The heart wants what the heart wants. But you need to be smart about it.
It is common knowledge that major wars in history have been waged because of differing religious beliefs, traditions and values.
News reports in the past decade have reminded us again and again that tensions exist in various parts of the world between different ethnic and religious groups for a variety of reasons. At times hostilities erupt between differing groups and between factions within a particular group.
The truth is that marrying someone who shares your same beliefs, values and traditions is, in no way, a guarantee of a successful relationship.
It is also true that marrying someone who does not share your same beliefs, values and traditions does not mean that your relationship is destined to fail.
A determining factor in successful, healthy, long-term relationships is learning how to accept, understand, embrace and cherish each other and the differences between you.
Those differences may include a variety of things including economic background, culture, ethnicity, language, family history and religious background and beliefs.
If, as a couple, you can learn to understand how these differences affect your beliefs, thoughts and behavior; and you learn how to accept, embrace and even cherish those differences, those differences will not stand in the way of allowing you to experience a rich relationship together.
If one of you is unable to come to terms with the differences, then your relationship will be a struggle.
If you are considering a relationship with someone with very different cultural, traditional, religious or another major diversity in background and thinking, or are currently involved in such a relationship, the following concepts will help the two of you succeed:
1. Be curious.
Adopt an attitude of curiosity regarding their beliefs.
Learn as much as you can about the differences between you. Compare their outlook to your own and discuss the things that contributed to the way you look at things and how that may differ from their experience.
Ask lots of questions without judgment, and learn all that you can.
Even if you both come from a similar background you may still learn of differences that you did not expect.
2. Be honest.
You may learn things that are quite different than what you expected.
You may find that there are things you will have to spend time thinking about and discussing, in order to problem-solve.
This may include things like dietary habits which prohibit certain foods that have been a constant in your diet, differences in parenting and discipline or very divergent views on medical practices or celebration of religious holidays.
3. Be compassionate.
If something seems odd, or different or even weird to you, be very careful about passing judgment or doing or saying things that would indicate that you are passing judgment.
Most of us have values, beliefs and traditional practices that have been part of our lives from birth.
While we may not fully understand the reason for a particular belief or practice, it may very well be a long held and cherished tradition for your partner.
4. Run interference.
If either of you finds that there are family members who are struggling with your decision to be with this person because of these differences, you must be prepared to address it.
Many families have long-held traditions. In the course of a year, there may be a number of family gatherings that involve these traditions.
If, for some reason, your spouse is uncomfortable or unable to participate in a family tradition, be sure you have come to terms with it.
Then ask your family to accept it as well, and to withhold judgment of your spouse.
Ask them to respect your decision to choose this person and to be respectful of the differences.
5. Listen to your inner voice.
If you are in the decision-making process regarding continuing a relationship with someone with whom you share many differences, ask yourself a few simple questions:
- Can I do this? Think through the differences between you, and determine if you really think you can live with the areas in which you are different.
- Is there anything you can’t accept? You need to determine if there are any areas of difference between you which you would not be able to compromise or live with.
- How would your differences affect parenting? Are there any differences in your thinking or beliefs that would set up continual conflict?
- Can you deal with family? Does either family have expectations of change that one of you will not be able to live up to? Are you both prepared to deal with the challenges presented by your own family?
In previous generations, the advent of major world wars and conflicts brought together couples from completely different cultures, and often resulted in successful marriages that crossed many cultural divides.
In our current world, there are many other avenues available to aid in the development of relationships across cultural, religious, ethnic and traditional divides.
With the right amount of sensitivity, curiosity, honesty, openness, acceptance, care and mutual respect, those divides need not stand in the way of a successful relationship and marriage.
Dr. David McFadden is a couple’s counselor at Village Counseling Center. Receive your free copy of the Better Life Magazine filled with articles with topics from taking good care of yourself, resolving conflicts in your relationship and discovering how to have success in your life.