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How to Have a Healthy Romantic Relationship Even if You Share Different Beliefs

Do opposites really attract?

While it might make for some exciting chemistry, the truth is sometimes relationships fail when there isn’t enough common ground. But how do we know which beliefs, attitudes, and values that are different from us are deal breakers? 

We’ve all seen couples who merge just a little too much and lose their individual identities in the process. Then there are those who seem caught in neverending cycles of disagreement, clashing over important issues until it eventually leads to their demise. When couples have different beliefs, whether religious, political, or personal, creating a healthy dynamic that honors individuality and connection can be a challenge.

However, cultivating a respectful and loving relationship when you don’t agree completely with one another can be a beautiful thing. At its best, it’s an exercise in developing respect, healthy communication skills, and the ability to treat each other with dignity even if you don’t agree about topics that are important to you. That’s rare to see in the world. 

The fact is, mastering the art of togetherness while preserving individuality is a skill too few understand. By learning how to maintain the integrity of your own beliefs and identity while being open to another’s perspective, you’ll be participating in the delicate but beautiful balance of self and others.

Love Is Respect: Relationship Guidelines for How to Treat Your Partner with Dignity if You Disagree

When you’re swept up in feelings for someone, it’s easy to believe that love conquers all. But this is a big mistake. The fact is, your differences in beliefs will affect your lives in very real ways

Whether it’s deciding which holidays to celebrate, which social causes to support, how to handle family gatherings, whether or not you want to get married, or how to raise kids (if you even want them), there’s a lot on the table.

It’s never too soon to start cultivating healthy, positive communication skills that will draw you together rather than drive you apart. Let’s take a look at how to do that.

Know Yourself First

The first step to consider when tackling differences in beliefs is clarifying your own. 

This may seem simplistic, but it’s actually one of the biggest components of learning how to find common ground. Many of our beliefs and behaviors are unconscious, and we might not take the time to truly explore what living out our beliefs looks like. This might lead our partners to become confused about who we are, what we want, and how to express their curiosity and openness to us.

Maybe you’re Christian, but values like compassion and service are what’s most important, rather than attending church or reading scriptures. If your partner grew up agnostic and still is, they might not understand what your particular expression of your faith looks like. If they want to participate in your faith to show an interest, they might not know how to. 

You might not even know what’s really important to you until you’re confronted with it. For example, maybe you don’t consider yourself to be super religious but find yourself wanting your kid to be baptized when they come along.

You can’t predict everything, but the more time you take to reflect on what your beliefs mean to you now, the smoother the road ahead will be. One great strategy to learn more about yourself is to take some time to journal and ask yourself questions like:

  • How did my religion or beliefs impact me as a 5-year-old, 12-year-old, and 18-year-old? 
  • Do I want my kids to have those same experiences?
  • What have been the best aspects of my beliefs/background?
  • What brings me hope in times of trouble?
  • How have my beliefs changed over the years  (if at all), and what instigated those changes?
  • Have there been any aspects of my religious background that were harmful to me?

Once complete, you can use these answers in a conversation about beliefs with your partner.

Get Used to Emotional Vulnerability Right Away

If you’re newly dating, it’s important to be upfront about differing beliefs early on. It might be a little scary (who knows, maybe you’ll find out that this person you really like has beliefs that are irreconcilable with yours), but it’s better than waiting for chemistry to fade and letting differences rear their heads then.

Talking about serious topics like beliefs may feel nerve-wracking at first, but you can lead into it without being confrontational or awkward by swapping stories. Talk about important moments in your life when your beliefs played a big part. 

Maybe it’s your bat mitzvah or your confirmation, a political protest you attended, or a tradition you carry with your family. Painting a picture of what your beliefs look like for you, including how you feel about it now and how you’ve changed (if at all), can give your partner an idea of what to expect and open up an honest conversation.

Look for Shared Values and Determine Dealbreakers

We don’t necessarily need to have the same beliefs as our partners, but shared values are another thing. When chemistry tapers off, your partner will often function more as a best friend than a romantic interest. The values you share will determine the quality of your relationship in the long term. 

There are plenty of couples who have different beliefs but similar shared values. Here are a few examples:

  • One person is an independent, and the other is a democrat, but you both believe in a social safety net that honors universal human rights for housing and healthcare.
  • One person is Jewish, and another is Buddhist, but you both value giving back to the community in one way or another, and want to raise your kids with a service mindset.
  • You’re Christian, and your partner is into New-Age beliefs, but you both honor intellectualism, education, and self-development as important for personal growth.

That being said, there are deal breakers. Depending on where you’re at, you might consider those to be the following:

  • Raising kids without openness to multiple beliefs systems (i.e., your partner is a strict atheist who won’t encourage open-mindedness, or you’re set on a Muslim upbringing)
  • Refusing to treat each other as equal partners on all levels (i.e., one person wants control of certain aspects of the relationship)
  • Your partner’s attitude towards other countries, nationalities, and ethnicities
  • Whether or not your partner supports LGBTQA+ rights
  • Whether or not they support the right for all human beings to have sovereignty and choice over their bodies

Hopefully, you got a sense right away when you were dating whether or not your partner agrees with you on these fundamental touchstone issues. However, some people do have more superficial relationships for a period of time, and a dealbreaker could catch them off guard. 

That’s all the more reason to be upfront early in a relationship.

Setting Boundaries 

Dealbreakers aside, there are times when we have to learn to live with each other’s differences. Whether this turns into a source of hostile conflict or a fertile ground for connection is up to you both. When learning to co-exist with someone who we don’t always agree with, no matter how much we love them, setting boundaries is key.

There’s a big difference between expecting our partner to be open-minded and curious about our beliefs and expecting them to adopt them. Imposing our reality on someone else, or having someone else impose their reality on us, doesn’t feel good. Both you and your partner can avoid this trap by setting internal and external boundaries.

Most people are familiar with external boundaries. This has less to do with what other people do or say and more about how you respond to it. For example, an external boundary might be, “I can’t go with you to church on Sundays. That’s my day for meditating and practicing self-care.” or “If you ask me to convert to Judaism again, I will end the conversation.”

An internal boundary is your own recognition that you don’t need to take on other people’s views. This looks like staying true to your core values and beliefs even in the presence of someone who doesn’t agree. 

Some people find it hard to establish internal boundaries. They might start perceiving things the way other people perceive them or find themselves being influenced too easily by what other people believe or want. Strengthening internal boundaries takes practice, and if you struggle with this issue yourself, you might want to enlist the help of a therapist.

Fight Fair if You Want a Positive Relationship

Arguments and disagreements happen whether you and your partner have different beliefs or not. Learning to argue in a constructive way is an essential skill in any healthy relationship. If you see conflict as a sign that there’s something wrong, you’re missing the point. There will always be conflict when two people come together. How you handle the conflict is most important. 

While the topic of fair fighting is a whole can of worms, here are a few pointers:

Keep it classy — Don’t resort to name-calling, moral superiority, or attacking your partner’s character. Research has shown that criticism and contempt are two of the most poisonous behaviors in relationships.

Practice actually listening — As easy as it sounds, many people find it very difficult to take in and absorb what the other person is saying because they’re more focused on what their rebuttal will be.

Learn how to self-regulate and co-regulate Learn how to manage your emotions through techniques like belly breathing, tapping, and meditation. You can do this before an important conversation or even take a break in the middle of an argument if things are getting heated. When you approach a conversation in a calm and relaxed manner, it can actually help your partner do the same without you having to tell them to. This process is known as co-regulation.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks — If a conversation is getting too heated, there’s nothing wrong in revisiting it later. Maybe you’re in a bad mood because you haven’t eaten or your partner just got home from a long work day. Knowing when to step away is a strength.

You Can Have a Healthy Relationship with Different Beliefs

As our world grows smaller, interfaith relationships and those in which individuals share different political or personal beliefs are growing. 

To be successful, we also have to be practical and proactive when it comes to navigating different beliefs. This means healthy communication about what your shared values are, what your deal breakers are, and how you plan to compromise and coordinate your lives with your differing beliefs.

Start with self-reflection, then get the conversation started early in the relationship. Refine your communication skills, paying special attention to how to truly listen and voice complaints without getting contemptuous. And share stories to show each other what your beliefs mean to you. 

You may find the process of sharing becomes truly pleasurable, not to mention beneficial for your relationship.

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Greatness Authors

Greatness Authors is a collection of writers, thinkers, curiosity experts, and students of the world who are committed to bringing you the most up-to-date, impactful, and inspiring information surrounding Greatness topics.

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