How To Navigate Different Religious Beliefs In A Relationship

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What happens when two people have an incredible connection with one another, but they’re of different religious beliefs?

In an ideal world, that wouldn’t make any difference at all. They’d be able to love and support one another unconditionally, and celebrate any and every aspect of their respective religions together, without any stress or strife.

But that’s in an ideal world.

In reality, there may be some tension in the relationship, depending on a number of different factors…

Are their beliefs compatible? How devout is each partner, really? Are their families xenophobic when it comes to other religions and cultures?

Four Major Scenarios:

When it comes to navigating potential spiritual difficulties in a relationship, there are generally four scenarios that can ensue:

1. Both partners are religious, but follow different-yet-mostly-compatible faiths.

2. Both partners are religious, but follow faiths that may clash.

3. One partner is religious, and the other is an atheist.

4. Neither partner was religious when they met/married, but one eventually became religious during the relationship.

Let’s take a look at each of them, determine what issues may arise, and how to navigate them.

1. Both partners are religious, but follow different-yet-mostly-compatible faiths.

As a first example here, I’m going to draw upon some real-life experience: both my own, and those of my friends, rather than just pulling “what if” scenarios out of a hat.

L and S met on a cruise, and had absolutely insane, instant chemistry. They talked until dawn the first night they met, and were basically inseparable as soon as they made it back to dry land. In fact, they seemed pretty much made for each other on every level.

The only real differences they had were that she (L) is Catholic, and he (S) is progressive Jewish. 

Since these are both Abrahamic faiths, they were really quite compatible. Same God, some of the same religious texts (hello Old Testament!), and similar values.

The two of them have no problems celebrating one another’s faiths, and will even attend religious services at each other’s places of worship.

The only snag they hit was when they had children, as the grandparents each wanted the kids raised with their own faiths. L and S got around this by saying that they would raise the children with both religions, and allow them to choose their own paths as they got older.

Isn’t that awesome?

In my own realm of experience, my partner and I share a number of the same spiritual beliefs, but our paths diverge slightly on a few different topics. Without going into specific details about our respective leanings, I’ll just say that the way we negotiate this is with complete respect and understanding.

Neither of us is so fervently religious that we aren’t open to different perspectives. In fact, the areas in which our beliefs differ allow us to have some pretty amazing discussions. 

We learn more about each other by talking openly about our studies, have taught one another some cool lessons and ideas, and are happier, more compassionate people for sharing (and celebrating) our differences.

2. Both partners are religious, but follow faiths that may clash.

This one is a bit trickier, but can still be handled with grace.

While religions that closely resemble one another can be very compatible, those that diverge greatly can potentially cause friction when it comes to romantic relationships. 

For example, a gentle, vegan Jainist might be incredibly physically attracted to a strong, fierce Ásatrúar… but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to support one another when it comes to religion. Never mind their reactions to the buffet tables at their respective spiritual gatherings…

That said, a person who’s confident and comfortable with their faith can absolutely have a romantic relationship with someone who follows a very different path.

Sure, there may be some frustrations and arguments when it comes to certain beliefs and practices, but the way to get around these issues comes down to two things that are integral to any relationship:

Communication and respect.

If the two of you don’t mesh on a particular concept or subject, that’s okay: you can agree to disagree, and still love and accept one another unconditionally.

Unless you’re in a situation where the other person’s religion is causing you some kind of harm or damage, whether physically or emotionally, you should be able to find common ground. Or at the very least, accept that you can believe different things and still be amazing people who work well together in every other aspect.

One big issue you may have to face is if your families are really religious and either take offense to your partner’s beliefs, or threaten to disown you if you get involved with a person of that particular faith.

In a situation like that, you may need to get some professional help to navigate those turbulent waters. Family counselors are often trained in dealing with different religious and cultural beliefs and practices, so consider calling in the cavalry to help you out, so to speak.

Another big issue you may face is when it comes to raising children and how you respect both of your religious beliefs in this situation.

Unlike in the previous section, it might be too difficult to raise a child according to two very different sets of beliefs, not to mention confusing for the child!

And then there are the ceremonies that might cause friction, such as circumcision or baptism, for example. If one partner wishes to adhere to these rituals, whilst the other is strongly against them, finding a middle ground may prove impossible.

Again, communication comes to the rescue – of sorts. It is best to have these discussions before the relationship gets too serious and certainly before you have children. It’s no good realizing that you clash in a big way over a particular ritual after you’ve had the child.

3. One partner is religious, and the other is an atheist.

If both of you are caring, accepting people with great senses of humor, then this doesn’t need to be any kind of a deal breaker.

The religious partner can pretend to make a big fuss about getting ready to go to their house of worship, and the atheist partner can crack gentle jokes about their woo-woo beliefs, and y’all can meet up later for brunch.

After all, we can love and support people who don’t believe the same things we do, right? 

As mentioned in the previous scenario, it all comes down to communication and respect. Discuss your beliefs (or lack thereof), as well as any boundaries and sensitivities you may have. Ensure that if you’re both into playfully making fun of one another, that you don’t overstep into hurtful territory.

If either of you does so accidentally, address it immediately and make sure apologies are sincere. This keeps trust intact, and avoids resentment.

Ultimately, every religion on the planet has beauty and wisdom to share. And each and every one of them also has some pretty weird aspects as well. Animal-headed deities? Flaming, talking shrubbery? 

Exactly.

There’s always some potential for jokes and gentle humor, and just as much potential for celebration. 

If both partners are open to it, you could find a middle ground that would suit both of you. For example, you could consider attending services at a Humanist community center, or a Unitarian Universalist church. 

These are often non-denominational gatherings that celebrate community and kindness, along with personal growth, and caring for the natural world. 

As far as finding middle ground goes, those are pretty awesome options to consider. They’ll also mean that you can support one another’s paths, while still pursuing your own interests.

It’s win-win all around.

Of course, if the religious partner is practicing, they may wish to continue to attend their current place of worship. The atheist partner should fully accept this.

The atheist partner has two choices: do something else whilst the other is at worship, or tag along with them. The former is probably the more common, but some atheists will find that attending a religious ceremony is perfectly enjoyable and has benefits other than the religious aspects.

They may, for example, enjoy listening to sermons and singing songs and the feeling of community that comes from being with a group of people. They don’t have to engage in the more religious parts of the ceremony such as prayers or communion.

Couples of this sort may, however, face challenges with certain types of ceremony, just as in the previous section.

Take marriage, for example. Is the atheist happy to get married in a church and have a religious ceremony? Is the religious person willing to forego that and have a civil ceremony?

If a workable compromise can be found, or if one partner is willing to submit to the wishes of the other, then great. If not, is this a deal breaker for the relationship?

Ultimately, you both have to decide whether you’d be willing to sacrifice what you currently have because of what you believe in, or whether your love is worth an altogether different type of sacrifice.

4. Neither partner was religious, but one became a person of faith.

This is probably the most difficult one to navigate, as it involves a really significant change. 

When two people meet, some of the topics that are immediately discussed may revolve around religious beliefs. For many, a potential partner’s faith (or lack thereof) is either a selling point, or a deal breaker.

As an example, two people might get along amazingly well nearly across the board, but if one is a devout Christian and the other is Wiccan, there probably won’t be a second date.

The same thing goes for some non-religious people. Whether these folks are non-spiritual because of how they were raised, or because they just have no interest in religion, they might quite steadfast in their stance.

As such, they’ll choose partners who share their values and leanings, as they likely don’t deal well with those who are religious or spiritual rather than humanist, or what they deem as “rational.”

So what happens if their partner has a spiritual awakening and feels the need to devote themselves to a religion?

In a best-case scenario, the atheist partner may tolerate this with humor, even though it might make them uncomfortable.

A more likely situation, however, is that they’ll get annoyed and frustrated, and may ridicule their partner for their newfound faith.

This can be disheartening to someone who’s torn between their beloved, and a faith that they feel very strongly about.

The only way this can be navigated is if both partners treat one another with patience and respect.

Can the non-believing partner be open and understanding about their beloved’s path, without being mocking or contemptuous about it?

Can the person of faith respect that their partner doesn’t share their beliefs, and as such, refrain from trying to convert them?

If the answer to both of those questions is “yes,” then this can work.

If not… therapy may help, but both partners have to be invested in finding a middle ground despite their differences.

Amor Vincit Omnia

Love conquers all.

Ultimately, one of the basic tenets in all religions on the planet is “don’t be a jerk.” 

Regardless of which religion you and your partner follow (or don’t), you can probably both agree on the importance of compassion, empathy, kindness, and mercy.

These are some of the most vital foundations of what it means to be human, and they can – and should – be part of any loving relationship.

Should the two of you have such an incredible connection that you’d regret it forever if you didn’t try to make it work, then you’ll find a way.

If you’re cool with having a special meal on a particular day to mark something important to your partner, great. If you’re not, communicate that clearly, and encourage them to spend that time with friends or family members who share their faith instead.

You don’t have to worship the same (or any) deity, and no one should force you to take part in ceremonies or rituals that you’re not comfortable with. 

Be open and honest about what you are and aren’t comfortable with celebrating, respect one another’s boundaries, and enjoy every minute you have together.

Still not sure what to do about the different beliefs that you and your partner have? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.