Religion has never played a large part in my life. I grew up celebrating "Christian" holidays like Easter and Christmas, but in America, these days are so mainstreamed and commercialized, they almost seem secular. I've never minded not having a religion, and I like the fact that because I'm a blank religious slate, I can approach new religions without prior assumption. I've learned Hindu traditions while in India, marveled at the Muslim mosques while in Indonesia, caroled in a Carmelite monastery, and recently visited a Zen Buddhist center for meditation. Having lived in the open-minded Bay Area for most of my life, this seems perfectly normal. Different religions are accepted and celebrated; it's not unusual to see signs reading, "Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza!" during December. But, it was here that I also realized that while all religions might be accepted, dating among them is another story. Read: Finding Religion After Finding The One
For instance, some of my Jewish and Catholic friends expressed "relief" that the person they hit it off with was of the same faith. As someone who rarely, if ever, discusses faith with a new date, this was totally foreign. Finding a partner seemed difficult enough; finding common ground with God seemed like yet another obstacle.
Open Lines of Conversation
In her book Lies at the Altar, Robin Smith suggests reflecting on your own belief systems so you can have better communication about how religion plays a role in your life, and therefore, your relationship. Questions such as "Do you believe in God? What does that mean to you?" and "Is spirituality a part of your daily practice?" are questions that should first be posed to yourself, and when the time comes, to your partner. With the issues and values out on the table, you can clarify differences, and go from there. Read: Faith And Spirituality In Relationships
In-laws can be challenging in their own right, but having in-laws with different religious beliefs confounds the problem. Molly Mann, a student at Adelphi University, has a Jewish mother and a Catholic father. There were never any conflicts between her parents, but her grandparents were different. "My Christian grandmother was not happy about my being raised Jewish and tried to bring me to church with her every time she babysat me. Needless to say, my mother was not happy about this."
Stephen Simpson, a psychologist who specializes in relationships, says the best way to deal with in-laws is to "listen to their feelings and express empathy, but don't be afraid to set boundaries and expect them to respect your decision." After all, for some parents, no spouse is ever the perfect spouse for their child. Read: How To Ease Mother-In-Law Conflict
Different Religions, Same Beliefs
It seems natural to assume that if you believe in the same god, you'll share the same values. But that is not always the case. Instead, says Robin Smith, "Values are what you live, not what you believe. Values go deeper than religion." Just because someone has the same religion as you does not make a match made in heaven. And sometimes other beliefs can trump religion. A friend of mine who is a Christian Palestinian feels that her religious beliefs are not as important as the political ones. "Based on my background and beliefs, it would be challenging to date a Muslim or a Jew, but I'm less concerned about their religion than their politics. Can we see eye to eye on that?"