Talking about religious beliefs with someone you’re dating can be daunting, especially in interfaith relationships. What if you and your partner have differing beliefs? And there’s no middle ground? What if they raise red flags that you can’t get past?
While uncomfortable, it’s essential to have conversations about the big, value-driven aspects of your beliefs. It teases out potential issues and conflicts before either person gets too invested in the relationship. This helps you make smart and healthy choices about how to proceed, and raises meaningful discussions about what this means for your future together.
Even if you and your partner share the same high level beliefs, talking about them still poses benefits. How do each of you feel about your faith? How often do you intend on going to church or temple? What are your expectations for the other person’s involvement? If you plan on having kids, how would you bring your faith into their lives?
Because my fiancé and I are in an interfaith relationship, we started these conversations early, and revisited them as new questions came up. While uncomfortable at times, we didn’t shy away from what needed to be talked about, and I credit tough conversation like these for making our relationship stronger.
With that in mind, here is some of my advice for talking about religion with your partner.
Enter the conversation with an open mind.
It’s important to set the intention of having an open, honest conversation as free of judgment as possible. Recognize that just like your views may be important to you, so are your partner’s to them. There is a wide spectrum of beliefs and differing beliefs don’t necessarily indicate differing values. Approach the situation with a desire to learn, and it will be a productive one.
Talk openly and freely.
Be honest. If you believe something, say it. Now isn’t the time to try to appease your partner or agree on everything. What role did your faith play in your upbringing? Which beliefs does your family hold? What values do you cherish? Where does religion fit in to your life today? What role would you like it to? How would you define success in an interfaith relationship?
Talking openly and freely includes what role you’d like your partner to play in your faith. For example, I invited my boyfriend to a Passover seder and explained to him what the holiday was about, what the dinner would be like, and what to expect. He invited me to Church on Christmas Eve, explained how this was an annual tradition, and gave me an overview of what the service would be like. We were both invited as guests and given background and context. This made us both feel comfortable going into a new situation.
Don’t avoid the uncomfortable stuff.
While the honeymoon stage of a relationship can feel light and easy, there will be serious conversations to be had down the road, and it’s better to prepare for them. This includes talking about marriage, from the fundamental questions of whether your partner would be comfortable marrying someone of a different faith to more specific questions around wedding arrangements. Would your partner be comfortable having a civic ceremony, for example? Who would marry you: a religious leader, officiant, or a justice of the peace? Would you have one joint wedding for both faiths or two different ones? How religious would you like your service(s) to be?
Another subject to discuss is kids, if you plan on having them. What role do you see faith playing in their lives? Would you want your children to be baptized or have a religious ceremony like a bris or baby naming? Will you teach your children about both religions or only one? If one, which one? If you’re of the same faith, would you like your kids attending Sunday School or other religious classes?
Find common ground.
In almost every situation, you and your partner will have at least one belief or opinion that conflicts with each other. That’s perfectly OK! In fact, having some differing beliefs indicates an open and honest conversation. The key is in talking about what these areas of disagreement are, how important they are, and whether you and your partner can work through them or find common ground.
When I say common ground, I’m referring to fundamental shared beliefs and values that can unify you. For example, my fiancé and I are both incredibly family-oriented. We are both close with our families, and attending family gatherings has been a big part of our lives. Because of this, we make sure to visit our families as much as we can and bring each other to events.
Explore how your beliefs or faiths can work together.
Along the same lines as finding common ground, give some thought to how you can make your beliefs work together. A great example is holidays. If you and your partner have different faiths or simply different family traditions, you can alleviate the tug of war over whose family you visit!
My fiancé and I rarely miss a family holiday get-together since we are of different religions. A Hanukkah party at my aunt’s house mid-December gives us time to visit with my side of the family, and Christmas at his lets us see his side later int he month. It’s one of the best side effects we’ve stumbled upon in being in an interfaith relationship.
However you have the conversation, do it. While perhaps outside your comfort zone, speaking your truth about your faith and beliefs and having your partner do the same is a critical step in your journey together.