Spiritual and religious identity is a large part of how people understand themselves. Regardless of religious affiliation, people report that religion is “reflected in their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions” (Kavar, 2015).
Spirituality, or a sense that we are a part of something bigger, is a deeply engrained human instinct. A religious person might find that an organized faith structure brings order to their life. Someone more spiritual than religious might find comfort in exploring how they are connected to the universe around them.
Beliefs and spiritual practices can be deeply rooted in culture and family values. Because of this, many people of faith date people within their spiritual group. But interfaith relationships are becoming more common, according to the Pew Research Center (Murphy, 2016).
Interfaith couples face unique cultural, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges. They may feel disconnected from their spiritual family, or simply have difficulty reconciling differences in how they see the world.
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It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can keep religion separate from everything else in our lives. After all, we sometimes do that with work and school and friends. But even if you and your partner decide to keep your beliefs to yourselves, you can’t keep each other away forever.
Because our beliefs inform so much of who we are, they influence our core values. Our spiritual or religious practice reflects what we see as the source of our connection to the universe. That changes how we view our place in and responsibility to the world around us.
If you and your partner have a similar religious background, you’re more likely to have shared values. That is reflected in your expectations surrounding living together, marriage, sex, and other important subjects.
Religion is often tied to culture and family. Sacred beliefs and practices help families and communities build resilience in tough times. Because of this, people are often pressured to date only within their family’s belief system. And that pressure causes real mental and emotional stress (Yahya & Boag, 2014). That stress can translate into feelings of isolation.
Religion can impact how you move through the world every day.
Having strong beliefs that don’t align with your partner's can cause internal turmoil. Do you both compromise your faith and values to make the relationship work? For an atheist, attending their Christian partner’s church can be deeply uncomfortable. For a Muslim woman, being asked to uncover her hair by her Catholic partner would be a request to go against her values entirely.
Dating someone of a different faith impacts your relationship with your family. For some, having a different faith than their in-laws is a source of hostility. Do you feel comfortable standing up for your partner, at the cost of the respect of your parents or community?
What about having (or not having) children? If you and your partner decide to build a family, any religious difference will impact how you raise children. Studies show that religious affiliation and practice are generally less important to children of interfaith parents. This is possibly because their parents often practice their religion more privately.
Each of these subjects has the potential to cause significant hurt down the line if you’re not on the same page. Even without the influence of religion, any of these could be a deal breaker. Breaking up with someone if you can’t reach a compromise would make sense in a different context. Religion isn’t immune to being a deal breaker.
Can you feel truly satisfied in a romantic relationship that doesn’t honor you as a spiritual person? If not, it may be the best thing for both of you to end things before resentment sets in1.
No one looks forward to breaking up with someone they love because of religion. Whether you choose to end things or he does, knowing that you aren’t on the same path anymore can break your heart.
If you’ve had to go through breaking up over religion and religious differences, consider the following actions to help yourself heal.
It’s difficult to let go of a relationship when you’re still in love. When a relationship ends for religious reasons, you might hope to reconcile or talk it out. But to honor and respect one another you have to practice radical acceptance.
Radical acceptance is recognizing and accepting that you can’t fix this. The two of you are no longer dating due to a major incompatibility. Neither of you are at fault for having different beliefs.
Just like in any breakup, it’s important to take time to separate from him completely. It can be difficult to move on from an ex you’re still in love with if you stay in contact. Commit to a period of time to mute him on socials and avoid communication outside of what’s absolutely necessary.
Healing a broken heart isn’t easy, but it is doable.
Don’t expect yourself to stay strong all by yourself. Having friends by your side can help you grieve. Your closest friends will want to help you. They’ll probably try the usual methods to cheer you up, so if you need something different, don’t be afraid to tell them. They want to give you the help you need.
It can also be helpful to spend time talking with people with little knowledge of that previous relationship. Conversations with coworkers or friends-of-friends can give you a break from thinking about breaking up.
Talk to your family, if you’re close and feel comfortable doing so. Even if they didn’t agree with your choice of dating partner, they don’t want to see you hurt. They might be able to offer comfort and perspective to help you in your healing journey.
If you have a religious community to turn to it might be helpful to lean on your faith. Breaking up with someone you love because of religion might make you feel distant from yourself and your beliefs. But those beliefs can help you grow resilient2.
Ultimately, spiritual belief and practice are about reinforcing your connection to the larger world around you. You might worship a higher power or find balance through meditation. You may find it helpful to look at religious texts in a new light.
I don’t believe it’s helpful to say “everything happens for a reason.” Instead, I believe that everything has its place. We go through difficult times, and we choose how that will shape us moving forward. For some people, religion can help figure out your own way to do that.
Religious differences can help us to really examine what’s important to us. For many people, core values are developed and reinforced by our community. When we’re surrounded by people who think differently than we do, it gives us an opportunity to do a deep dive into our beliefs.
I like to encourage people to pick their top five core values3 and define them for themselves. How does your understanding of your values compare to how you thought of them as a kid? As a teen? Have there been any changes in the last couple of years?
With your top five values acting as your guiding star, you can take this time to get to know yourself a little better. These values can help you to stay true to yourself, even during as turbulent a time as a breakup.
It might hurt to start thinking of another relationship after breaking up, but it’s necessary. Save this part until after you’ve given yourself time to cry on your support network.
Your standards and boundaries probably don’t need a lot of changing. You and your ex broke up because of differing religions, not because he’s a bad person. It’s healthy to identify some things you would like to be different in future relationships, but chances are that there aren’t many.
What you need to decide is how this breakup changes your dating pool.
Are you still open to dating someone with a different religion than you? Studies show that interfaith couples face challenges4 other couples don’t have. From your experience of your past relationship, do you want to face those challenges again?
Maybe you will decide against dating someone religious when you are not. Maybe you decide that if you do date someone of a different religion, you’ll discuss challenges early on. Whatever you decide, this will help you handle dating in the future.
Just because you broke up doesn’t mean that you can never be friends again. If and when you’re ready to talk to each other again, you want to know how you’ll handle it.
Staying friends is not impossible, but it will take work. One or both of you may still have feelings for each other, so the best thing to do is set clear boundaries with each other. You need to know what lines not to cross as you get to know each other again.
Reconnecting with an ex can put a spotlight on all of the things you liked about each other. Even as you’re committing to friendship, you might be tempted to see if you could date again. It’s important to check with yourself if those good things will meet all of your needs.
After you’ve done your soul searching, see if you still hope to get back together. It’s natural to have mixed feelings. The religious differences aren’t going to suddenly disappear. But if you’ve figured out that you want to give things another try, you’re not wrong to ask.
If he doesn’t think compromise is possible, respect his decision.
Having different religious beliefs is not an automatic red flag in a relationship. Differences in spiritual beliefs can be addressed with love and respect. Like any other relationship, boundaries and expectations need to be clearly stated.
Compromise is going to be key. Demanding that your partner attend your church or speaking badly about any other religion than your own will only make breaking up a stronger possibility. Be open to learning about your partner’s religion.
Building intimacy, the ability to be comfortably vulnerable and affectionate with each other, is essential for your relationship to work. You can’t fall back on the assumption that you know everything about one another. You have to put effort into learning about your partner’s relationship with their spiritual practice.
It’s also important to face conflict head on. Religious beliefs can be tied into very sensitive subjects like identity, family, and culture. Discussing them may require some difficult and confusing conversations5. Consider writing down your points, and making plans for how to handle elevated emotions.
Talking with a trusted mentor, mutually agreed upon spiritual leader, or counseling professional might be needed to moderate. Try to work with someone who is familiar with both of your spiritual practices or religions. Be honest! They can only support you if you let them.
Having different religious beliefs than your partner does not automatically mean you should break up. Interfaith couples are becoming more common across the country. As long as you are respecting each other’s differences and communicating with each other, your relationship can thrive.
Being in an interfaith relationship can work if you’re open to compromise. Taking time to learn about other religions can go a long way in helping the two of you grow together. That doesn’t guarantee that every issue will be resolved, but it’s a start. Consider working with a counselor to facilitate needed conversations.
If you or your partner are religious, religion is already a part of your relationship. If you’ve tried everything to make the relationship work, you may have to consider ending the relationship. Breaking up with someone you love because of religion hurts, but it’s better than letting resentment build.
Studies suggest that individuals who are spiritual or religious tend to live longer and have stronger support networks. That doesn’t mean you have to share all of your beliefs. As long as you’re willing to compromise, your relationship can grow.
Religious differences can be a source of stress in a relationship. If you and your partner don’t practice the same religion, you may find it hard to reconcile your core values. If that’s the case, you may break up. That doesn’t mean all interfaith relationships are doomed. With deliberate action, you and your partner can have a happy and healthy relationship.