Tom Cruise’s divorce raises questions about interfaith marriages: Can they really work?

The high-profile split between actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes has tongues a-wagging about many different issues, including custodial rights, prenups, and even real estate. But no matter the topic, news stories and blogs keep coming back to one central theme: religion.

Tom Cruise is a Scientologist. Katie Holmes, it seems, is not. Last week, Holmes quit the marriage and will be seeking sole custody of their 6-year-old daughter Suri, as they build a new life in New York, reports People magazine. While there's been no public confirmation or denial from either party, Holmes supposedly made the move to save her daughter from a lifetime of Scientology, a controversial religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard that has been labelled a cult by at least one outspoken critic, reports the National Post.

The question remains, how can two people in an interfaith relationship find common ground, learn to respect each other, each other's religion, and raise children in a welcoming and accepting environment that celebrates both faiths?

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It is possible, says Toronto-based relationship counsellor Bernie Golden. He points out that most interfaith relationships fare quite well, but depending on how much of a person's identity is wrapped up in their faith, problems may arise.

"Because some people are very identified with their religion, they feel personally attacked and misunderstood when their partner critiques their beliefs or advocates for their own beliefs," he says. "When this happens, it is important to understand that a person can understand another person's belief and not necessarily agree with it. Letting your partner know that you are trying to understand their religion goes a long way."

Golden says it's also important for couples to remember that their partner's faith doesn't threaten their own or who they are as a person.

But what happens when you factor kids into the equation? How do interfaith couples reconcile the issue of how to raise their children?

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Golden admits it's when interfaith couples have children that problems tend to flare up. In many cases, each partner will dig in their respective heels over where to send the child to school and which faith to teach in the home, he says.

"It is important that regardless of their differences, the parents work together in the best interest of the child," he says. "If the parents are going to war with each other over who is right, the child is the one that suffers and they have embarked on a war that no one can win. If the couple decides to divorce, the fundamental issue of the child having two parents working against each other is still there."

Golden offers a few tips for interfaith couples that may be struggling to overcome challenges in their relationship:

"Be honest, don't be defensive," he says. "Help your partner to explain to you their thoughts and feelings around the issue. Be respectful of your partner even if you do not agree with their faith. Engage in the conversation early in the relationship. And maintain the friendship."

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