We’ve all been taught to avoid discussing religion and politics in social situations—it’s just not polite, so they say. But when you’re in a relationship, these very issues are simply too big to ignore. You have to deal with the uncomfortable stuff sooner or later. And for the health of your relationship, you’d better do it soon.
So what do you do if your girlfriend is a liberal pro-choice supporter while you’re a die-hard Baptist? Or you work in the oil industry and your girlfriend refuses to drive a car for environmental reasons? Can a relationship survive such obvious conflicts in opinions and beliefs?
Do opposites really attract?
The answer is a firm yes…and no. While differences in opinion can generate lively conversation and give you another viewpoint to consider, sometimes beliefs run too deep to offer any flexibility in a relationship.
If you’re determined to make your relationship work, it’s going to require a lot of consideration and open-mindedness to succeed—only a big man can put aside his own beliefs for the greater good of the relationship.
To make this type of relationship work, both of you will have to recognize that life isn’t black and white—there is no absolute right or wrong in most situations. Neither of you has all the answers and each person’s opinion is valid. Different viewpoints develop over time depending on the type of life you’ve experienced—who knows what you might believe if your situation in life had been different. Perhaps your girlfriend saw her mother struggle through life with too many children to care for properly, so she believes pro-choice should be an option. If you had grown up in that situation, you might feel the same way too.
For many people, their religious views are tied very closely to their identity. When asked, many people will say, “I’m Christian,” or “I’m Muslim”. If this applies to you or your partner, then it may be necessary to find someone who shares your beliefs, instead of pretending the differences don’t exist. Interfaith marriages are common however, so you can make any situation work if you really want to badly enough.
If your relationship is terrific, except for these differences in opinion, you might consider some conflict resolution techniques to help you smooth out the rough spots. Sound too touchy-feely for you? It isn’t. And the skills you learn here can be put to good use in almost any other situation in your life, from work to sports to dealing with members of your family.
Dealing with a major difference of opinion means thinking the situation through carefully. What is really the issue here? What’s really important to you? Will this situation honestly ever occur in your relationship? For instance, if you haven’t visited a church since you were a kid, does it really matter if your girlfriend is Jewish? On the other hand, if you live your religion on a daily basis, then you need to work through the issue in more detail. Decide whether or not this really is the right person for you and if the decision is no, move on. And next time pick a person who matches your religious feelings more closely.
Communication is the key to working through any tough issue. Don’t avoid the problem by never mentioning it—there will come a time when you’ll need to know how your partner feels about a subject, and that better not be while you’re at the church in your tuxedo. Don’t jump to any conclusions and assume you “know” what the other person is thinking. Unless you come right out and ask how your partner feels about an issue, you’ll never have a truly accurate picture.
No matter how huge an issue might be, if you try hard enough you will be able to find something in common, even if it’s just the fact that you both feel very strongly about the subject. Agree to disagree if necessary, but always respect your partner’s beliefs. Don’t minimize their feelings or invalidate their opinion—every viewpoint has worth. If you get angry or the tension is too much, take a break and talk about the issue at a later time. Don’t resort to name-calling or other immature behavior. If this is happening, then you seriously need to grow up and learn how to act like an adult.
When you’re frustrated, it’s easy to pass judgment on the other person—if you can’t agree, then simply telling your partner that they’re wrong, no matter what, is taking the easy way out. Although you might not agree with your partner, take this opportunity to embrace your differences. It’s tempting to stick with the familiar things in life, but unless you branch out and are willing to try a new way of thinking, you are severely limiting your emotional growth.
It’s important that you treat each other with compassion, no matter what. Obviously, there are bad patches in any relationship but the trick to overcoming obstacles is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Really try to see things from your partner’s point of view and figure out why they might feel the way they do about the issue in question.
If you discover that you continually pick partners who are substantially different than you, you’re probably doing it on purpose. Still trying to upset Mom and Dad by dating someone of a different religion? Are you so afraid of settling down that you keep getting involved with the wrong people over and over? By picking a partner who doesn’t match your criteria, you’re successfully avoiding ever having to have a long-term, healthy relationship. You’re a success at failure, so to speak.
A couple doesn’t need to share the same religious or political opinions to make a relationship work. The key is to be honest with other and keep the lines of communication open at all times. Smaller issues, the things that make up your day to day life, are the things that will make or break your relationship in the long run. If you’re consumed with huge black and white issues, it could be that you’re using them as a way out of the relationship. If this is the case, cut your losses early and move on. If you really want to make a relationship work, you won’t get all tied up in semantics.