How To Talk About Religious Differences
By MySahana @mysahana
Regardless of how religious or spiritual you and your are, when it comes time to creating a joint life, many South Asian partners find that the conversation around faith and religion is a very difficult one. Once assuming that everything would work out for the best, South Asian partners tend to become polarized, sounding as if they are far more religious than they actually are.
Religion and faith in some situations can be a deal breaker but in most situations can be worked around to still create a happy life for the new couple. If you are in an inter-faith relationship and are thinking of getting married, talk with your partner about the following important topics to ensure that your relationship can still be happy and healthy despite your differences in religion or spirituality:
1. What are your religious/spiritual beliefs? This may seem like an obvious answer, however many South Asians don’t stop and think about what they actually believe in, assuming what they grew up in is what they believe. With a clear understanding of what it is that you are bringing to the relationship, establishing compromises will become much easier.
2. What are your must haves and what are you willing to compromise on regarding your beliefs? Many couples say that they must have a partner who is of the same faith as they are. However, amongst South Asians, even if an individual is from the same faith, the practices and nuances can be very different. A Hindu from South India can have very different traditions than a Hindu from Punjab, for example. Be specific in identifying what you cannot compromise on no matter what and what you are willing to be flexible about. For example, for Terrence going to church on Christmas Eve was a non-negotiable and he stated that up front but Sonal was able to be flexible about Easter to incorporate a holiday that was meaningful to Terrence.
3. Outside of religion, what are the values you wish your partner to have? Often couples get stuck on the name of the religion and forget that other matching values need to be present also in order for the relationship to be happy and healthy. Do you want your partner to be outgoing? Do you wish for your partner to share in your passion for community service. Religion is certainly a major part of a relationship but often South Asians mistakenly assume that by marrying some from the same faith they will be automatically compatible.
4. If the two of you want children, how do you want to raise them with regards to religion and spirituality and what are you open to compromising on? As if religion wasn’t a difficult enough topic to engage in, talking about children can become very tricky as well. Often, South Asians feel even more strongly about how to pass on their faith to the next generation than they do finding a compatible partner. Take turns talking about how you envision raising children and for the first several conversations, just listen to each other. Try not to find a solution until you both fully understand each other’s priorities and visions.
5. What are you afraid of losing if you compromise some of your religious or spiritual practices? Many couples, when they start talking about religion, tend to become polarized and hold a more stubborn and conservative stance than they truly believe in. Most of the time this is because of a fear of losing oneself or being worried that your background will not be valued as much as that of your partner’s. Identify what it is that you are afraid of losing and work with your partner to establish a plan that will value both of your traditions.
These questions will not be answered in one conversation. Take time to listen and understand each other. heated arguments and fights ensue when we do not fully understand our partners but instead assume what they are thinking. In addition, it is crucial to know fully exactly how we feel so that if we become polarized or start fighting for something more strongly than we actually feel about it, we can recognize it and stop the argument before it escalates.
As with most delicate topics, empathy in a conversation goes a long way. Remember that you are having these discussions with your partner because you both feel you are right for each other. Never forget that you are on the same team and are trying to come up with a solution and a life plan that will suit the two of you together. Finally, this is a conversation that you will have throughout your lifetime so don’t expect to find a solution one day and to stick to that plan for the rest of your life. Accept that flexibility throughout your life is needed and be open to addressing these topics repeatedly as your relationship grows.
MySahana, meaning my “patience” or “fortitude” in Sanskrit, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading awareness about mental health issues as they pertain to the South Asian community. By providing culturally-sensitive and relevant information, we aim to correct misinformation, remove stigma and begin a dialogue about mental health and healthy living. We believe it is from these dialogues that South Asians will feel more comfortable seeking services and making the necessary changes to live a healthier life. For more information, please visit our website at www.mysahana.org, follow us @MySahana on Twitter and connect with us on Facebook.