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Relationships and Religious Differences

Group Therapy: He Believes in God, I Don't

This question is an excerpt from Group Therapy in our TrèsSugar Community. Add your advice in the comments!

For a few years I've been dating this man. We've had good times, bad times, generally been going strong. However, I recently became aware that we will be having huge conflict in the future concerning kids and other plans. No. 1) I don't want to get married, I'm not interested in marriage — it's just not for me, I don't believe marriage validates a relationship or whatever. However, my boyfriend really, really wants to get married, so I would do it if I had to — but he wants a religious service which is hard for me to swallow.

2) He wants the children baptized (Greek) Orthodox and wants them to know their faith, to know their lives. This upsets me mostly because at the start of our relationship, he assured me that he didn't want to make the religious choice for his kids and that he would let them choose. However, this statement about the kids "knowing their faith" pretty much assumes he is throwing them into Orthodoxy and there's nothing I can say or do about it. I know it shouldn't be a big issue, but I'm starting to see some problems. I want my kids to be free to choose their own faith their entire life. I don't want to force them to go to Church (added note: The Orthodox churches my boyfriend goes to only speak in ancient Greek and thus I understand nothing when I go, despite having studied modern Greek for over a year!). . . . I just feel that it won't work out in the future because of this.


Read the rest below.

I know the true solution is just say, oh just get married and baptize your kids — how does it change your life? You're right, but at the same time, why should I have to just succumb to this and watch my kids become religious and ask their father why mommy doesn't believe in God? What's he going to say — oh, she won't be saved like you are? I don't even know. He tells me he respects my beliefs and my values and would never force anything on me but these two issues which he claims are very important. I told him to date and marry a Greek girl who would not object to this way of life, but he wants me.

Do you think that religion causes problems in relationships if there are two contrasting faiths, or one is atheist and the other a believer . . .? Do you think that marriage and baptism are two things that I should just accept because I am being ridiculous?

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Anonymous13 Anonymous13 6 years
I am also from Quebec, but Irish Catholic. From what I know about my francophone friends, and from what I know about Catholic families (being raised in one) I think this will be tough. From your post it sounds like your BF is not really leaning towards compromise... Being Orthodox, a stricter form of Catholicism from what I can tell, he is going to have a lot of pressure to follow religious protocol with the kids etc and the problem is not what your kids will think in 5 or 10 years. The problem is that he doesn't seem to be listening to you. I see it as more of a problem between the 2 of you than a marriage/kids problem. It's the lack of respect (he may take your non-religious views as a lack of culture). Right now he is prioritising his family over you. He says he respects your views, but his actions say differently. Bonne chance. Elle n'est pas facile celle-là.
soulsearcher83 soulsearcher83 6 years
It sounds to me like both of you are going to want to stay true to your views. Neither of you sound willing to compromise. If you think you have a problem now, it will only get owrse with marriage and kids. You may not be a good fit for eachother. If you still want to make it work, go to a couples therapist and see if you can talk it out in a constructive environment. If you still can't agree, time to move on.
kulikuli kulikuli 6 years
I think that it can be an issue unless both parties are willing tro compromise and not force any religious beliefs on the children at all. I'm ok with knowing the history and traditions as they should learn about their families. My mother is Christian-American, and my dad Muslim-Arab, and when we grew up we were taught some about both, but also a lot of other religions around the world and were allowed to make up our own minds. I value their open mindedness greatly in not pressuring me or my sister to choose. My grandparents on the other hand, maybe not so open minded. To this day one grandma assumes we are muslim like the family and will marry nice muslim men and continue the tradition, and my other grandma assumes we are christians and will marry nice christian boys. Overall, i'm glad my parent were of mixed faiths and taught us to be open minded and learn about other cultures and religions around the world. And i appreciate traditions and holidays on both sides, but i have my own beliefs and dont need to be defined by anyone. My point is, it can be a great thing to raise your kids with multiple points of view, you just have to make sure your husband isn't trying to force his religion on them and treats your ideals equally.
JoeTyndall JoeTyndall 6 years
Can such a long-term relationship work with such opposing religious views? It is a fascinating question. The only way it will work is if he (and she) are willing to transcend their cultural differences. Both of them need to directly ask each other, "Are you able and willing to transcend the cultural and religious differences that we have? For example?" The answers that both of them give to these two questions will tell us a lot. I know of marriages between Buddhists and Christians that work just fine. It can be done, I have seen it happen. But it takes a lot of sitting down and hammering out all required compromises -- no stone must be left unturned. (Sadly, I do not see this happening in this situation.)
Choco-cat Choco-cat 6 years
i'm with Spacekatgal, i don't see a long-term relationship working with such opposing religious views.
HoneyBrown1976 HoneyBrown1976 6 years
This is not a non-issue. Religion is one of the most necessary things to discuss when the subject of marriage approaches. Honestly, it may be time to move on. He's looking for someone to share his religious background with and since you don't want to, it'll cause unnecessary strife. That's exactly the reason why I could not marry an Atheist because religion and spirituality is a subject that is not worth the compromise for. I married a fellow Christian.
chloe-bella chloe-bella 6 years
At the end of the day, I think it will be a non-issue. People (especially young, non-married people) always assume that children will grow up to adopt whatever belief system they were raised in, as if baptism in the Greek Orthodox church will guarantee that your children will grow up to be Greek Orthodox. Sometimes that's the case, but it's also frequently not. If you decide to have kids, you and your boyfriend both have to accept that your kids will ultimately make their own choices regarding religion. For example, my boyfriend went to Catholic school all his life. Most of his friends still consider themselves Catholic but don't actually attend mass. Some of his classmates completely rejected the Catholic faith and abhor all things related to the Catholic Church. One person became a Buddhist monk after 12+ years of Catholic school. Even though they were all raised in the same faith, it had drastically different effects on them. My point is - you could raise your children in a 100% atheist, but that doesn't guarantee that they won't someday become ultra-religious on their own. You can raise them in the Greek Orthodox church, but they still might grow up to be atheists, or Buddhists, or Catholics. There's just now way of knowing. Having said that, I can understand how it would cause a conflict for you when your children are young and you fee like they're being indoctrinated into something you don't agree with. The same with the issue of having a wedding. You'll just have to decide whether he's worth the compromise.
bengalspice bengalspice 6 years
I was in the same boat, except I'm mildly Muslim and my husband is atheist. He didn't want to get married, and then he didn't want a religious ceremony. He pretty much was forced into the ceremony [by my parents] but he got through it unscathed and ok with it. I was actually the furious one about the religious ceremony [I wanted to get married at City Hall]. Getting married didn't validate our relationship any differently from before, but it did make our families really happy [my baby brother can't get over that he can finally call my husband his brother] The children being raised religious ... is really something you need to sit down and talk to him about. My husband and I agreed that we would let our children make their own choices, if we choose to have kids. I'm pretty much determined to not make conversations about faith awkward for my children. I've known families where the parents are of two different faiths, and the child believes in a third. And these families are completely content in their differences over religion.
medenginer medenginer 6 years
It's time for a discussion on marriage and children. I believe in compromise but not putting aside your beliefs or morals. I think children should know their heritage and if you don't believe that way you don't have to go to church with them. You can explain your beliefs to your children that are age appropriate. I grew up on a church pew every week and raised my children that way. My ex-husband was a different faith than me so we church shopped until we found the right one. Which was neither of our denominations. When my children didn't want to go to church any more we didn't. I left that decision up to them.
kismekate kismekate 6 years
I just got back from that picture :)
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 6 years
I agree with totygoliguez. Most people inherit their religion rather than find it on their own (if they're interested in seeking it out). I've seen a lot of people crash and burn after having a falling out with the religion they were raised with. But, in regard to the OP: I am an athiest as well, and personally, I would be unable to marry or spend my life with someone who was religious. ESPECIALLY in terms of raising kids. I do not think the "true solution" is just to let your kids be baptized and drop the issue. Religious beliefs influence the way you think/view life in a huge way, even if you think that you don't really think about it much. If this is an issue you think you can work through, I would have to say that it is going to take a lot of hard work and will probably cause a ton of problems in the future when it comes to raising children. I think Joe gave some great advice for you if you are leaning toward continuing this relationship and spending your life with this man. But just keep in mind that you may feel a personal moral conflict when marrying him and raising children if you have compromised certain aspects of your core values/belief system.
totygoliguez totygoliguez 6 years
I disagree with mixtape completely. As a kid I didn't grow with any form of religious background, and I'm happy I did! I have the opportunity to find what works for me without feeling as if I were betraying my parents.
mix-tape mix-tape 7 years
I had a similar upbringing as yours and now, as a young adult, I have some slight feelings of resentment towards my parents for not raising me to know any religion. I've had to do all of the exploring on my own and felt somewhat judged by others for not knowing who so and so is in the Bible. I like that I wasn't forced to go to church as a child, but at the same time I feel behind the curve. I'm still by no means a religious person. Your children can always choose to reject their father's religion when they get older too. What I would do in your situation is this: get married (it's a financial benefit), let the kids be baptized and let your future husband take them to church, but let the kids know that they have a choice in the matter and you will support them no matter what. I'm not saying this is the best route to take, it's just what I would do to keep the peace in a home.
GregS GregS 7 years
You think this is bad? Mary Matalin, Conservative Republican advisor to Pres Bush and counselor to VP Cheney is married to James Carville, Liberal Democrat advisor and TV commentator. They've been married since 1993. I think you can get over this problem if you work at it. It takes communications and understanding on both your parts, and also an understanding that the threshold to the bedroom ends all discussions of religion (in your case) or politics in Carville and Matalin's case.
mildlydelusioned mildlydelusioned 7 years
Well, this one is certainly a doozy. If it makes you feel any better, this is something that millions of couples have dealt with. As for marriage, well mankind has been coupling since time immemorial, marriage, from an non-theistic view, is just an official recognition of that coupling. I think if you plan on being with this man for a long time, it might make sense to get married. As a woman, divorce would be easier for you if you wanted to, but beside that point, this is something where, if you want to be with/have kids with this guy, you should be able to compromise. The kids is something i think that is much harder. Everybody wants their kids to grow up to share their beliefs. Let's be honest though, 95% of kids (14 and under let's say) grow up with the religion their taught, and don't really have the capacity to think through such an extremely tough decision. They might say they do, but at this point (and probably even longer) it's as much about convenience (i.e. not going to church on sundays) as it is anything else. I think the fairest way would be to let the kid choose once he/she turns a decently responsible age, somewhere around 16 maybe. Let him her speak with a priest, as well as you speak with him explaining your beliefs, and let him decide. I think once he/she is more informed, your child will be able to make the decision itself? As for what to do before this time? Well you should at the very least allow the father to expose him/her to christianity. Does he go every week? If he does, maybe switch weeks with the kid going, and the next week doing something with you on Sunday (park, movie, whatever). Regardless of what it is, it's good for the kid to have structure in its life. Let him/her get baptized it's not like it's gonna make the kid christian for life in their beliefs. Everybody has faith and believes in something, in your case it just may not be God. That doesn't make your beliefs any better or worse, and I think if you recognize that, then it will be easier for you to allow the kid to go to church every once in a while with the father, and slowly teach the kid your beliefs while respecting the father's (AND vice-versa). One last thought: Greek Orthodoxy in many ways is like Judaism, in that it is as much about tradition and culture. In this sense, you should definitely let the kid know his tradition and culture on his father's side. Remember, the kid is not just you, but a combination of two.
JoeTyndall JoeTyndall 7 years
I have a lot of experience dealing with this issue. Yes, the biggest problem will be the religious training of the children. I guarantee that if the two of you do not come to an agreement on this, it will cause you a great deal of trouble in the future. The two of you must do what I call ‘transcending the differences between the two belief systems.’ By this I mean that he must show respect for your belief system (and vice versa). It also means that both of you must feel comfortable having a spouse of the other belief system. (I have more on this idea if you are interested.) It has also been my experience that these problems usually get worse as the years go by, because people often become less and less tolerant as the years go by. One huge issue here is, what is going to happen when one or both of you have a dreadful mid-life crisis in 20-30 years from now? At that time, a great deal of tolerance for these types of religious difficulties may very well go out the window. Another issue: for some people, religion is not important, but for other people it is very important. I have found that, the more important religion is in a person’s life, the more chance for trouble. And the trouble will definitely hit when the children are old enough for religious instruction (and baptism). You asked, ” you think that religion causes problems in relationships if there are two contrasting faiths, or one is atheist and the other a believer...?” --> It depends. In your case, there is a big chance it will cause trouble. ”Do you think that marriage and baptism are two things that I should just accept because I am being ridiculous?” --> Absolutely not. This sets you up as a ‘second-class citrizen’ in the marriage, and I would never accept this. ”I am asking him to give up things important to HIM by not wanting to get married and have kids that are baptized but I don't see any possible compromise being made.” --> You are absolutely right. ”It seems if I marry him, they will be Greek Orthodox children who don't even identify anything with MY culture.” --> Here are your compromises. Allow the baptism. (As far as you are concerned, it is only a harmless superstitious sprinkling/dunking of water. Believe me, water is the least of your problems right now.) But several other things must be agreed upon. Your husband must agree to show full respect for your belief system, especially when talking to the children, especially when talking with them and/or you in front of his family. He must also get up in front of his entire family, say “I’m marrying an agnostic, I’m happy to do so, and I am happy that she will continue to be an agnostic after we get married.” He must also say that his children have just as much right to be agnostics as Orthodox Christians. He must also say that the children have the right to choose either while they are growing up. (It would be better if he would say they have the right to be in any belief system, but that is probably asking too much right now). He must agree that he will teach them Orthodoxy and that you will teach them agnosticism, and he is happy that you will teach them agnosticism. Finally, he must agree to protect the children from pressure that will inevitably come from his family that the children must join Orthodoxy, and he must get up in front of his family and tell them this. (The children must be free to choose either belief system, and if they truly wish to join Orthodoxy, then you must let them.) He must agree to all of this, or you must tell him that you and him will never have children together. You must also prepare for the possibility that he will promise all of this now, and go back on his word in about ten years. ”… they will be Greek Orthodox children who don't even identify anything with MY culture.” --> Then you have to teach them your culture, and your husband has to actively support you in this. Have you seen the movie My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding? This movie gives a perfect picture of the difficult battle that you are waging. I’m sorry to hear that you are going through this. If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask.
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