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What if My Partner Doesn’t Share My Faith?

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistMarch 25, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

It’s normal to overlook some differences when first dating someone. But, sooner or later, one issue that you would be wise to address head on is a difference of religion or faith (even if that faith is just in science). People’s faith is often central to their identity and how they approach important aspects of life.

So, if your relationship is headed toward serious commitment, you need to consider the implications of your differences in this area. Take the time to think and talk about the following possible issues that might arise:

Values: All major religions are centered on many of the same basic values, such as the importance of being loving, peaceful, and kind. Still, it’s important to discuss your values and how they might be different.

The more central your faiths are in your lives, the more important it is to discuss them. You will surely face this early on if one of you believes in abstinence before marriage. Another example is if one person believes that accepting Jesus Christ as your savior is the only path to salvation and the other person is not Christian. Such significant differences are too important to ignore.

Cultural backgrounds: If you were raised in different cultures, you will – to some degree – effectively be speaking different languages. You may not fully understand or appreciate each other’s traditions. You may find that you and your partner have learned to show affection and express anger very differently. Not only will this have implications for how the two of you communicate, but it will also affect your relationship with each other’s families. And while it’s easy to say that you are marrying your partner and not their family, the truth is that you are also marrying into a family.

And if your partner’s family is not happy with them marrying outside their religion, then the two of you will need to work together to support each other and to cope with conflicts with them that emerge.

Raising Children: This can be a particularly thorny area. First, there is the decision to have or not have children—as well as how many children you would like to have. You may have differences of opinion about this from religious as well as more broadly personal views. Other issues to consider are your beliefs about birth control and abortion.

Another important conversation for you to have is about what religion to raise your children. If this is a point of contention, it’s best to address it before starting your family. Be honest with yourselves about how important this is. The decisions you make early on can enhance your family life, or undermine it.

Everyday life: There are many ways in which faith can be part of daily or weekly life. Some questions to consider are: How important is it for you to pray and attend church or temple together? Do you want to center your social life around your religion? If so, how will that work?

Another consideration is how comfortable you are with how you each express your faith. Will your partner want to display symbols of their faith in your house? If so, what will those be and how comfortable are you with them?

Communication and respect are important to all relationships, but they are tested more in interfaith couples. It may be that your differences in religion are not an issue; that your approach to them actually strengthens your relationship in some ways; or that the differences are too great for your relationship to thrive. Whatever decision you make, let it be a conscious one.

Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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