Converting is often seen as the only way to overcome challenges in interfaith relationships, but it doesn't overcome the challenges so much as push them away. Avoiding them means they'll often just come back again later in the relationship. It's best to tackle them head-on to find a solution that benefits both partners.
Here are 10 steps to overcoming emotional challenges in these relationships that don't involve conversion.
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1. Be Clear About Your Beliefs
Perhaps your partner is Christian, and you wish to follow Halal dating rules. Challenges can arise when you have not been clear about your beliefs and which parts of your faith are important to you. Once you are clear, you can communicate clearly to your partner and avoid future challenges.
2. Practice Excellent Communication Skills
Dealing with contentious issues requires superb communication. Step one is to set aside protected time to have discussions that might be emotionally difficult. Step two is to practice your listening skills.
The challenge for many is to listen fully without thinking about what their response will be. Acknowledge what your partner has to say without judgment.
3. Learn About Each Other’s Faith, Focusing on Core Values
Most religions share a set of core values. Being able to agree on your core values makes managing differences far easier.
Showing an interest in each other's beliefs and customs can bring you closer. Many couples develop hybrid rituals that celebrate the best of their different faiths.
4. Speak Openly and Honestly About Your Religious Priorities
If celebrating the Sabbath is important to you, be clear about that and what this entails. If going to a place of worship is important to you, have a discussion about whether you will be attending each other's services or going alone.
One of the biggest challenges can be interacting with the wider faith community. If this is important to you, discuss what kind of activities and level of involvement you seek. Negotiating with your partner in advance means that issues are more easily resolved.
5. Cultivate Friendships With Other Interfaith Couples
A social support system reflecting your ongoing experience makes overcoming emotional challenges far easier. It allows you to learn from the experiences of others.
Issues around marriage ceremonies, birth, death, and mourning are often very emotional. It helps a great deal to have others around who have experienced and successfully weathered these conflicts and may have strategies to help you through them.
6. Strengthen Your Emotional Management and Coping Skills
Make sure you know how to self-soothe and have a variety of ways to do so. If you don't have good emotional management skills, take a class or see a therapist to increase these.
Managing your emotions when you are in conflict with a partner can be difficult. Having good emotional management and coping skills lowers the possibility of intense conflict and lasting hurt.
7. Set Clear Boundaries Around Faith-Related Issues
Part of lowering the number of emotional challenges in interfaith relationships is the ability to set boundaries around faith-related issues.
For example, Sarah, who is Catholic, attends church on Friday and Sunday. Joe, who is Protestant, only attends every other Sunday. They agree that they will each keep their attendance at the level it was when they met, but Joe keeps making Friday evening plans for the two of them and is cross when Sarah doesn't want to attend.
Sarah needs to reinforce the boundary they agreed upon at the start of their relationship but finds it difficult to do so. This is an area that needs work to avoid conflict and ongoing resentment. Most couples benefit from a few sessions with a good relationship therapist to improve boundary setting and communication.
8. Make Clear Agreements About Family-Related Religious Issues
This is the area that can trigger the most strife in interfaith couples. Grandparents, siblings, and parents often have opinions about the relationship and the fact that the partner did not choose to convert.
Negotiating agreements early in the relationship can help to avert some of the worst conflict. It is essential that both parties agree on how relatives will be handled and that they have each other's backs when issues arise. Often, people have problems setting firm boundaries with their own families. This can take lots of practice as most of us find it difficult to establish boundaries with our families as adults.
9. Agree on a Neutral Mediator or Therapist
Having someone objective to help you work through the challenges and help you improve your communication and emotional skills is key to navigating conflict in a healthy way.
People often don't seek help because of the perceived stigma or because they believe help is only necessary when things are bad. Having help prior to conflict gives far better short- and long-term results.
10. Spend Time Focusing on the Joy in Your Relationship Each Day
Taking the time to be grateful for the joy you find together daily makes managing problems easier. Make it a habit to spend some time each day, enjoying each other's company, demonstrating your love for each other, and remembering why you chose to be together. Think about your strengths as a couple and as individuals.
Interfaith Relationships Don't Have to Be Difficult
For many, overcoming emotional challenges in interfaith relationships feels insurmountable. If you can focus on the similarities you share, emphasize the priorities, and use your emotional management and communication skills, you will be able to navigate these challenges in the short and long term.
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