When it comes to marriage there are many compromises that need to be made along the way. Marriage, after all, is a give and take. Most of us know that when we get married we will have to meet our new spouse halfway on many issues. We also know that there are several topics we need to discuss in advance, things like money, plans for a family (or not), and division of household duties are just a few. But one topic that is often forgotten along the way is religious views, or lack of them.
Discussing religion before marriage may not seem like a big deal to some. In fact, there are those who would say they don’t care a lot about this topic at all because religion doesn’t factor that much into their relationship or daily lives. But religion in a marriage and faith in general, is about more than just whether or not to attend church, which one to attend, and how often. And if a conversation isn’t had ahead of time there are a number of unexpected problems that can arise.
Before we look at areas within a marriage that can be affected by the failure to discuss things, let’s clarify something. Although connected, faith and religion aren’t the same thing. Simply put, faith refers to your beliefs while religion refers to your practices surrounding and supporting those beliefs. It is possible for people to have faith but not to practice a specific religion.
This in and of itself should be discussed before marriage. For some having faith is enough. They don’t feel the need to attend church and practice a specific religion in order to have a relationship with God. For others the religion they affiliate with is part of who they are and an important part of their daily lives. They may feel like the practices within their religion are the best way to be connected to God. In fact, for many, the religious teachings provide a framework for how they live and handle life.
Knowing where you each stand on this topic before you marry is crucial. It is easy to feel like your way is the best way, but especially when it comes to religion and faith this isn’t true. You have to feel comfortable with and respect the way your partner chooses to express their spirituality too. Going into marriage with the expectation that they will change, or come around to your approach, will only cause problems as your relationship grows.
So what are some areas in marriage that become complicated when you haven’t talked about faith or religion first? Here are just a few.
How you handle and resolve conflict.
Every marriage will encounter conflict. It’s impossible to share a life with someone without having disagreements or dealing with problems. How you handle these things is what will make the difference in the success of your marriage. Religious instruction is often where people learn skills for doing this. Using religious instruction as a basis for or means for resolving conflict will not be effective if you each aren’t on board with the role this instruction plays in your relationship. It actually may cause the conflict to escalate if there hasn’t been prior acceptance on both parts.
How you deal with crisis.
Whether it is health, financial, or otherwise, everyone will likely experience a crisis of some kind in their life. When facing these things as a couple, being able to support each other and deal with problems as a team is crucial, not only for getting through it but also for the health and strength of your relationship. Faith can be a big part of how many people deal with a crisis. If in your relationship there isn’t an understanding and agreement as to how that faith plays a role in coping, it can cause a divide between you. This will make dealing with the crisis even more difficult. The issues that can arise between you as a couple will also compound the problems being faced and make effective handling of things far less likely.
The respect you have for one another.
Lack of understanding of your spouse’s faith or religion can cause confusion for you and frustration for you both. If the importance of faith to one isn’t taken seriously by the other it creates feelings of being disrespected, and respect for each other is one of the cornerstones of a healthy relationship. Whether it is their practice of attending church on a regular basis or the way they express their faith during daily life, understanding why they do this and why it is important to them will help create the foundation for a loving and respectful relationship. This goes both ways, especially if as individuals you view religion and faith very differently.
How you raise your children.
This is probably one of the largest stumbling blocks when it comes to differing faith and religious views in a marriage. It is natural for each person to want to impart their beliefs on their children, but if you and your spouse view religion or express faith differently this can be a big problem. Discussing well in advance how you will raise your children is a necessity. You will need to come to an agreement that works for both of you and create a plan for teaching your children how to respect the differences they may observe in the way you each express your faith or practice religion.
Interfaith relationships or relationships where faith is viewed with differing levels of importance are not uncommon. In fact they can be quite successful. The key to success, however, is developing an understanding and respect for each other’s practices and this will require the use of good communication skills from the start of your relationship. This doesn’t mean there will never be issues when it comes to this topic, however. Differing faiths can cause tension and disagreement in many circumstances. Having discussed things openly early on and created a mutual respect for each other’s beliefs will help you weather these occasional storms though.