Faith might move mountains. But can it wreck a marriage?

Jul 03, 2012, 10:42 IST | Aviva Dharmaraj

Last Friday, actress Katie Holmes filed for divorce from her movie star husband Tom Cruise. The reason for the split is alleged to be Cruise's devotion to the Church of Scientology, coupled with Holmes' concerns that their six-year-old daughter would soon be inducted into the controversial faith. We ask the experts whether inter-faith and inter-caste marriages are doomed to fail

TomKat is no more. After a much-publicised whirlwind romance and five years of being married to the world’s biggest movie star, actress Katie Holmes decided to walk out of their lavish LA home, last week. The 33-year-old actress is reportedly staying in New York with her six-year-old daughter, Suri, while Cruise — said to be blind-sided by the news — is filming on location in Iceland for the sci-fi, action-adventure, Oblivion. 

Actress Katie Holmes and daughter Suri spotted walking in Manhattan, New York, in 2008. Pic /Getty Images

According to reports, the couple’s religious beliefs — specifically Cruise’s alleged devotion to the Church of Scientology, a controversial faith founded by writer Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, in 1952 — is said to be one of the reasons for the split. “Religion plays a significant part in an individual’s life, thus playing a primary role not just in marriage ceremonies, but in marriage as well,” says Dr Anjali Chhabria, who is a psychiatrist with Mind Temple, a counselling centre in Juhu.

Chhabria adds that following different faiths or belief systems can impact a marriage, with gender playing a role in the mix. “Girls face more difficulty, as they move to their husband’s house after marriage,” she says, adding that while the modern-day nuclear family set-up does make it easier for couples to adjust, when the couple has a child, differences are bound to crop up.

“Religion may become important again, as when the couple has a child each one might want the child to follow their own religion,” she says. Chhabria stresses that it is important for the couple to talk about expectations. “Marriage is a 50-50 partnership, where both partners need to reach a compromise to have a long,

stable and happy married life.” Psychiatrist Dr Dayal Mirchandani, however, says that differences needn’t be necessarily restricted to couples of diverse faiths. “Even if one is from the same caste or religion, there can be differences about how to follow the faith. If one is following a cult, for example, it can give rise to more differences, as you are not just battling the spouse, but also friends and family,” he says.

Family ties
It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes a family to keep a couple together, believe the experts. “Family and social pressure is the top-most stress factor that couples face in an inter-caste/ inter-faith marriage. Most couples will be blamed for putting their parents’ reputation at stake. Resistance from parents creates friction between couples,” says Chhabria.

Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise in 2006. Pic/ GetTy Images

“There is a staunch belief in our society that people from different religious backgrounds will not be able to adjust to each other. This creates added pressure on the couple,” adds Chhabria, who believes that it is crucial for couples to talk about these issues, so as to be able to anticipate potential areas of conflict. Issues can range from eating habits and religions practices to attitudes towards pre-marital sex.

“I had a couple come to me once, who were of different faiths: One was a Muslim and the other was a Christian. They decided to convert to a third faith, so as not to confuse their child,” says Mirchandani.

Parents who believe that children can be raised to choose their own faith might be jumping the gun, according to Mirchandani. “Kids can never decide about religion,” he says. Following a religion or being spiritual, however, might be crucial to a person’s emotional well-being. Says Chhabria, “The sense of being one with God adds value to an individual’s life. Research suggests that religious/ spiritual people are happier and healthier than their counterparts.” 

Keep the faith:
3 things couples can do to have a healthy relationship 
Think about getting through ‘the every day’ 
Right from accommodating each other’s dietary preferences to whether or not there will be idols in the home, experts say that it is important to talk about how your lifestyle and routine is likely to impact your partner.  
Talk to each other. Often. And certainly before the wedding 
“It is important to talk about potentially contentious issues, so that they can be sorted out,” says psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani. He adds that partners should reach an understanding that is beneficial to both, so as to avoid resentment, later.
Respect your partner
“Couples should respect each other’s religion, have realistic expectations about one another and be honest with each other to ensure that there is no room for regret or disappointment in the marriage,” advises psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria.

The way we were...
>> Like most Hollywood couples, the union of actors Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise seemed picture-perfect. Their first date? Sushi dinner on his plane.
>> Two months later, they were engaged after Cruise’s grand proposal on top of the Eiffel tower in Paris, France. She was 26. He was 43.
>> 17 months later, on November 18, 2006, the couple was married in a Scientology ceremony, in Italy. She was raised Catholic. He is a follower of Scientology — a movement founded by sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard in the early 1950s.
>> The date of their official wedding in Los Angeles, California is unknown — alleged to be anywhere between two weeks to two days prior to the Italian ceremony.
>> On April 18, 2006, Holmes gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Suri. Post the birth of their daughter, the couple reportedly became increasingly reclusive.
>> Last Friday, on June 29, 2012, Holmes filed for divorce from Cruise, citing “irreconcilable differences”. Holmes is seeking sole custody of their six-year-old daughter. Rumour has it that Holmes sought to end the marriage as she was “terrified” about her daughter being inducted into the Scientology faith, as Suri would soon have to attend school.  

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