Let’s suppose you are dating someone new, and the two of you are delightfully well-matched in many respects. You share several hobbies. You root for the same football team. You enjoy similar foods, even the obscure ethnic dishes you thought no one else in the western world liked. There are no red flags in your mutual taste in music, movies, fashion, or how you spend your free time. Everything looks positive.
Except for one thing: You and your partner subscribe to different spiritual beliefs. But that’s okay, right? So long as you respect one another’s views, what’s the big deal?
The truth is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. A lot depends on individual personalities and particular religious traditions. But for many of us, matters of spirituality and religion are extremely important. They help define who we are and how we’ll live our lives.
The truth is, spiritual dissimilarity in a relationship may not be an automatic “deal breaker,” but neither is it insignificant. Let’s look at three steps that will help you think through your own circumstances:
For lots of people, religious faith is about far more than periodically attending services or observing sacred holidays throughout the year. Those are only the most visible effects of spiritual dedication in a person’s life. In fact, for many people religious beliefs shape what they value, the way they relate to others, and how they respond to life’s challenges.
What people believe in can’t help but influence their goals—and limit what they are willing to do to reach them. In other words, spirituality is a signpost at all the most important crossroads in life. For instance, if you plan to start a family, consider that the arrival of children prompts a whole host of faith-based decisions: the traditions you will pass down, the rituals you will observe, the values you will instill.
It is wise to have your eyes wide open to the implications of facing all of life’s ups and downs with a partner who may not share your deepest beliefs.
Know your limits.
There isn’t a single set of criteria for what it takes to be “spiritually compatible.” For some it is enough to know their partner believes in a higher power. Others may feel it is necessary to be with someone from the same faith, or even within the same denomination or sect. It will help to know clearly where you stand on the subject, as you size up the potential of your present relationship. Ask yourself: To what degree must my partner and I share similar beliefs? How much room for differences I am comfortable with?
Give yourself the freedom to use your veto power.
If you honestly conclude that the spiritual distance between you and your partner is too great to overcome, then say so now. It’s possible that your beliefs could grow closer over time—but don’t count on it. Keeping your faith sometimes means having the courage to say no to a compromise you can’t stand behind in the long run.
The purpose of all faith is to live with wisdom, honesty, and grace. Apply those qualities to your search for a lasting relationship—and have the courage to honor your deeply held convictions.