In a relationship, it is not necessary that you and your partner will agree on everything. We aren’t sure if opposites always attract, but one always brings their own idiosyncrasies and unique traits into a relationship. While some things are the reason we fall for the other person, other characteristics might not sit so well with our own. Read about how different religious beliefs in a relationship can cause rifts in relationships.
Different Religious Beliefs
(Names changed to protect identities)
Rory and Adam had an idyllic romance. Met in college, married 4 years later. They were so in love that they had never imagined that different religious beliefs could get in the way of their love.
“The change began almost two years ago,” says Adam, “An old friend of hers fell quite ill and passed away. She began talking about death, the afterlife, the existence of God. Initially, I figured she was just emotionally shaken and trying to understand why such a young life left this world.”
But her questions did not cease. It seemed like this massive moment had changed her.
How Different Religious Beliefs Alter Relationships
“Yes, I was depressed and nothing made sense anymore. But as I dove deeper into these questions, I found my entire life outlook change. Questions not just about life and God, but also about when I give up my power of rational thought? To decide my identity and choices in life?
“Some identities we are born with and cannot change. And I no longer accepted religion to be one of those,” said Rory, as she announced her plan to embrace atheism in February this year – the second death anniversary of her friend.
Adam shares that he did not take her seriously at first. “As time went on, she seemed very comfortable and accepting of her decision.” But her new ideas and the topic of religion was the elephant in the room. All the questions had suddenly stopped.
“But how can someone let go of something they have believed all their life, just like that?” he asks. For Rory, the answer lies not in letting go of something, rather in holding on to what she truly believes in.
Related Reading: Religion and Marriage: What She Taught Me Through her Prayers
When one spouse is more religious
Couples like Adam and Rory pose the fundamental problem of different religious beliefs. Except here the difference is a complete lack of belief in one party.
Can such differences end a relationship? Relationship psychotherapist Dr Snigdha Mishra opines that it can. “Such relationships can be an everyday struggle if the two sides haven’t worked out their different points of view. To choose a relationship over religion is hard because religion often defines us,” she says.
It is difficult to find long-term relationships between a strong believer in God and an atheist. The first question asked is, ‘What will the kids follow?’ And while that is a challenge even for interfaith couples, the room for compromise here is even smaller.
Ending relationship over religion
Another couple, Walter and Blake, started their love story knowing this difference between them. “Religion has been a big tool to oppress people of varied sexuality and as a gay man I saw no space for it in my life,” says Blake.
For Walter, society’s interpretation of religion was where the problem lay – “It’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” They are still trying to find a middle ground as their relationship comes close to the 1-year mark.
Initially, it was easy to ignore the different religious beliefs. “I like my alone time with God and Blake did not really say anything. But now we are thinking of moving in, and I am not sure if I will have my prayer room,” worries Walter. This was starting to become one of the breakup signs for them.
For Blake, a prayer room is an insult to his beliefs! Dating someone religious when you are not is not easy for most people and Walter is one of them. And while he drowns that comment in laughter, one can’t but wonder if this is the beginning of the end.
Related Reading: Take our survey on cultural differences in couples
Different Religious Beliefs Are Not The End
Dr Mishra considers the problem to begin with the role of one’s value system in life. There are values that are intrinsic to who we are, and values we are willing to work on. Religion mostly belongs to the former. She considers it important to work toward general acceptance of these differences of culture – that just because someone believes or does not believe in something – they do not become bad people.
So someone who doesn’t believe in religion or someone who does should not have anything to do with whether they are good or bad. Ask yourselves how important religion is, or as a non-believer, how important its negation is.
Forcing either point of view on the other will be nothing but detrimental to the relationship. Breaking up with someone you love because of different religious beliefs does not have to be an eventuality. You can practice acceptance.
For Rory and Adam, these are the questions they need to ask themselves. If both are happy with their choices, then it is imperative to accept each other’s decisions and think of a way forward. Dr Mishra suggests three pillars – good communication, abundant acceptance, and respect – to be paramount to finding a way forward together. Beyond these, a couple can also try psychotherapy if they are unable to find a solution.
As with interfaith couples and interfaith marriage problems, constant dialogue keeps mutual respect and happiness possible. Discuss uncomfortable questions – how involved one will be in the belief-centric activities of the other? What will the kids learn? Ways to define the spaces and needs around each belief? – to name a few.
Love can initially shroud such questions – time will bring them to the fore again. While Blake and Walter can decide how far they want to take their relationship, for Rory and Adam, the decision could involve a 6-year-old marriage. Either way, sometimes love does not conquer all.
Yes, it can. If one does not practice openness, acceptance and understanding – they will never be able to accept another person of a different religion and will always run into problems. Unless you are completely on board with your partner following a different religion, it might affect your relationship and make things tricky for you.
Of course, you can. You can date or marry someone outside of your religion as long as you are not intolerant towards their beliefs and they are also equally accepting of yours.
That should be a completely personal decision. To some people, it is indeed important that they do not want their relationship to get in the way of their religious tendencies. Others are more laid back and accepting of an alternate religion in marriage. It all comes down to you and how comfortable you are.