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More Than Just Mars Versus Venus

by: Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC

I am a 30 something woman who has been married for 3 years. My spouse and I have always seemed like the perfect match and our relationship grew quickly, was free of drama and seemed to be “made in heaven.” There was one potential issue that we both believed was a non-issue- we come from different religious backgrounds.

I am catholic and he is Jewish and even though our parents and some extended family members and friends expressed concerns we just assumed that since we are both open-minded and accepting of one another’s faiths that we would handle holidays, celebrations and family objections as a united team and this would head off any potential problems.

Now we are talking about having a child and suddenly, what religion we will raise him/her in has become an issue- a big one. My feelings have changed and so have his- we both want our children to know our faith and to grow up in the traditions we were raised with. Suddenly, I don’t feel so open minded and he has made comments that hint at a negative attitude towards Catholicism that he never expressed before. We are in a crisis now as neither of us can see a way to resolve this that would satisfy both of us. Is this issue a deal breaker for our marriage or is there a way to find a mutually satisfying resolution? - Faith Challenged Wife.

My first thought when I read your question is that you both went into your mixed marriage with assumptions about what your partner felt and would be comfortable with. This may have been why family and friends felt the need to weigh (bud) in- they were concerned that you were not dealing with a difference that could become a major issue later on. If I’m correct, you and your husband didn’t worry because each saw the other as open-minded and willing to go along with whatever the other felt when your first child arrived. The reality here is that no one can know what it is like to be a first time parent. Your priorities, values, and raw emotions can come to the surface with an intensity that can’t be anticipated before it happens. No amount of imagining prepares us for that experience. This is why it is so important to discuss the issue in detail beforehand and work out a potential plan before you are confronted with your new reality. Because you didn’t do that, you are now facing this crisis. Addressing it will not be as easy or drama free as you describe your past relationship- however, if you are both committed to each other and your marriage, a compromise can be found.

To begin with, compromise means that neither of you will get exactly what you want. You will need to find a middle ground on which both of you can stand comfortably. This will involve many heartfelt conversations in which you share your deepest desires and needs for your child with one another. From there you can look together at where your goals for your offspring overlap, and how both religions can contribute to achieving those. Each of you will also need to prioritize your must haves around potential traditions, practices, use of symbols, and religious holidays and celebrations. Just having these talks will help to move you from a stalemate to the idea that there could be workable options. If you are unable to do this without conflict and defensiveness, consider seeing a therapist together- preferably someone who has experience working with couples of mixed religious faiths.

These discussions will be the first step to formulating a potential plan for how you could raise your child with both faiths. I say potential, because once he or she arrives, more discussion and tweaking of the plan may be needed. Any plan would include decisions on things like (for instance) whether to have a bris or baptism or both, having a Christmas tree, lighting the Menorah and celebrating Hanukah and/or hosting Santa and celebrating Christmas, Passover Seder, celebrating Lent and Easter, observing the High Holidays (or not), and very importantly- presenting a united front to family as you create your own new traditions, rituals and ways of celebrating and observing your joint faiths.

It probably goes without saying that you will not be successful unless both of you are truly open to and accepting of one another’s beliefs. This does not mean you embrace them as your own; instead you respect and accept them as important to your partner. Otherwise, you risk a subtle undermining that will happen when the kids ask questions, challenge one or the other’s beliefs, choose one faith over another- or any of the many scenarios that can come up when dealing with the curveballs that kids throw us.

Therefore in those first conversations it will be important for both of you to search your deepest selves and be completely honest about any prejudices or negative attitudes that you may harbor about your partner’s faith and assess your willingness and ability to work these through and move on together. It really all comes down to how truly open and accepting of each other’s faith backgrounds you really can be.

Toni Coleman is an internationally recognized dating and relationship expert and founder of http://consum-mate.com. Her expertise is sought frequently by local and national publications, top ranked dating and relationship websites. Toni has been a guest on a number of radio and TV programs. She is the featured relationship coach in “The Business And Practice Of Coaching,” (Norton, September 2005); and authored the forward,” Winning Points With The Woman In Your Life, One Touchdown At A Time” (Simon and Schuster, November 2005). Toni's popular relationship articles can be found in several magazines and a number of self- help, personal growth and dating/relationship websites. Toni holds a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, is a licensed psychotherapist in the state of Virginia, and holds certification in life coaching. She is a member of The International Coach Federation and The National Association of Social Workers. Toni is a contributing expert at HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare and LAFamily. Follow her on FB at /www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman and Twitter @CoachToni.

 

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