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Navigating a Mixed-Faith Marriage

10 Critical Areas of Work, Focus, and Commitment For a Mixed-Faith Marriage

1. Mindset:

Whether my spouse or I change religious beliefs, I will not dwell in a victim mentality about this change but instead focus on a co-creating mentality.  

I recognize that it is a universal fundamental human right to have and maintain a religious belief and change it at any time. I understand that change will inevitably lead to disappointment about my expectations and my vision of our life together. Regardless of whether I am the believer or non-believer in my marriage, the disappointment and frustration can go both ways. However, I recognize that disappointment is a normal part of ALL relationships. I will not dwell long-term in that disappointment and live in a victim mentality where I am powerless in my life circumstances. Instead, I will grieve the changes and then focus on actively participating in co-creating something workable for both of us as we grow and change in different ways throughout our relationship as our lives unfold.

 Suppose I or my spouse cannot co-create something workable together, and one or both of us remain in a victim mentality. In that case, we commit to getting some help to figure out why we are stuck so that we can’t move into a co-creating mentality together. Healthy marriages are about actively co-creating a life together, which we will not be able to do from a place of victimhood, so it is essential to get out of a victim mentality that only keeps us perpetually stuck.

2. Boundaries:

I commit to cleaning up my side of the street only, not my spouse’s side. 

My side of the street, when it comes to my spiritual life,  is getting to know my version of faith and spirituality (whatever that may be), my values, how I want to live my life from my values and beliefs, and how I want to communicate about them in relationship with others.  It is a violation of boundaries for me to try to influence, correct, dictate, or push my spouse to have the same perspectives and values as me or behave like me in their spiritual or non-spiritual life. Their beliefs are outside my boundaries and not for me to control or intrude upon. Their thoughts, beliefs, and spirituality belong to them, not me. I can trust that as an adult, they can ask for my thoughts and input if they want, but otherwise, they can manage their own spiritual life. 

I will not violate boundaries by telling them what they should think, feel, believe, or be motivated by. I commit to developing my own sense of self, spiritual beliefs, values, and motivations instead of focusing my energy on how I wish or hope my spouse would lead their life. There will always be more than enough work on my side of the street to occupy my energy, and when I focus on my side of the street, my relationship will always benefit more than if I focus on my spouse’s side.

3. Agreements and Non-Negotiables:

I recognize that any effectively functioning partnership requires clear agreements and rules. 

I understand that if the rules and agreements that our marriage was based upon do not reflect our current situation, we may need to revise them and create a new set of agreements and rules. These agreements should include why we want to be together now, our new shared values and purpose, how we will treat each other's beliefs and perspectives, and how we will make decisions about our shared life.

I recognize that if I have non-negotiables that I want to be part of our new agreements, I need to articulate them clearly. It is my responsibility to know and be clear on my boundaries and non-negotiables as we set up agreements (see #2 about working on your own side of the street).  I commit to being honest with myself about whether being in a mixed-faith marriage is non-negotiable or not. If it is not a dealbreaker, I will get out of victim mentality (see #1 about mindset) and work on co-creating some new agreements and rules for our partnership that will guide how we manage our differences and move forward in our relationship.

4. Respect:

I commit to eliminating all forms of contempt or looking down upon my spouse for their beliefs or perspectives. 

I will find ways to respect them for who they are as a human being and as someone I love, even if I disagree with them. I can disagree without placing myself above them.  I will see them as equal to me with different life experiences that have shaped the way they think, act, and feel but which do not make them less than me in any way. I, too, have been shaped by many factors, so we are always equals, no better than or less than each other.  I will eliminate sarcasm, belittling language, disrespectful language, and criticism toward my spouse's belief system or value system because doing that stems from a feeling of superiority and looking down on my spouse, which I will not do. 

 I commit to respecting them and their beliefs with dignity and diplomacy, just as I would want them to respect mine similarly. I commit to not reducing the deep complexity and layers of who my spouse is to only their beliefs, views, or religious/non-religious affiliation. I commit to a lifetime of what Terry Real calls “full respect living,” meaning I will NEVER drop below the lines of respect in word or deed regarding my spouse and their beliefs or anything else.

5. Sharing:

Suppose I want to share something that matters to me regarding church/belief/ perspectives. In that case, I commit to sharing to be seen and known regarding important things to me so that my spouse can get to know me better, instead of sharing for their validation or to convince or change them.

 I recognize that effective and productive human communication in an intimate partnership requires thoughtful constraint and consideration of what, when, and how I share. I commit to practicing the art of sharing in healthy and mature ways by always asking for consent to share and being very contained and intentional with how I share. I recognize that authenticity does not mean I get to share whatever I want, however I want, and whenever I want to share. Sharing in an uncontained and unrestrained way only invites ineffective and unproductive communication patterns. I commit to practicing the art of effective, diplomatic sharing and communication throughout our relationship because that will ultimately lead to an increased capacity for connection even in our differences.

 Sharing to reveal who I am more deeply without needing or expecting the validation of my spouse's agreement will also increase our capacity to understand each other more deeply. I recognize that the most effective form of sharing and revealing about myself comes from sharing my vulnerable experiences and feelings. It comes less from sharing facts, information, podcasts, articles, or other people’s experiences. 

6. Compromise/Negotiation and Win-Win Solutions:

I will compromise, negotiate, and always work toward finding win-win solutions in my marriage. 

I recognize that the majority of the problems in our marriage, including faith differences, will not have completely satisfying solutions because we are very different people at our core in ways that won’t ever change despite our best efforts.  Because of this, I will focus on managing our differences instead of trying to eliminate them.  I commit to practicing the art of experimenting, thinking outside the box, and trying to negotiate and compromise until we reach a win-win solution. I commit to ensuring that there is never a winner/loser as we navigate our faith differences and that we will find a way for us each to maintain the essence of who we are while still being a team to help each of us get some of the things we want and need.

I will view all compromises and efforts to manage our differences as short-term experiments that can always be adjusted and changed.  I don’t have to figure out our whole life and make permanent compromises! Our shared life is a creative work in progress. I also commit to learning to maturely tolerate the discomfort of not getting everything I want, which is integral to all healthy relationships. I commit to standing up for myself as an equal in the partnership to get some of what matters to me and advocate for my needs. Still, I recognize that I will not get all of what I want in my relationship, and that is ok and normal in any marriage, whether mixed faith or not. It is my job to handle that with acceptance and maturity, and I commit to practicing this art for the sake of our relationship.

7. Flexibility and Adaptability:

I recognize that part of living relationally with another dynamic human being means always needing to adapt, pivot, and accept the fact that doing things my ideal way all the time is not reality. 

I recognize that flexibility is a sign of wellness and emotional health, and rigidity is a sign of mental or emotional unhealth within an individual and a relationship.

Suppose I struggle to be flexible and adaptable enough in our mixed-faith situation to let go of my ideal way of doing things and find workable solutions to make room for us both in the relationship. In that case, I commit to getting to the bottom of what might be contributing to this.  It may be anxiety, ADHD, OCD, childhood trauma, religious trauma, scrupulosity, etc., that is contributing to this rigidity. I commit to doing my work to understand and address any mental health conditions or other preconditions that may be impacting my capacity for flexibility and adaptability in my mixed-faith relationship.

For a mixed-faith marriage to thrive, we must maintain our essence while letting go of control and adapting, pivoting, and experimenting enough to co-create something workable together. I recognize that changing circumstances are standard in all relationships, and part of relationship work is having an adaptable relationship that can tolerate those changes. I understand that control is always antithetical to thriving relationships, and part of my work on becoming more flexible and adaptable will be around letting go of control and better tolerating uncertainty and discomfort.  I commit to understanding my areas of inflexibility so that I can increase my capacity to move out of rigidity and into more flexibility and adaptability. Working on my flexibility will help me to productively handle changing circumstances and stressors in my relationship, making it much more resilient. 

8. Mixed-Faith Parenting As A Gift: 

I recognize that parenting is about nurturing and guiding my children, and that my spouse and I's different belief systems are not a detriment to that but can actually help us to do that even more effectively.

 I commit to bringing the strengths of both of our perspectives and beliefs to show our children different value systems, different ways of solving problems, different ways of handling difficulties, different ways of making choices, and different ways of moving through the world so that they will be more equipped to navigate the complexity of their own lives. I commit to focusing on and building on what we have in common regarding parenting values instead of focusing on where we are different.

I commit to co-creating our family unit by finding common ground and bringing our different strengths and values into the relationship instead of dividing our family based on beliefs. I understand that unity is not about being the same but being in this together. I will model a relationship where we can be ourselves and still connect as a team doing life together. I recognize that modeling healthy compromise and collaboration around our most significant differences is a tremendous gift to give our children that will be incredibly useful in their personal and professional lives. 

9. Rituals:

 I recognize that shared rituals are a part of thriving relationships and family units. While religious traditions have many rituals within them, from attending church weekly together to family prayer, couple and family rituals can come in many different forms. It is not the content of the ritual that makes a couple or family thrive but the fact that there are rituals in place that help bring a unit or family together at regular intervals amidst busy lives. I recognize that to co-create a mixed-faith marriage, we will need to find or create our new family rituals. These rituals may incorporate things from our belief systems, or we can create new rituals that aren’t related to our beliefs but are related to our shared family values, hobbies, interests, passions, goals, fun, holidays, sports, etc. I commit to developing our own couple and family rituals that are more reflective of our current mixed-faith situation and that aren’t impacted by our different beliefs. Developing new rituals is part of the work of co-creating our lives together in a meaningful way.  I commit to working on my flexibility and adaptability as we work to find new rituals, revamp current rituals, and explore new ways to ritualize our shared life together. 

10. Interdependence, Not Codependence:

I recognize that it is not my spouse’s job to make me feel good by validating my perspective, agreeing with me, liking how I think about things, or liking how I do things. Healthy relationships require a lot of healthy communication about how we impact and interact with each other, and they also require considerate, respectful, and loving interactions. However, it is ALWAYS MY JOB 100% OF THE TIME to practice being okay and feeling whole over and over whether or not my partner validates my thinking, perspectives, and beliefs. It is my work to maintain my sense of inner wholeness or abundance in the face of our different ways of seeing things.I recognize that healthy and thriving relationships occur when two people with their own complete, inner sense of abundance and wholeness join together through interdependence.  I understand that oppositely, symptomatic, and problematic relationships occur when someone who lacks inner wholeness tries to get that through their spouse agreeing with them and validating their way of doing things. I commit to working on my wholeness and self-validation so that I don’t need to rely on my spouse to create my inner abundance. I commit to working on this practice to increase my capacity for healthy and thriving relationships. The more I work on this, the more resilient I will be to changes and stresses within the relationship and the more resilient our relationship will be. 

These areas of work, focus, and commitment encompass the art, skill, and work of being in a mixed-faith marriage with two unique individuals who can still create a meaningful, shared life together.

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