How to Reconcile Religious and Spiritual Differences With Your Partner

Every so often I will be treating a couple, one of whom says that the other doesn’t care about religion or spiritual matters. The complainant may cite a lack of support for his or her spiritual or religious activities. Sometimes the partner resents the time devoted to religious/spiritual pursuits.  Sometimes one or the other person feels alone when it comes to events that are more couple or family oriented (such as holiday celebrations). In my religion, the Yoruba/Lucumi faith, the activities, initiations, drumming, etc. are so labor-intensive, it is hard to imagine being with someone who isn’t in some way in the faith.

When working with these couples, I explore if there is really some other issue lurking beneath the surface of the presenting complaint. Sometimes there is something not readily apparent; for example, feelings of neglect in general, sexual problems, addictions, abuse, and so on. Ultimately, these “hidden” are the issues that must be worked on in the treatment.

However, if most of the relationship is working well and this is the real complaint, I tend to explore the feelings on both sides rather than the issue of why someone is or isn’t religious/spiritual. The feelings that typically surface are those of abandonment: sometimes there is a feeling of scorn and contempt on the part of the religious/spiritual one, loneliness on both sides, a lack of joint purpose/values/goals, or a drastically different world view and outlook on life, just to cite a few examples.

I also explore why it is so difficult for one or the other to allow the partner to be on his or her own path. Is perhaps this some form of codependence that requires homogeneity in thought and belief? Is it perhaps threatening to one or the other to be different? Are there fears that unless the two are the same, they can’t survive as a couple?

While it is important in a relationship to have shared interests and values and to some extent goals, each person in a couple does not have to be a carbon copy of the other. After all, it is different points of view that make a relationship interesting.

As long as the other person is not critical, contemptuous or belligerent as far as the other’s religious/spiritual beliefs, it is important for each person in the couple to follow his or her heart when it comes to religion and spirituality. Too many people have been pressured by parents, extended families, social groups, communities and other such entities to follow along with a certain religious/spiritual example. Ideally, this is one area where there should be freedom of choice (even though that is often not the case). So, to perpetuate that lack of choice in a relationship makes it even worse for both parties.

I do appreciate that the issue becomes more complex when it comes to raising children. If this hasn’t been discussed prior to making a commitment to the other, then it needs to be worked out with mutual respect. Often compromise is the only way to resolve something like a conflict in this area, knowing full well that the children will probably decide what they want to do in the long run anyway.

Ultimately, what couples should strive to avoid is using religion/spirituality as a tool for manipulation of one another. That goes against the very purpose of belief, and in the long run is divisive and destructive to the relationship. Respecting another’s differences is really the only choice to make.

Related Articles:
Five Domains of a Healthy Relationship
What is “This”? An Exercise in Contemplation
Appropriate Conversations about Spirituality in Counseling

© Copyright 2011 by Kalila Borghini, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sally h

    November 1st, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    with people from different countries and cultures coming to america for a long time now,there sure is a lot of relationships and marriages between people from different backgrounds.while it is very convenient to say that agreements regarding religious practices should be made earlier,its not that easy practically.

    no matter how much care is taken there will definitely be instances wherein there will be disagreements between the couple.and just letting go of things and being aloof to your partner’s practices is not the answer takes careful consideration and a mature mind to tide over things like these and what may work for one couple may not work for another.

    having quite a lot of friends who have married people from other cultures and religious beliefs,I know quite a bit about these things and I would definitely say that the best way forward would be to integrate yourself and your partner in both your beliefs as much as’re going to church while your partner doesn’t?no problem,just try and have a walk in the park after your church with your are following what you want and still not losing the connect with your partner.

    small things like these can benefit the relationship a lot and would definitely prevent problems that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

  • Kalila Borghini

    November 1st, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    Hi Sally. Your points are well taken. Just one thing stuck out for me. I was not recommending remaining aloof from the other’s beliefs. But rather I was emphasizing mutual respect and acceptance. Hope that is now clear. Thanks for your input.

  • sally h

    November 2nd, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    ^^thank you for your reply.actually I did not mean the article suggested being aloof but as some people might consider doing that I wanted to speak of it.great article from you,Kalila B,I am sure to be following your articles :)

  • Dean

    November 2nd, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    Kind of makes me wonder how couples with this much disagreement over something that is so important to most people would ever wind up together in the first place. Unless it’s just a case of minds changing over the years and they find themselves growing apart form one another. Thoughts?

  • Kalila Borghini

    November 2nd, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    People do change over time and what may not have been an issue initially ends up developing into one. When that happens, it’s time to try to resolve it if possible. Also, sometimes someone different is very appealing for any number of reasons. Over time as well, those differences can be a cause for a rift.

  • Candy Small

    November 2nd, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    “Are there fears that unless the two are the same, they can’t survive as a couple?” According to my ex, that’s how it’s supposed to be. People are not allowed to change and grow. What a joke and suffocating outlook!

    He hated it when I started taking an interest in spiritual development because I took to it like a duck to water. I knew I had found what I’d been looking for that I couldn’t ever quite put my finger on. I discovered that it filled a hole in my life he could never have.

    He was an atheist and while I didn’t agree with him, I respected his right to have a belief system different from mine. That was fine by me. The more I progressed with my own development however, the more I saw how I couldn’t be with him and pursue this without ridicule every step of the way. I’m fairly sure he was jealous that I was so passionate about it.

    Something had to give and when I made my choice, he lost and I’ve never regretted that. It was just too important to me to compromise about.

  • Dawn Baxter

    November 3rd, 2011 at 12:23 AM

    If you and your partner have not worked out your differences in that respect by the time children come along, you have made a major faux pas. You need to find out all these things and more before you ask them to marry you! It’s common sense. Honestly, these days we need to start calling it “uncommon sense” because apparently only 10% of the population gets that gene.

  • L. Drummond

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:23 AM

    If you have religious differences, you’re better off asking yourself two questions: Am I willing to throw mine aside? Are they willing to throw theirs aside? When the answer to either of those is no, then you’re not compatible.

    You cannot have multiple religions under one roof and exist in harmony. The minute you attempt to discuss religion rationally and at length with your spouse, it’s over.

  • Hank Mackie

    November 5th, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    @L.Drummond: That’s not necessarily true. I’m Catholic and my wife has been an Atheist for as far back as she can remember. She has no interest in Mass nor converting to Catholicism and I’m fine with that! I’m not going to dictate to her how to live her life nor she mine. Anyway, we can find plenty to fight about as it is. ;)

  • Karla Foley

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    When it comes to a conflict of beliefs and children, you should both sit down, be quiet, and let your kid choose his which belief system she or he’s going to follow for themselves.

    Kids who have religion forced on them end up despising the church they were pressed into attending. They are the ones that hurl verbal abuse at Christ’s word and consider the Pope to be the bigged con-artist since Frank Abagnale. Let them choose who they want to go with.

  • Art Mendoza

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    @Karla–You are correct there! I had religion forced down my throat when I was young. I COULD be a very tolerant person about religion. I choose instead to tell anyone who talks to me about religion to drop the subject with increasing levels of firmness.

    I simply don’t want to talk about it, and I don’t want to care about it. I don’t have to do either since I’m not six nor sixteen anymore. See? Being a free spirit has its perks.

  • Kalila Borghini

    November 6th, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    Thank you all for your comments. Glad to see this article has generated some lively discussion.

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