Dear Dr. Romance,
I recently read an article that focused on interfaith couples and their impact on raising children. You were featured in the article and I wanted to reach out to you as a last resort to saving my relationship. My girlfriend and i have been together for three years, live together, and are at a crossroads when it comes to religion. She was raised Lutheran, attended Sunday school growing up, places a big emphasis on Christmas, Easter, and goes to church on occasion.
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My mom and step-dad were not very religious, but we did light the Chanukkah candles every year and I learned Hebrew for my bar-mitzvah and went to Israel as part of a college program. Since then, I have gone to synagogue only for the high holidays and do not practice much. I will always consider myself to be Jewish and want to pass certain traditions to my children. My grandma was a Holocaust survivor, and she and my mother are the two strongest woman I know.
My girlfriend and I are very sad because we feel like our relationship is close to ending. I am desperate to make things work out because she has been with me through tough times and has no idea how much I appreciate and look up to her. I would be honored and privileged if I could end up marrying her.
Differing religions do not have to be a nightmare. You can use components of both religions. Your children will always have the advantage of their Jewish heritage, and it doesn't have to conflict with what they learn about the Lutheran faith. You can have a menorah and a Christmas tree. Your girlfriend can acknowledge that Jesus was not Christian, he was a Jew. You don't need to have conflict, you can blend traditions. The following guidelines will help you stop arguing about whose religion is the right one, and start working together to find a way to blend faiths.
Guidelines for Resolving or Blending Religious Differences
When you and your partner disagree about faith, you may have great difficulty resolving the issue, because it has so much meaning for each of you, and also because your family pressures and obligations affect the decision. If one of you is disinterested, and the other deems faith important, you may wind up having a power struggle about the children and the extended family. Resolving this requires understanding exactly what is important to each partner. Is it what the family will think? Is it concern that the difference will separate you? The following guidelines will help you resolve your religious differences and the question of how to raise your children:
*Agree to Resolve the Issue: Do what it takes to figure out how to work together on this, rather than fight about it. Understand that raising your children with good values can happen no matter which religion or belief you frame those values in, and that having a good, working partnership is more important to your own happiness and your children's well-being than any particular set of beliefs, traditions, or rituals. If you have to, go for counseling to get to a point where you can talk calmly about the subject; then do so.
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- Do Research: You need to know enough about each other's beliefs, religious background, and the options available to be able to reach a mutually satisfactory solution. Talk to each other, to your families, if possible, and to clergy to get as much information as you can. Find the most tolerant, knowledgeable, and supportive people you can to talk to, and listen to their point of view about it. You don't have to agree with your partner to understand what he or she is thinking.
- Give Yourselves Time: Don't insist that you have to make this decision right now. The more time you can spend understanding the issues and developing options, the more likely you'll come up with a solution both of you can accept. No matter how long you waited to discuss this, or how long you've been struggling about it, you still don't have to decide it in a rush.
- Talk About It Repeatedly: Talk to other couples, clergy, friends, and to family several times to create more understanding and brainstorm about options. If you can find other couples who have resolved religious differences, find out what they decided.
- Explain Your Partner's Point of View: When talking about it to each other, or to someone else who is supportive, explain each other's point of view, which will help you understand.
- Focus on Your Children: Keep your focus on what would be best for your children, and if they are old enough to understand, bring them into the discussion. Don't try to persuade them to either side, but present the options as objectively as you can, and find out what your children think about it.
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