Mixed religion relationships
Most relationships require compromise and effort if they are going to succeed, but what about when you come from different religious backgrounds?
When I started seeing my boyfriend, the reaction from my friends and family was mixed. Some were none too impressed and some told me it would have no chance of working. I was even asked why I didn't go out with someone "normal". So what was wrong with my boyfriend? He's a Muslim... and I'm not.
Muslim men? They're all Bin Laden-worshipping fanatics who don't allow their four wives to work, aren't they? Those are just some of the stereotypes I've had to deal with. Admittedly, Britain is becoming increasingly tolerant of mixed religion relationships, but in many cases you'll find that some of the old taboos and prejudices still remain.
Degrees of difference
Whatever background you come from, there will always be some differences between you and your partner, but they won't necessarily be based on your religious beliefs. However, if you completely disagree on important issues you may find life difficult.
Put things into perspective. You don't always have to agree with your partner, in fact it can make life interesting to be close to someone who disagrees with you, just as long as those disagreements don't become monumental hurdles that you'll never get over.
Friends might believe stereotypes about a religion and have negative reactions to your choice of partner at first. Explain to them how you feel about your partner and let them meet each other and form their own opinions based on the person rather than the religion.
Both your family and your partners' family may have problems accepting the relationship. Your partner may choose to keep your existence a secret from them. It doesn't feel nice to be someone's dirty secret but you have to try to be understanding.
21-year-old Ali, a Muslim, had a three-year relationship with a Catholic girl. He chose to keep the relationship a secret from his family. "Girlfriends aren't allowed in Islam," he explains. "My family would be ashamed and my Dad would probably have disowned me. Keeping the relationship secret was an emotional drain and made my girlfriend feel uncomfortable, but I didn't feel like I had a choice."
According to relationship advisor Matt from askTheSite, this kind of problem isn't uncommon. "The main problem people face when getting into a relationship with someone of a different religion is negative reactions from family and friends," he says. So what can you do? "The most important factors are respect and understanding - for your family and your partner. Be prepared to sit down and discuss issues; listen as well as talk. You need to address problems without steaming in with demands."
You may have to get used to certain customs, such as removing shoes, special diets and celebrating religious holidays. Keep an open mind and remember it doesn't hurt to compromise. "Sometimes I felt my girlfriend was insensitive to my culture and I disliked that," says Ali.
Make an effort to learn about your partners' religion so you understand their point of view. Some things may seem strange at first, but if you stay together long term, they will quickly seem natural. If you are unwilling to make small changes it's unlikely that the relationship will work in the long run.
Happily ever after...
However, when it comes to bigger issues such as moving in together, marrying and having children, it's important to talk early on and set some boundaries on how much you're willing to change. If either of you have strong feelings that your children should be brought up in a certain way, for example, you will need to come to some agreement about it.
Sarah, 22, was in a three-year relationship with a Hindu man. "I'd never go out with someone of a different religion again after my bad experience," she says. "I think it's easier being with someone the same as yourself."
Ali disagrees. He thinks there is a lot to be gained from mixed religion relationships. "Being with someone of a different religion broadens your perspective and teaches you how to compromise," he says.
According to relationships advisor Matt from askTheSite, a mixed religion relationship can be a success so long as the couple work at it. "Whether the relationship will survive long term depends upon the strength of feeling involved and the two people putting the effort in to making it work."
Written by Katy Muench
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