Practically Married: Part 5 – Faith
Whether you’re religious or spiritual, atheist or agnostic, anyone who is planning to say, “I do” needs to address the subject of faith.
In some marriages, shared beliefs are central to happiness. In others, two religions can coexist. Increasingly, couples are deciding that religion will not play a role in their lives at all. Given that there are so many possibilities, early conversations are instrumental to a successful marriage.
Before discussing faith with your partner, take time to contemplate your views. Although you may have been raised in a particular tradition, do you still hold those convictions? Maybe you identify yourself with a religious label, but does that mean you wish to actively engage in its doctrines during your marriage? If each of you can answer questions such as these for yourself, you will be better prepared to talk to each other.
Once you have explored your own views, you should raise the subject of spirituality with your partner to find out where beliefs overlap and where they diverge. You may have discussed the topic previously; however, this time you need to be specific about its role in your marriage. If you and your partner are of different faiths, negotiating a plan you both feel good about may have its challenges, but partners of the same faith shouldn’t assume they won’t have disagreements as well.
Just because you share the same religion in name doesn’t mean you believe all the same tenets, or want to engage in all the same practices.
For example, many couples differ in how often they want to attend services, or in the ways they want to incorporate faith practices such as prayer in their daily life.
Regardless of how you address religion when it’s just the two of you, spouses often find their first baby is the catalyst for debate or even conflict over religious choices. Before having children, you may be able to live in a spiritual gray area; however, a child often requires choices that are more black and white. Will the baby be formally initiated into a religion? If so, and spouses are of different faiths, which one will you choose?
Even partners who have previously been disinterested in spirituality can have strong feelings around these choices for their children. Nevertheless, the topic is often not discussed in advance. In researching the book ‘Til Faith Do Us Part author Naomi Schaefer Riley found that less than half of interfaith couples have a discussion prior to marriage about what religion they will raise children.
Although religion can be challenging to navigate for many couples, it helps to focus on two main strategies. First, it is important to consider the advice from best-selling author Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Seek first to understand.
You cannot begin to negotiate solutions if you aren’t clear on your spouse’s thoughts and feelings about his or her faith. The second key is to respect your partner’s beliefs, no matter how different they may be from your own. By supporting each other in this manner you can make spirituality, however you choose to define it, an asset in your marriage.