One of the most important things that couples from different religious backgrounds need to learn is how to deal with their religious differences. However, if properly managed, religious differences can become a catalyst for growth. This unit examines constructive ways to work with religious differences that will enrich rather than divide you as a couple. There are two common myths about religious differences that couples may need to dispel to effectively work with religious differences. The first myth is that only interchurch or interfaith couples have important religious differences. Religious differences can exist between all couples, even those who belong to the same church or religion. Two Catholics, for example, may differ on how important attending church is to them, or which teachings they believe in. A second myth is the belief that religious differences are inherently problematic.
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There is some truth to this myth. Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to mistrust differences, and can have a negative view toward people with different beliefs. Charles admitted that in the beginning of his marriage, “I had pretty well all the answers, and that I knew what I believed. And, by golly, she was wrong. Somehow I was going to make sure that she knew that. ” Therefore, religious differences do have the potential to create problems if individuals are not careful in how they approach these differences. What this myth does not acknowledge, however, is that religious differences can lead to positive outcomes if they are effectively handled. The next section describes some of these benefits. Couples who explored their religious differences often found that that the experience strengthened their own spirituality. A genuine exploration of each other s faith can lead individuals to examine their own beliefs more closely. After admitting that he tried to prove his wife s beliefs were wrong, Charles reflected, “Not only did I learn that I don t have all the answers, but I also learned to start to find out what I really believed. There was a tendency to just assume that I knew what I believed. But then when you ve got somebody on the other side saying, ‘Why do you believe that? Well, no one s ever asked you that question before. It kind of forces you to go back and start asking, ‘Well, yeah, why do we all believe that? And, so I think you grow in faith when you re challenged like that.
I think my faith is deeper because of her, and because I was forced to look at what I believed. ”Spiritual growth can also come from being exposed to different perspectives. One Catholic woman shared how her Baptist husband helped her incorporate the Bible into her spiritual life in a way she found helpful. Getting different perspectives by attending both church services was also cited as being helpful. Erica said that her husband s pastor goes through a more theological perspective on the readings, while her priest tries to apply it to daily life. Another individual offered that being in an interchurch group with couples of different faiths was a rich experience because “everybody had so much to offer. ”Finally, exploring differences can lead individuals to become more accepting or tolerant of other religious traditions. Beth said she has become more inclusive in her thinking, and recognizes that we are all here for some purpose and believe in one God. Danielle said, “I know we ve all had preconceived notions about our opposite religion before we knew each other and started dating. So, I think I am personally more open to other people s views and less judgmental of them. ” Chris said that being exposed to a different religion has made him more open to other faiths and challenged some of his “intellectual arrogance. ”The following section describes positive things to do to manage religious differences, as well as things to avoid. It is important that individuals make an effort to learn about their partner’s faith. Conversely, exploring each other’s faith can enhance the intimacy for the couple. Chris stated that being curious about each other s religion had led to hours of conversation. Making the effort to learn about our partner s faith also conveys love and acceptance.
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By learning more about our partner s faith, we are demonstrating in a concrete way that we value who our partner is and our desire to know them better. One woman even attended religious education classes at her partner’s church just to learn more about her partner’s faith. This level of commitment to learn about a partner’s faith sends a powerful love message. Individuals can learn about their partner s faith in a number of different ways. Having conversations about each other’s beliefs was also important. Others also read literature about the other’s faith, or even attended religious education classes in the other’s church. When exploring each other’s faith, both individuals will ideally adopt the spirit of a traveler who ventures to a different land to witness the customs and beliefs of a different culture. The traveler goes with the hope of discovering something new and exciting. As we observe this new culture, we note both ways in which it is similar and different from our own. In this manner, we learn not only about the new culture, but also our own. Couples sometimes face barriers when learning more about their partner s faith. For example, unfamiliarity or negative preconceptions about their partner s religion or denomination can be an initial barrier to learning more. Alicia was raised hearing negative views of Catholics in the church she grew up in, and was originally apprehensive about going to a Catholic mass with her fiancé. In time, however, individuals become more open to learning about their partner s church as they become more familiar with it, and their negative misconceptions are proven to be untrue. Alisha said, “I never would have thought to walk into another church. And now I feel comfortable going to any church.
”Another potential barrier is if one or both individuals are not well informed about their own faith tradition. In some cases, individuals may not know a lot about their own church teachings or may even be misinformed about them. This can lead to some confusion as to what the differences really are between the couple. Successful couples often commented on the temptation to focus on religious differences, but stressed the importance of looking for commonalities. Robert said that too often “you tend to focus on a relatively small amount of differences and tend to ignore the acute body of stuff that s similar. ” Ellen said, “When we first got married, nobody had you talk about what was the same. All you ever heard about was, These are your differences. We knew we had differences, but not until later, did we ever talk about what was the same. Now you still know the differences are there. ”Couples with religious differences can focus on their commonalities in a number of different ways. Several interchurch individuals focus on the fact that both are Christians, and pay less attention to denominational differences. When talking about baptism, Louis said that when they first got married, the baptism of his daughter in a different church was a big deal. Now 65 years later, it is not a big deal because he recognizes that she s baptized into the Christian family. In a similar vein, many interchurch individuals stressed that both partners believe in the same God. Doug said, “My God isn t different from hers because I m Presbyterian. My God, to me, isn t any different than her God in the Catholic Church.
Lance stated, “As long as your focus is on our church does it this way and the minister said this, or Sunday school is different, you will never make any progress. ”Learning more about each other’s faith can also uncover commonalities. For example, interchurch individuals often discovered after visiting their partner s church that the two churches were more similar than originally perceived. Doug said, “We didn t know there was anything the same because we had never stepped inside a Lutheran or Catholic Church. ”Couples from different religious backgrounds also emphasized the need to respect their partner by accepting their partner’s differences. There was a strong belief among many interchurch individuals that it is not right to judge others. Doug said that he wonders about some things in his wife’s church, but reminds himself that it is not for him to judge what is right or wrong. Another individual said, “I m sure Jesus would want us to try to be accepting and understanding of each other despite minor differences. ” Others believed in the old adage “different strokes for different folks. ”In interviews with interchurch individuals, many shared how early in their marriage they challenged their partner s beliefs or practices. Peter showed his fiancée a book that described the different religions, and used the book to point out what he didn t like about her faith. Another couple, Jeff and Margaret, admitted that in the beginning of their marriage, they were each out to try to convert the other and would point out what was wrong with the other s beliefs. Chris and Danielle had frequent debates over different topics related to communion (e. G. , transubstantiation), whether or not it was possible to know if you were saved, or if it was appropriate to pray to others. During one debate, Danielle told Chris, “I feel that you re saying that unless I do everything exactly the way that you think I should be doing it, that I might as well give up.
I might as well quit going to church. I might as well quit reading the Bible. Why should I bother to do any of this, if you think that no matter what, that I m wrong because I m Catholic? Ron was an inactive Baptist, while Nicole was an active Lutheran.