When starting a new relationship you have many questions for your new partner: How many kids do you want? Do you want kids? Are you family-oriented? What side of the bed do you prefer? (Seriously, I’m not giving up my left side!) You may not be happy with all the answers they give you and you may have to adjust, accept, let go and compromise on. That’s how healthy relationships realistically work.
If you’re in an interfaith relationship, you might feel as if with each passing day the more your different beliefs are a source of conflict. Figuring out what works for both of you should happen sooner rather than later.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re in an interfaith relationship:
Respect each other’s faith. Accept and respect that their religion is part of who they are and can be the basis of their values and moral compass. Respecting their faith doesn’t mean you share the same beliefs, it means you respect and validate your partner for who they are. It can lead you to a place where you are encouraging them to dig deeper into their religion. Feeling that encouragement from you is a great way to build trust in the relationship as well.
Take time to learn about their religion. A great way to become closer to your partner is to understand their beliefs - why they pray the way the do, how are their prayers formed, why do they celebrate certain days, what core messages of their religion do they value the most? You may even see some similarities between your beliefs which you can celebrate together. Consider this an exercise on learning about your partner rather than learning about their religion itself.
Be united. When two people are raised in different faiths their respective families can have strong opinions of their relationships. It’s important for the couples to be aware of this and stand firm with a united front to protect the relationship despite their families’ biases. Discussing potential issues that may come up with their family will protect your relationship from potential issues with family or friends.
Family Planning. If kids are in your plans, the religion they learn is important to discuss. Are you open to have them explore both faiths so they may gravitate towards whichever they feel comfortable with? Or are you ok with your kids raised in your partner’s religion? How will you as a couple respond if one of your kids is interested in your or their religion? Deciding on a plan you’re both comfortable with will prevent conflict further along.
Talk about it. Lastly, religion is a complex topic and may even take more than one conversation. Getting nervous about bringing the topic up is understandable. You’re not sure what they’re going to say or if you’re willing to compromise anything. But opening a conversation for you to speak freely and with compassion is very important if you want to plan a future together. Make sure that you’re prepared to have an open mind and heart. Set up a time and place so you can both approach it mindfully and objectively. Should things not go as you expected, take it day-by-day and allow yourselves time to process it all.
Discuss what religion means to one another. People’s religion doesn’t define who they are, what they think or what they value. You and your partner are influenced by your religion and it’s important to discuss how it influences your lives. Sometimes people pick and choose different aspects of their religion that they make part of their life. Framing the conversation about each other’s religion as how it impacts your lives will keep you both from making religion-based assumptions.