Most relationships come with challenges, no different is the relationship between people of different religions or different cultures. If we see these challenges as opportunities for self reflection and personal growth then we can greatly and ceaselessly benefit from an interfaith relationship. Through the years I have noted many characteristics that I can change within myself to better serve myself, my interfaith relationship and my interfaith family. I admit that it has taken a long time for me to go through this process of refinement and I must acknowledge that I do have a long way more to go. Here are some thoughts that I keep in mind when facing the added complexities of an interfaith or inter-religious marriage, based on my personal experience.
Do not be competitive, especially on the topics of religion, race or culture. There is no room for competitiveness in love. This is an extremely damaging pastime and will win you no love or respect. Value the role of your partners religion in this world and in your partners life and accord it respect and eventually even love. It may take you some time to come to this place, but after 12 years I have feelings of peace and love for my husband’s chosen form of God and it is indeed a beautiful and natural feeling once you open your heart. This in no way takes away from my love of my own religion since my religion encourages love of all.
Not being competitive includes not speaking down on your partners religion or culture especially when you are not directly asked for a view. If you do have to disagree on a certain philosophy, do so in a respectful manner whilst acknowledging if there are aspects of that philosophy that you do agree with. I admit that I am guilty of being negative about certain aspects of my partners religion. I always abandon such a topic and I always regret it.
You should rather choose to be understanding. Understand that your partner has a different history, different experiences, different affiliations, and different fears stemming from his/her different background. Acknowledge that you may have been very different had you had the same upbringing. Try to understand why things are done the way they are in your partners religion. Try and understand your partners emotions and fears and your partners families emotions and fears based on their belief system, even though at times their fears are unfounded.
Focus on common ground instead of the sometimes superficial differences between your religions. The most important thing is that you both are likely to share common values which you have each inherited from your respective, religions, cultures and families. As I learn more about my husband’s religion, which at face value seems quite different, I find more and more in common with my own religion. Do not be tempted to constantly bring up those things that are different between your religions, these are the things which usually have no tangible impact on your physical lives.
Be supportive in your partners practice of his/her religion. Remember that there are many damaging pastimes in the alluring material world and praying to God (regardless of which name or form or lack thereof, you may choose to worship) is usually not one of them. Indeed focusing on spiritual practices and charity activities can add deep and lasting joy, peace and mental fortitude to your partners life; and can help ward off mental agitations and diseases such as depression. Be sure that, in a loving relationship, you can never be truly happy if your partner is not happy and fulfilled. Never underestimate the value of peace as a prerequisite for happiness. Spiritual practices are a significant tool for acquiring peace. Allow your partner to dip in to this inexhaustible stream of joy without him/her having to contend with your hesitancy or negativity first.
Do not speak or act in anger. When angry, take some time out to try and understand your partners words or actions better and then respond from a calmer footing. In anger we often say things that we don’t fully mean and this can cause untold and often irreparable damage. If we do act or speak in a hurtful way, apologise sincerely.
Do not be egotistical. Often we prevent ourselves from loving fully, we prevent ourselves from compromising on superficial things and we prevent ourselves from choosing to live in full joy because of our pride. For example, we stalled our wedding for over a year because we couldn’t agree on how to do it. My ego was definitely in the way. Eventually I gave in on most accounts, having a very small religious ceremony of my husband’s faith and then a larger “universal” or non-faith-specific reception. It ended up being a very loving affair but we hardly think back on that one day because we are so busy enjoying our marriage and our family. The wedding was not that important after all. I am sure I would have so much less love now had I chosen my ego over my love. However, this does not mean that we must not each insist on respect.
All of life’s relationships challenge us to be better, challenge us to drop our boundaries and expand our horizons, challenge us to live fully in love in thought word and deed. Use your interfaith relationship to find your truly wonderful True Self.
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Sending universal love to my interfaith family.