I think these days researchers categorize religious disagreements as “unresolvable conflicts.” I’m not sure to what extent I agree with this statement. But there is definitely something to be discussed as far as relationships go.
Can we date someone seriously who has religious beliefs different from our own? Or is it a non-issue and I’m just old fashioned?
I most certainly can’t call myself religious I’m probably traditional at best, but I honestly can’t see myself dating someone of a different religion. Not because I believe god will revoke my pass into heaven, but rather because tradition and faith are so fundamentally part of my personality that I have trouble imagining myself living with someone who has a whole different set of them.
I sometimes wonder if maybe I’ve got it all backwards. Maybe it’s enough that he believes in democracy, and he respects my place as a modern working woman. Maybe all those strange traditions that my ancestors passed down to me are only secondary to my liberal modern upbringing.
Or are they?
I mean, at the end of the day I love celebrating the holidays. I want to keep those old traditions alive even when I have saved up enough to finally own my own house (fingers crossed that too will happen someday. That is, when I give up teaching, and get a job that actually pays).
So can it work?
I’ve decide to bring in back-up.
This section was written by a friend of the blogger’s, who is from a secular-but-traditional family and in a happy relationship with a person whose beliefs and religious affiliation differ from hers, and thinks she knows a thing or two about dealing with the “religion issue” — that sometimes painful wedge that exists between the two of you when it comes to matters of faith, culture and tradition.
Back to “Can it work?”: that’s a trick question. When you’re just dating a person, religion isn’t as likely to come up and be a real problem. But when you get more serious about someone and bring them home to meet your parents (and grandparents), you’re bound to start asking yourself the “religion question”, and your significant other might be too.
But this question can have many different answers. If your family’s so traditional and if you belong to such a tight-knit community that you know the two of you won’t be able to be together unless you elope or even cut ties with your loved ones, you might want to come to terms with the fact that your relationship has an expiration date (or, well, just elope).
Bear in mind that being in a relationship your parents are adamant about not accepting will put a heavy strain on you, on your relationship and on your partner, who will want to share your pain. It might prove very difficult to cope without your parents’ moral and financial support, your mother’s hugs and your father’s advice (and occasional proud gaze). Worst of all, should your partner decide not to stick around, you’ll be left all alone to nurse your heartbreak with a healthy dose of “I told you so’s.”
This also depends on your partner’s religious orientation: if he’s technically of your religion but an atheist or of another caste, your parents might eventually come ‘round. If one of his parents is of your religion, your parents might eventually warm to him. If he’s of a different religion but you both share the same values, outlook or philosophy of life, you may have a chance. If he’s of a different religion but of the same culture, or moved to your country at a young age, it may well work, even if he’s of a different religion (my boyfriend and I are an example of this). But if he’s a devout Catholic from Poland and you’ve been raised as a devout Sikh from the Punjab, it might not work out so well for the two of you – because of cultural and religious differences alike. (Remember how in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the protagonists were both Christians, but one was Greek Orthodox while the other wasn’t? And even after the groom agreed to become Greek Orthodox, the bride’s father still felt betrayed, because the groom wasn’t culturally/ethnically Greek?)
If, on the other hand, your parents are less religious, or more open, there’s a chance that they’ll accept your partner with open arms, even if you have to deal with a rocky start in the first few weeks. If your parents raised you in a secular and liberal home and they still don’t accept your boyfriend, you should ask yourself if maybe the religious issue is not at the heart of their rejection. For example, they may be wary of accepting him because they believe the religious differences preclude the possibility of your building a happy and harmonious home together, and if you convince them that you share the same values, they’ll accept your partner. (Of course, it’s possible that they just think he’s a jerk.)
Or perhaps they think the religious differences belie even bigger cultural differences, in which case you have to ask yourself if these differences are surmountable. Or perhaps they worry about your legal status: will you be able to marry this man legally in your country, and will you be entitled to full rights as a married couple? Does your country have civil marriage? Does your religious denomination recognize mixed marriages? What will the status of your children be?
If you haven’t asked yourself these questions yet, you may find that they are crucial to figuring out if there’s a chance for the two of you – and they’re probably the questions running through your parents’ head, and the reason for their objection to your union.
Under what conditions can it work?
First of all, religion can be many things. It can be a set of childhood memories of holidays or the name you were given by your parents, but not necessarily something that has had a real impact on you growing up.
Or it can be an integral part of your identity, be it because you want to keep your family’s traditions or because you yourself have a close connection to God. If you are a spiritual person and feel that you share a spiritual affinity with your significant other despite the religious differences, you’ll probably be fine. If religion means little to the both of you but you share the same world-view, you’ll be ok also. And if religion to you is an amalgam of traditions and rituals you want your children (and spouse) to be part of, you have to make sure your significant other is willing to respect that (bear in mind that you will probably have to respect and even keep his own traditions in return – are you willing to change your lifestyle and do that?).
If the question of conversion arises and it becomes clear that the relationship cannot proceed without it, ask yourselves which one of you should convert and why, and what it will require of you as individuals and a couple. If you ask him to convert, will your partner feel like you can’t accept him as he is, that you need him to change too much? Will it alienate and hurt him and tear the two of you apart? Will it turn you into Marta and him into the Baron Münchhausen (an analogy my boyfriend and I often use when discussing this hot topic)? If so, just let it go.
Sometimes the “religion issue” can interfere in the bedroom as well — sometimes being brought up in a particular faith will shape the way we think about sex. For example, you may be all for abstinence, while he might expect sex way before the wedding night. He may have had a wild past, while you may have been “saving yourself”. You may have been brought up in a strict community that segregates men and women, while he may have lost his virginity at 13. You may have been brought up to get married early, while he may be planning to keep his bachelor pad at least until his 35th birthday. You may be pro-choice while he may be pro-life. These are extreme examples, but many interfaith couples are bound to encounter the “grey areas” of having differing (sometimes conflicting) opinions about sex. This is best solved by talking about it. If you’re disappointed that he’s not on the same page as you are where sex is concerned, don’t hide it from him — he might not even have realized.
Basically, it will only work if the two of you learn to accept each other’s religious traditions AND world-view. You should be accepting, mature and strong enough, and have enough resolve, to stay together even if one or both of you become a bit more religious, or show more signs of wanting to keep religious traditions.
What can you do to make it work?
1. Read and learn about your partner’s religion (and culture!) and have him read about yours – not on Wikipedia. Real books and stuff. Even THE books (the Bible, Qur’an…). Ask your partner questions about his religion, surprise him with facts you read that he might not know, try to figure out how he sees his religion and try to see it through his eyes. Ignorance isn’t sexy, and won’t endear you to his family or community either.
2. Try to find the points your religions have in common, in spirit if not in practice.
3. Try to see his religion in a positive light — you might find that some traditions seem beautiful to you, and you might want to experience them yourself with his family (and someday, with yours).
4. Be frank with each other and tell each other what you will and won’t give up, and which traditions you insist on keeping. In other words: set limits, and respect each other’s limits.
5. Don’t ask each other to make major changes as an ultimatum for staying together.
6. Don’t badmouth each other’s religion, culture, parents and upbringing as a way of trying to deal with the differences between you. Don’t keep your significant other from keeping his/her traditions, don’t put obstacles in the way of their faith.
7. Don’t turn your discussions into a contest of which religion is better. If you can’t accept that the person closest to you doesn’t believe what you believe, you’re better off apart. (Especially when there are kids in the picture — don’t entice them to choose your religion over your spouse’s, and don’t make them choose one religion just to prove a point.)
8. Try not to antagonize your parents to the point of breaking contact, and definitely don’t put on dramatic and rebellious airs of the type you were notorious for when you were sixteen. Try to understand their point of view. You’re not Romeo and Juliet, and your parents are not evil. HOWEVER, don’t let them insult your partner or his religion, don’t let them stereotypify him. Stand up to them. Have them get to know your partner, and if that doesn’t help matters, just keep on standing up to them.
Be prepared for the possibility that like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, your parents will conclude that that “on the other hand, there is no other hand” and never speak to you again. This is probably a very rare occurrence in real life (even in the most closed religious communities many parents sneak out to meet with their excommunicated children), unless you’re a pogrom-stricken Jew and decide to shack up with a village Cossack. Anyway, keep this in mind — any other reaction on your parents’ part will seem like a blessing in comparison…
9. Try to be understanding of your partner if they find the religious issue difficult to handle or fail to realize how significant religion is (or isn’t) to you. Try to explain things in a calm and composed manner.
10. Don’t turn religion into a weapon you can use against your partner, or a place to retreat to when you want to hide from them. Don’t hurt them deliberately by pushing them away.
11. Try to find out what your religion says about mixed marriages. Maybe talk to a clergyman or layperson your trust. Perhaps your religion allows intermarriage without conversion? There are several religions that do.
12. Never say never. Don’t assume tradition will never matter to you, and don’t tell your significant other as much (“I swear, I’ll never care about religion, it will never come between us!”). Sometimes when people start a family they want to pass certain traditions on to their children, so don’t deny that this is a possibility. Discuss it honestly, preferably before the time comes to pass traditions on.