Dear Alice,

I know that this isn't exactly your province, but I was wondering if maybe you could direct me to another website that might be able to help us. My boyfriend and I are both college students. We have been together for quite a while and are starting to think about becoming engaged, but there is something that disturbs us. He is a religious Catholic, and I am an equally devout atheist. This is not an issue now (we're both very respecting of each other), but we're afraid that if we become more serious, it might be a problem. Are there any resources you could suggest to us for ways to handle this? Or stories of couples that have faced similar issues? Thanks!

Dear Reader,

It's very sensible for you and your partner to think about how your respective religious and spiritual beliefs may impact your relationship, both now and in the future. Many couples find that new questions and feelings surface or suddenly become more relevant when they are considering making an even deeper commitment to one another. While at times it may be challenging, there are conversations you can have now and things you can keep in mind in the future to help you navigate your relationship while maintaining your religious views.

You've mentioned that so far, you've both been successful at respecting each other's differing beliefs. As your relationship becomes more serious, consider how your religious and spiritual beliefs connect to your senses of culture, family, morals, and community. Some questions for you and your partner to consider might be:

  • How are your beliefs connected with your family or cultural history?
  • Has this connection changed over time? Have your individual beliefs changed over time? If so, what has caused the change(s)?
  • What are your families' and friends' views of interfaith relationships?
  • Are there specific holidays or rituals that have particular meaning for each of you?
  • Are there beliefs or practices about which you are not flexible? Are there some about which you are?
  • How might your beliefs and the differences that exist affect how you would celebrate holidays together or raise children if you decide to do that?

Talking through these issues may be difficult, but in the long run, knowing that you have taken the time to share in each other's beliefs and values can be a bonding experience. In addition, beginning to explore these issues now, rather than waiting until they surface during wedding planning, for example, or even later, can help to stave off heated arguments and unnecessarily hurt feelings. As you begin talking further, keep in mind that religion and concepts of whether there exists a higher being or force can be a complex topic to discuss. Here are some other pointers to keep in mind:

  • Reassure each other that you care about this relationship. For example, "I care about the success of our relationship, and think that exploring our spiritual views together would help us understand one another better."
  • If there is something you disagree about, express your concerns by using "I" statements. Resist the urge to attack the other's beliefs on intellectual or emotional grounds.
  • For many, religious or spiritual exploration is a life-long process, during which many changes may occur. Accept that on some points, you may not be sure of how you feel.
  • Give yourselves time to think, talk with your families, and remain flexible.
  • Avoid making rash decisions. Pressuring yourselves or each other to reach a "compromise" or conclusion right away may be unrealistic or even counterproductive.

If your school has a counseling service, you might consider individual or couples counseling. This could give you ideas for ways to start and continue discussions around faith with your partner. Another option is to speak with a spiritual leader (priest, rabbi, pastor, minister, etc.) that you feel with comfortable for guidance. However, be aware that some members of the clergy are more accepting of interfaith relationships and marriages than others, so try asking around to find someone who is helpful. You might also try speaking with other couples who have negotiated their differences successfully. Congregations and community centers sometimes run discussion and support groups for interethnic and interfaith couples as well.

Beginning the discussion now can help you and your partner chart a course that works for both of you, and may help you deepen your relationship and understanding of each other in the process.


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