Can an Orthodox Jew and a Buddhist or an atheist and a Muslim construct a life-long relationship founded on love and acceptance?
Interfaith relationships are becoming more common in our interconnected world. Yet, for many, this is still a taboo subject. It’s hard to broach because faith is such a personal and communal part of one’s identity. Everyone lives out their faith, or lack thereof, in different ways.
You can share different perspectives on faith and still create a fulfilling life together. Many interfaith couples set themselves up for failure because they make the following common mistakes.
Common mistakes interfaith couples make
- Ignoring your religious differences because you believe that “love conquers all”
- Assuming that your differences will be irreconcilable
- Not addressing faith-based decisions that are not compromisable
- Deciding to cut ties with extended family
- Dismissing concerns from extended family and close friends
- Allowing extended family, close friends, and faith leaders to get in the middle
- Jumping into conversion as the only solution
- Imposing your beliefs on your partner
- Assuming that you understand your partner’s relationship with their faith
- Not exploring your own relationship with your faith
- Neglecting the importance of genuinely accepting your differences
- Not being open to exploring the similarities between values and belief systems
- Making a competition out of holidays
- Asking your children to choose between faiths
- Choosing not to plan ahead for important holidays and special events
Set your interfaith relationship for success
- Acknowledge the differences and what they will mean for your life together.
Admitting that you have different beliefs makes it real. Real is scary, especially for those who are afraid of conflict. Yet, it is through healthy conflict that couples evolve and learn how to love each other better.
Also, it’s never too soon to talk about your beliefs. Ask each other questions. “Where do they come from?” “What do they look like in practice?” “What do they mean to you?”
Avoidance is not a sustainable option. Don’t minimize your beliefs or assume that love will make everything okay. If your relationship becomes more permanent, you’ll have to make decisions that will be influenced by your faith (e.g., sex outside of marriage, if you even want to get married, how you will raise your future children, etc.).
- Explore your relationship with your faith.
There’s a difference between identifying with a religion or spiritual practice and how you view and engage that faith. Explore your identity as a Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Christian, ect., as well as who you are within agnosticism or atheism. What does this belief system mean to you? How does this belief system impact your life? How have your beliefs and practices changed throughout your life?
Negotiating religions and spiritual practices without having clarity of your own faith identity is unhelpful at best and detrimental at worst. You can’t ask your partner to compromise about something that you aren’t sure about yourself.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Did you grow up in a religious or spiritual household? If so, what was practiced? What was your experience like?
- What brings you peace? What helps you get through tough times?
- Have you changed your religious or spiritual beliefs throughout your life? If so, what motivated these changes?
- What aspects of your religious or spiritual beliefs do you hold onto tightly? Which ones are you more flexible with?
- How present are your religious or spiritual beliefs in your day-to-day life?
- What are your views on raising children with a particular faith?
- Has your faith been harmful to you in any way?
3. Share stories
Instead of forcing your partner into a belief or ritual that they don’t feel connected to, share your religious and cultural experiences with them. Sharing stories is the best way for your partner to get to know this part of you and understand how meaningful this is to you. It also takes the pressure off the conversation, and it keeps partners from shutting down.
4. Participate before negotiating
It’s unfair to commit or reject something you have yet to experience. It’s important that you show genuine interest and curiosity in your partner’s beliefs and practices. Go with them to their religious services and observe them as they practice rituals.
You aren’t making any promises to leave behind your beliefs and convert. This will simply communicate that you value your relationship and you are embracing who your partner is entirely.
5. Therapy is a tool
Talking about faith is personal. It can be tough no matter how hard you try. Some differences might seem impossible to figure out. You don’t have to do it alone. You can seek professional help. Therapy is a preventive tool for couples at any stage of their relationship. There is a misconception that couples therapy is only for long-term committed couples who are miserable and on the verge of separation. That’s a lie and it doesn’t have to be that way!
If you and your partner have trouble navigating this topic, I suggest you look for a couples therapist who specializes in helping interfaith couples.
A Unique Blend
Research shows that Americans become more religious with age, so dismissing the importance of your differing beliefs is not an option. You can create your own religious or spiritual identity as a couple. Let it be a blend that works for the two of you and that you protect from the outside world.