How to Successfully Handle Religious Differences with Your Spouse Religion does not have to splinter a relationship. In fact, it is the differences that can strengthen it. BY MARK A. CHINN
Finding common ground in your spirituality will help guide your compromise.
“ I believe that the success of most marital relationships is typically based on having similar value systems...Within that framework there is plenty of room to respect religious differences.
In my 30-plus years of practice in the field of family law, I have found that what drives couples apart are differences, but most of these differences surround opposing points of view regarding how to handle money, the meaning of monogamy and how to raise the children. Certainly, there are disputes over religious leanings, but overall, I have found that religious beliefs come in many "flavors," and what seems to be important is for a couple to value spirituality individually and as a guidepost in the marriage.
I have found that there are a number of interesting and productive methods for managing religious differences: a starting point and underlying principle to doing so is tolerance.
While religious differences might not be easy in any intimate relationship, a couple can certainly stay together by being respectful, by maintaining an open mind, and by resisting the urge to push their beliefs onto their spouse. Here are some guidelines for how to keep religious differences from splintering your relationship:
1. Respect one otherís points of view. Whether you are talking about hot buttons issues in politics or what to eat for dinner, always remember that religion, just like everything else, is a personal choice. If you and your spouse can respect one otherís points of view and remember that it is just thatóan opinionóyou can avoid the potentially damaging consequences of insulting the other personís beliefs. Rather than trying to argue the point, come to terms with the fact that you and your spouse have different religious convictions and neither of you is more right than the other. Respecting your spouseís faith will ultimately help build a stronger foundation when presented with other topics you donít agree on and the many problems you may face as a couple.
2. Develop a core, central theme. Often, if you take a minute to delve into the underlying themes of most religions, youíll find that they have a central line of thought that focuses on morality and goodnessóthe golden rule that helps govern the way you live your life. Instead of focusing on the differences you and your spouse face, try to find common ground in your spirituality. This will create a deeper bond for the two of you, and although you are practicing different religions, you can find similarities in what religion means to you as a spiritual couple.
3. Avoid family pressures. Modern times have allowed for a more open-minded approach to relationships, especially when marrying outside of your religion. But what happens when your family hasnít caught up with the times? However difficult this may be, remember that when it comes to your marriage, it is you and your spouse, not you, your partner, your partnerís parents and entire extended family. Respect what your families have to say, but in the end, do what is right for you and your spouse.
4. Handle the children carefully. If you have built your relationship on tolerance and respect, parlay that into communicating what you want religiously for your children and compromise with what your spouse wants. Make a plan and stick to it. Maybe you will have your kids attend different places of worship on alternating weekends, or perhaps you will keep them informed and educated about both religions and eventually let them choose their own path. In the end, they will embark on a spiritual journey all their own, so provide them with the information you find most meaningful in your respective religions, teach them the rituals and traditions and provide them with a united front.
5. Donít try to convert your mate. This is probably the easiest way to create bad blood with your significant other. This rule stands for all matters of opinion. If you try to force your beliefs and opinions on someone else, you are immediately disregarding their right to their own opinion. Have you heard this saying, "If I want your opinion, Iíll give you one." That is a surefire way to shut out your spouse and cut off lines of understanding and communication. It is obviously tough to quell that urge, but try, for the sake of your relationship, to keep that pushiness out of it. Tolerance and respect are the buzzwords here!
I believe that the success of most marital relationships is typically based on having similar value systems. That means if both are tolerant, supportive and understanding, values are aligned. Within that framework there is plenty of room to respect religious differences. If you canít giveóin terms of allowing your spouse to practice whatever religion is comfortable and fulfilling for him or her, you might find yourself unable to compromise in other important areas. Check your values; check your attitude. And, donít forget the "Golden Rule!"
Mark Chinn, a highly established family law attorney in Jackson, Mississippi operates a firm that adroitly assists clients with legal services and is well-known for its innovative fixed billing practices. Chinn, a frequent contributor in periodicals such as the "American Journal of Family Law," "The Family Advocate," "Small Firm Profit Report" and "Fair Share," has authored three ABA books: "How to Build and Manage a Family Law Practice;" "The Constructive Divorce;" and "Forms, Checklists and Procedures for the Family Lawyer." Chinn practices holistic lawyering and is sought to provide insight into family law, and all aspects of marriage and relationships. Chinn is also a key speaker to various groups of lawyers and bar associations on topics of law practice management, marketing, client service, trying skills, and life and practice balance.