I’ve recently been asked about the influence of differing political and/or religious views on relationships. Specifically, would differing opinions in these areas negatively impact an intimate relationship.
In my opinion, differing beliefs do not signal the demise of a relationship. Rather, it’s the day to day responsibilities that may be the stomping ground of dissolution.
My closest friend does not share my spiritual views, yet we have never had a conflict about faith. Over the years, we’ve had discussions about our spiritual beliefs, but our friendship has endured. So why would this topic be a concern in a romantic relationship? And is my acceptance of differences unique? I certainly hope not.
What are religious and political views except a chosen way to collaboratively view the world and provide a moral code or set of values to follow? (This is a very simplistic definition condensed from the dictionary definitions, no offense intended, just trying to keep the length reasonable here.) If my friend believes something other than me in regard to spirituality, is one of us wrong? Certainly not! She has found comfort and a value system in her spirituality, how can anyone judge that harshly? It is simply part of what has created who she is, which I find valuable. Does my differing belief system somehow threaten her? I think not or I might feel pressure from her to align my beliefs with hers.
So does this relational dynamic change if it’s an intimate relationship? Is it less possible to have differing views in a romantic relationship? I personally know a couple that has been married 25 years this December and one partner is a devout Catholic and the other an Atheist. How can this be you ask? Well, they each value having the other in their life enough that they make concessions and respect their individuality without feeling threatened. They do not spend any time debating their views or trying to convince the other to “change.”
What is it about differing beliefs that feels threatening anyway? If I have a certain belief and I’m not advertising it, just living with integrity and honor, why would another person feel the need to judge me as less than themselves because I do not think exactly the same way?
I do not believe that differing political or religious views result in the ruin of relationship, rather the everyday tasks, our idiosyncrasies and communication styles are what threaten our ties. Things such as leaving the clothes lying in a pile on the floor vs putting them in the laundry hamper, wanting key lime paint on the walls vs meadow green, or wanting to go out for a run after work vs wanting to watch Netflix. And of course, the ability to respectfully discuss these differing preferences. Can we instead learn to appreciate these differences in each other? Can we value that we are not committed to our clone?
Seriously, how much fun would it be to be in a committed relationship with yourself? Would you enjoy always being with someone that liked everything you do; ate all the same foods, liked all the same movies, listened to all the same music, shared every political and religious view, had the same hair color, left the cover off the toothpaste like you, didn’t ever want to clean like you, had all the same friends as you, and had your job? While it may feel exasperating at times negotiating our differences, would you enjoy never learning another point of view or hearing new types of music? Can you imagine all the museums, locations, activities, food, books, and people you would miss out on? Can we not embrace and find gratitude in the opportunity to see the world through another’s eyes?
How often have we made a decision to have a belief and shut someone else down because they don’t share our view? How does that make sense? Of course, within any relationship (intimate, friendship, work) there are times we don’t see eye to eye and of course it’s the people we’re most invested in that we have the biggest reaction to when we feel our viewpoint is the “right” one, but is it not our duty to step back, take a deep breath and realize perhaps there’s another way to look at the situation? And that perhaps the other way is the best way for right now? Is it not possible we’re wrong sometimes?! Just as it’s possible our point of view may be the best choice at another time? Does it not take tolerance, open-mindedness and trust in the other person and in the relationship that allows for acceptance of differences?
I value having my friend in my life and with that comes appreciating and accepting our differences. Neither needs to change, we value the qualities that makes us each unique and have learned to rely on each other’s differing strengths. And perhaps with trust and safety, there will be a change of beliefs, but it will be because we see valuable qualities emulated in the other, not because of coercion or insecurity.
So, I believe the success of a relationship depends on the people, not their beliefs. Jetting back to my previous blog on Mindsets (July 30), consider what matters, what your goal is in having said relationship; having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset guarantees opening your heart and mind to embracing each other’s differences and embarking on an unknown, kindred adventure!
Learner and sharer of all things healthy, active, esteem building, growth promoting, witty and Hawaiian