and child. It would be interesting to explore, when children grow to adulthood and decide to practice a different religion from that of their parents, how relational
and religious identities are managed in this context. Methodologically, it would be beneficial
to extend this study by recruiting couples who subscribe to significantly different religious
belief systems in different parts of the U.S. cultural regions and in different global settings.
Extending the study from this approach can yield a rich data-set and cast a wider net that
may uncover similar or different communication strategies for understanding how couples
manage multiple group membership and relational/personal identity issues from both macro-structural and micro-interpretive viewpoints. Lastly, future studies should explore if a
combination between a strong religious partner and an agnostic partner will yield similar or
different meaning-making accounts in their identity management processes in the context
of developing a cohesive relational culture.
The results of this study demonstrate that interfaith marital communication requires
diligent focused work and mutual commitment to manage and negotiate the working
identities of the intimate relationship. No single approach can capture the multifaceted
interfaith marital communication process. Rather, it is a conscious assortment of endeavors that guide relational partners to grapple with and harmonize their religious practices,
tugging them into their relational culture valiantly. Along this relational development
journey intimate couples attempt to prioritize and protect their relational fortress with
conviction, searching their way into one central meeting place: the invaluable interfaith
couplehood bond.
L. V. Martinez et al.
1. Critical Incident: A Family Affair: Grandparents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary*
Daniel and Leilani have been married for nearly two years. Daniel was raised in a
conservative religious household, is active in church activities, and is deeply committed to
his beliefs. Leilani has a strong belief system but does not strongly adhere to a religion. As a
child, her family only loosely participated in religious events. Daniel and Leilani have been
able to work out their religious differences throughout most of their relationship. Before they
were married, neither of them considered their religious beliefs to be necessarily at odds.
Most of the time they overlooked their differences entirely. Having been married for only
two years, their religious disparities have not yet been a factor of intense conflict. Granted,
they have had some arguments here and there, but they feel committed in their relationship
and love for one another. In fact, Daniel and Leilani are convinced that their relationship
can withstand any troubles.
Leilani’s grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary is coming up soon. This is a joyful and
exciting event for the entire family. Leilani is eager for her and Daniel to visit her native
home of Veracruz and introduce him to all of her relatives. As they are preparing for the
trip, Leilani is excitedly telling Daniel how happy she is that he will get to spend time with
her family in her hometown. Her grandparents would be celebrating 50 years of marriage.
What a wonderful occasion for them to spend with the entire family! Leilani continued to fill
Daniel in on the planned activities: the traditional family picture, the dinner and of course,
the church ceremony in which her grandparents would renew their vows and all family
members would attend.
Upon hearing about attending the church ceremony, Daniel immediately becomes very
agitated. He tells Leilani that he cannot attend the church ceremony because he would feel
uncomfortable participating in another church’s religious services. Leilani is confused and
distraught. Daniel insists she should not go either as this would make him feel left out and
alone. However, the ceremony includes the entire family. After Leilani’s grandparents walk
into the church, their children will follow, and then the grandchildren.
Leilani is expected to attend and she has been looking forward to this ceremony for
months. Daniel is insistent that they not attend the church service. Leilani is torn. She
doesn’t want to leave Daniel behind or have a problem with him, but she also doesn’t want
to disappoint her family, especially her aging grandparents. What should Leilani do? Should
she stay with Daniel and skip the religious service? Or should she go to the church knowing
that Daniel will be very upset?
Choose the solution that you consider best resolves the issue:
1. Leilani should explain to her grandparents that Daniel’s religious beliefs stop him from
attending the ceremony and she needs to stay with him so that he doesn’t feel left out.
2. Leilani should explain to Daniel how important this event is for her and encourage
him to attend with her.
3. Leilani should just go to the church and worry about the conflict with Daniel later.
4. Leilani should stay with Daniel and never bring up the issue to her family, hoping that
no one notices her missing from the church.
5. Leilani should just cancel the trip because it would be too difficult and embarrassing
to explain to her family the situation with Daniel.
6. Your creative solution:
*Source: An original critical incident developed by Laura V. Martinez, Human Communication
Studies, CSUF, 2015.
2. Interviewees’ responses to the critical incident mirrored the overall interview data notion
that their relationship took precedence over their individual religious identities. Through the
use of this critical incident, participants were able to project their opinions to an imaginary
scenario and as such, the incident is a useful tool to outline how interfaith partners manage
their religious and relational identities. The critical incident described a relational dilemma
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
between the fictional characters Daniel and Leilani. Leilani’s grandparents’ 50th anniversary
celebration is near but her husband Daniel’s religious beliefs impede him from attending the
church service. Interviewees were tasked with choosing the best way for Leilani to resolve
the situation. They were given a choice of five possible resolutions to Leilani’s dilemma. If no
option seemed appropriate, interviewees could create their own solution. Most interviewees
identified with Leilani and had a strong negative affective reaction towards Daniel. Twelve
of the 16 interviewees selected, “Leilani should explain to Daniel how important this event
is for her and encourage him to attend.” While some interviewees did not understand why
the situation would present complications and considered Daniel to be overreacting, others
relayed that the situation would be difficult to resolve in a manner that would satisfy both
parties. Interviewees predominately noted that Daniel needed to prioritize his relationship
with Leilani over his religious beliefs and that Leilani should attend the ceremony with or
without Daniel. Some interviewees identified Daniel as being “selfish,” “a little brat,” a “pigheaded idiot,” “a jerk,” and an “asshole.” Other interviewees labeled the dilemma as being
“tough” or “difficult” to resolve. Some interviewees identified with Daniel, claiming they too
had felt uncomfortable attending their spouse’s religious services in the past. Others identified
with Leilani because they had received similar refusals from their own partners when inviting
them to attend specific religious events. However, interviewees agreed the situation required
Daniel to give precedence to his relational identity over his religious identity. Responses to
the critical incident corroborated the findings that interfaith partners effectively manage the
dialectics of their religious identities by deemphasizing these for the development of a cohesive
relational culture. Several interviewees also reinforced the notion that if Daniel continued to
refuse after Leilani communicated the importance of the event, she should respect his decision
and not try to force him to attend. This reaction further supports establishing and respecting
interfaith relational boundaries as identified in negotiating the interfaith couplehood culture.
We would like to thank the reviewers for their astute feedback through the editorial process as well
as the participants whose voices shaped this research as they shared their stories.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributors
Laura V. Martinez is a Lecturer, in the Department of Human Communication Studies at California
State University, Fullerton. Her research interests include intercultural and interpersonal communication theory and identity diversity and conflict negotiation issues.
Stella Ting-Toomey is a Professor, in the Department of Human Communication Studies at California
State University, Fullerton. Her research interests are in cultural/ethnic identity negotiation, cross-cultural facework, and conflict communication styles.
Tenzin Dorjee is an Associate Professor, in the Department of Human Communication Studies at
California State University, Fullerton. His primary research interests are intergroup, intercultural,
intergenerational communication, identity issues, peace building, and conflict resolution.
Andrews Horowitz, J. (1999). Negotiating couplehood: The process of resolving the december dilemma
among interfaith couples. Family Process, 38, 303–323. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.1999.00303.x
L. V. Martinez et al.
Balkin, R. S., Schlosser, L. Z., & Levitt, D. H. (2009). Religious identity and cultural diversity: Exploring
the relationships between religious identity, sexism, homophobia, and multicultural competence.
Journal of Counseling and Development, 87, 420–427.
Baxter, L. A., & Montgomery, B. M. (1996). Relating: Dialogues and dialectics. New York, NY: The
Guildford Press.
Brewer, M. (2010). Social identity complexity and acceptance of diversity. In R. Crisp (Ed.), The
psychology of social and cultural diversity (pp. 11–31). West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
Burgoon, J. K., & Ebesu Hubbard, A. (2005). Cross-cultural and intercultural applications of
expectancy violations and interaction adaptation theory. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.), Theorizing
about intercultural communication (pp. 149–171). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Carnegie, M. (2013). Intermarriage and reciprocal household exchange practices in a mixed
community in Roti, Indonesia. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 24, 81–98. doi:10.1111/
Chinitz, J. G., & Brown, R. A. (2001). Religious homogamy, marital conflict, and stability in samefaith and interfaith jewish marriages. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40, 723–733.
Cila, J., & Lalonde, R. N. (2014). Personal openness toward interfaith dating and marriage among
young Muslim adults: The role of religiosity, cultural identity, and family connectedness. Group
Processes Intergroup Relations, 17, 357–370. doi:10.1177/1368430213502561
Croucher, S. M. (2008). Looking beyond the hijab. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Croucher, S. M. (2013). Integrated threat theory and acceptance of immigrant assimilation: An
analysis of muslim immigration in Western Europe. Communication Monographs, 80, 46–62.
Dollinger, S. J. (2001). Religious identity: An autographic study. The International Journal for the
Psychology of Religion, 11, 71–92.
Eguchi, S. (2011). Cross-national identity transformation: Becoming a gay “Asian–American” man.
Sexuality & Culture, 15, 19–40. doi:10.1007/s12119-010-9080-z
Gallois, C., Ogay, T., & Giles, H. (2005). Communication accommodation theory. In W. B. Gudykunst
(Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 121–148). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Gries, P., Su, J., & Schak, D. (2012). Toward the scientific study of polytheism: Beyond forced-choice
measures of religious belief. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 51, 623–637. doi:10.1111/
Haji, R., Lalonde, R. N., Durbin, A., & Naveh-Benjamin, I. (2011). A multidimensional approach to
identity: Religious and cultural identity in young Jewish Canadians. Group Processes Intergroup
Relations, 14, 3–18. doi:10.1177/1368430210370602
Hanassab, S., & Tidwell, R. (1998). Intramarriage and intermarriage: Young Iranians in Los Angeles.
International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 22, 395–408. doi:10.1016/S0147-1767(98)00015-7
Homsey, D. M., & Sandel, T. (2012). The code of food and tradition: Exploring a Lebanese (American)
speech code in practice in Flatland. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 41, 59–80.
Imahori, T. T., & Cupach, W. R. (2005). Identity management theory. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.),
Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 195–210). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Karis, T. A., & Killian, K. D. (Eds.). (2009). Intercultural couples: Exploring diversity in intimate
relationships. New York, NY: Routledge.
Kosmin, B. A., Mayer, E., & Keysar, A. (2001). American religious identification survey. Retrieved from
Leeds-Hurwitz, W. (2002). Wedding as text: Communicating cultural identities through ritual. Mahwah,
NJ: Routledge.
Leeds-Hurwitz, W. (2009). Ambiguity as a solution to the “problem” of intercultural weddings. In
T. A. Karis & K. Killian (Eds.), Intercultural couples: Exploring diversity in intimate relationships
(pp. 21–30). New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
Lehrer, E. L., & Chiswick, C. U. (1993). Religion as a determinant of marital stability. Demography,
30, 385–404. Retrieved from
Lindlof, T. R., & Taylor, B. C. (2011). Qualitative communication research methods (3rd ed.). Los
Angeles, CA: Sage.
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
Manning, J., & Kunkel, A. (2014). Researching interpersonal relationships: Qualitative methods, studies,
and analysis. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
McCurry, A. L., Schrodt, P., & Ledbetter, A. M. (2012). Relational uncertainty and communication
efficacy as predictors of religious conversations in romantic relationships. Journal of Social and
Personal Relationships, 29, 1085–1108. doi:10.1177/0265407512449402
Ortega, S. T., Whitt, H. P., & William, J. A. (1988). Religious homogamy and marital happiness.
Journal of Family Issues, 9, 224–239.
Owen, W. F. (1984). Interpretive themes in relational communication. Quarterly Journal of Speech,
70, 274–287.
Pearce, W. B. (2005). The coordinated management of meaning (CMM). In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.),
Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 35–54). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Romano, D. (2001). Intercultural marriage: Promises and pitfalls (2nd ed.). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural
Reiter, M. J., & Gee, C. B. (2008). Open communication and partner support in intercultural and
interfaith romantic relationships: A relational maintenance approach. Journal of Social and Personal
Relationships, 25, 539–559. doi:10.1177/0265407508090872
Rosenblatt, P., Karis, T., & Powell, R. (1995). Multiracial couples: Black and white voices. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage.
Schaefer Riley, N. (2013). ‘Til faith do us part. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Stets, J. E., & Burke, P. J. (2000). Identity theory and social identity theory. Social Psychology Quarterly,
63, 224–237. Retrieved from
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin &
S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: BrooksCole.
Ting-Toomey, S. (2005). Identity negotiation theory: Crossing cultural boundaries. In W. B. Gudykunst
(Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 211–233). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Ting-Toomey, S. (2009). A mindful approach to managing conflicts in intercultural-intimate couples.
In T. A. Karis & K. Killian (Eds.), Intercultural couples: Exploring diversity in intimate relationships
(pp. 31–49). New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
Ting-Toomey, S., & Oetzel, J. G. (2013). Introduction to intercultural/international conflict. In
J. G. Oetzel & S. Ting-Toomey (Eds.), The Sage handbook of conflict communication (2nd ed.,
pp. 635–638). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Tracy, S. J. (2013). Qualitative research methods: Collecting evidence, crafting analysis, communicating
impact. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
Williams, L. M., & Lawler, M. G. (2003). Marital satisfaction and religious heterogamy: A comparison
of interchurch and same-church individuals. Journal of Family Issues, 24, 1070–1092. doi:10.117
Willimon, W. H. (2013, May). Interfaith marriage: A reality check. Christian Century, 130, 30–32.
L. V. Martinez et al.
Appendix A
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research
Appendix B