How interfaith relationships and families can navigate this holiday season.
Navigating though religious faith differences can be tricky in the best of times; however, keeping the holidays stress-free may require extra effort and compromise. Ideally, planning ahead and discussing potential problem areas would begin before a couple's relationship is solidified, in premarital counseling. One of the biggest oversights a couple can make is denying that differences even exist, or believing conflicts will not occur. Discussing all possible scenarios in advance can help prevent future troubles from developing.
Lots of factors come into play in resolving interfaith differences, particularly with regard to extended family traditions and raising children. How much of a struggle it will become depends on the depth of your faith and how much tradition your family has. When you're in a family where certain traditions are always present and deeply ingrained, it can be a challenge to your partner to fit in, or understand the significance.
When couples come to me for advice, one of my first suggestions is for each partner to think about their personal or family traditions, and decide which are significant, and which can be cut back, changed or eliminated. A Christmas tree is a big symbol for some Christians, while lighting the Menorah is significant for those of the Jewish faith. Compare your lists together; be honest and communicate your needs and desires. It may be necessary to educate each other on what's important to you and why. The more you share about the matter, the clearer it will be to your partner why you want to keep this particular tradition in your life.
It is not realistic to expect your significant other to be as excited or emotional as you are about certain aspects of your religious faith. There may be some things you or your partner will have to do by yourself. In these cases, it is imperative that the one abstaining not get in the way or try to prevent the other person from participating in and practicing their personal beliefs. No one's rituals should be sacrificed for another's. It's equally important not to minimize or ridicule each other's religious choices. Finding humor in a tradition or ritual on the other hand, if shared, as opposed to directed at, can be a uniting factor. Levity helps us take a step back and refocus on what really matters.
If you have children, be sure to include the kids in this conversation too; although it's preferable to be on the same page with your partner regarding holiday observation before children are involved, if possible. Blended families face a different challenge. All members should participate in an open discussion regarding their different backgrounds and expectations and be willing to compromise. Don't let small objections build up! Every issue has the potential to become a bigger one, and therefore is important to resolve early on.
In the end, the best plan for satisfying holidays may be to simply start from scratch and create brand-new traditions together. Rituals and annual traditions can be powerful connectors, and new beginnings in and of themselves bring optimism and relieve stress. Consider counseling as preventative therapy, either as a couple or as a family, and don't wait until issues seem unresolvable and relationships have suffered. Marriage is all about give and take, and holidays are not the time for conflict. Don't allow yourself to get caught up in the insignificant details, and remember to make the two of you the most important thing. By agreeing in advance which traditions you will honor, you can bridge diverse religious or cultural backgrounds and still stay strong in your own identity.
The holidays are the perfect time to practice tolerance and compassion, and to celebrate family and their differences. Please leave any comments or questions you may have for me below. I hope you and your family have a very special holiday season, and look forward to communicating with you more in the New Year ahead!
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