Our beliefs inform everything we do. Every assumption we hold about how the world works is filtered through our faith, giving us a coherent worldview that informs our every decision. These are deeply held values that guide our very lives, just as the stars did for the ancient sailors.
So what happens when we enter into a relationship with someone who navigates by a wholly different set of stars?
Dating is already complex, difficult, and messy, but dating someone of a different religion adds an entirely new set of challenges. Trying to combine two entirely different ways of understanding the world—especially when they stand in direct opposition—can feel like trying to mix oil and vinegar.
But, as it is with oil and vinegar, just because you don’t mix in the traditional sense doesn’t mean that you can’t form a beautiful partnership! With the right attitude and emotional tools, any relationship can be successful, no matter the differences in faith and culture. We’re going to take a look at how you can find that success.
Welcome to the guide to dating across religions.
If you’ve like most Americans, you’ve spent most of your life around people who share your worldview, at least tangentially. If you’ve fallen for someone of a different religion, that’s about to change.
This advice is going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to stretch and challenge you. But it’s also going to make you grow, and it might just be a key to a successful relationship with your new partner.
What does this mean? It means being willing to learn about your new partner’s beliefs—and maybe even allow them to affect your own. A Christian can learn from an atheist. A Muslim can learn from a Buddhist. A Hindu can learn from a Jew. All faiths contain unique nuggets of profound wisdom.
While you should never compromise your beliefs to make someone else happy, allowing your beliefs to evolve because of your partner rather than for him or her can result in a better you, and a stronger bond with the one you love.
Showing a sincere willingness to learn, discuss, and benefit from your partner’s faith will be attractive and endearing, and can dispel any myths and presuppositions that might be holding the relationship back.
Contempt is the biggest killer of interfaith relationships. If you want yours to last, be respectful, even reverent, toward your partner’s belief system.
You’re not going to agree with every point of your partner’s faith. If you can’t accept this, you may as well end the relationship now—it’s headed for the rocks.
Think on this. Imagine your partner will never, ever change their faith. Imagine they’ll hold to their beliefs throughout their life. Can you still see yourself staying with them, committing yourself to them? If not, it may be time to look elsewhere for love—for the good of both of you.
But if you can accept the differences between the two of you, you can explore your partner’s worldview without contempt or judgment, making our relationship what it should be—a safe place for the both of you to be open regarding your faith.
Respect also means avoiding the effort to convert your partner. Realize, instead, that you cannot change them—especially not their deep-seated beliefs. In the context of a romantic relationship, proselytizing can feel like saying “You’re not good enough the way you are”.
No one wants that.
So if you want to successfully date someone of a different religion, put away any desires to convert or criticize.
Instead, just love, listen, and respect.
How will you raise your children? Will you both attend one another’s religious services? Is there anything you’re not willing to do or talk about?
Communication is key in any relationship, but within the context of an interfaith partnership, it’s even more vital. After learning everything you can about your partner and their faith, you’ll need to communicate your needs, boundaries, and expectations.
This needs to be very clear, especially if marriage is on the table—if you don’t sort the hard questions out now, they’ll sort themselves out later in the form of an ended relationship.
Be open. Be frighteningly honest. If you want your children to be raised in the tradition of your faith, and you know that you cannot compromise, let it be known. If you have reservations in participating in your partner’s religious observances, say it. Don’t wait.
But as with all things, do so in respect and love. Remember—the goal here isn’t to “win”. It’s to find resolutions to problems, and to be the best couple you can be. And in the end, it’s also about finding out if the two of you are truly compatible.
Communication will also help the two of you to find common ground, which is incredibly important. They say that opposites attract, but it’s really the similarities that form the bedrock of long-lasting relationships. Do you both enjoy the same types of music? Do you experience similar feelings while praying to your respective gods? Do you both love to learn?
Explore these similarities, cherish them, and don’t worry about anything else.
Celebrate the Differences
Don’t enter into an interfaith relationship thinking that love will overcome all difficulties—this is a recipe for disaster even in normal relationships. Love is vital, but it’s far from the only component—how you handle differences in morals, values, and beliefs will make or break your partnership.
Learn to see your faith differences, though, as a chance to grow rather than an obstacle to overcome. Celebrate the uniqueness of both yourself and your partner, and above all, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have to give up your faith for love. After all, it may be that your own unique worldview is what attracted your partner in the first place!
While it’s not possible to know what the future holds, if you and your partner of a different religion work to be teachable, respectful, and communicative, your relationship has a much better chance of becoming something long-lasting, loving, and absolutely beautiful.