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It probably seems like you and your partner can talk about anything, anytime, with complete comfort. Then why does the topic of religion often feel so off-limits? It’s probably because, second only to our relationships, what we believe in (or don’t) is among the most defining characteristics of ourselves. If you don’t talk about religion and set clear expectations for yourself and your partner before you get married, it’s not just your wedding that will be complicated—it’s your entire marriage!

Here’s a guide to how to talk about religion with your spouse-to-be.

Figure out where you stand on your own.

You may think religion isn’t that big of a deal to you. Then when you find out your spouse to be is a staunch atheist, suddenly you have all the feelings! It’s really important to get real with yourself about your beliefs, and how you those beliefs to coexist with those of your future life partner. Do you expect to work toward eventually sharing the same beliefs as your partner? Or do you think you’ll be cool having your separate beliefs and respectfully disagreeing in that way? What matters most to you and what matters less when it comes to your religious beliefs (or lack thereof)? You need to know that you deserve to have these beliefs respected, and you need to know you can respect someone else’s, before you enter into a lifelong commitment with a partner.

Figure out where you stand with your partner.

If after checking in with yourself you come to the realization that religion (or being nonreligious) is quite important to you (or, not not important), you need to think about how to talk about religion and have a serious conversation with your partner about where they stand, and how you’ll both move forward. Maybe you don’t make a plan right away, but one big initial convo and regular check-ins are all important to getting to a good, comfortable place with religion in your relationship. It’s the same with talking finances! If you don’t have these conversations early and often, you’ll be preventing a deeper, closer relationship with the one you love. Finally, if you plan on marrying this person, and either of you expect the other to take on their religious beliefs, that expectation needs to be laid out early enough for all the right things to happen in time for the wedding.

Be open and respectful.

No matter what—even if you discover that you and your partner fundamentally disagree over your religious beliefs—you still love each other, and that can overcome almost anything! As long as you’re open and respectful and willing to work together to find an arrangement that works for you both, you’ll be successful. Remember, being an interfaith couple is an exciting opportunity for you both—a chance to see the world differently than you may have growing up. And, a chance to start a new generation of faith, if you choose to have children. This is not a time to pit your beliefs against one another—it’s a chance to learn and refresh your perspective! You can even use an app like Lasting to help better communicate to ensure a successful conversation.

Decide together how religion will fit into your wedding day.

It can come as a shock when your new fiancé(e) reveals they want a church wedding after you’ve dated for years assuming you’re both atheists. Weddings are momentous occasions that can bring out emotions in us we don’t expect—like wanting to have a religious presence at one of the most important days of your life. When considering how to talk about religion with your future spouse, work together to decide how religion will (or will not) inform your wedding day. Be flexible and remember to compromise. If one of you wants a wedding in a house of worship and one of you is not interested, maybe meet in the middle and have your ceremony somewhere neutral but work in a religious reading and blessing. Also make sure you’ve discussed how your families expect you to incorporate religion into your big day (obviously you both have the final say, but knowing the expectations of your families early on and deciding what to do with those expectations will save you a lot of strife later on). 

Give yourselves time and space.  

If you’re an interfaith couple, you can’t expect one conversation to put you on the path to make you both understand one another’s religious beliefs completely. And you can’t expect your partner to drop their religious beliefs overnight just because you asked them to. This is sensitive territory and it will take time, space and a lot of love and compromise to feel fully at ease. It might even take up many years of your marriage. But that’s the beauty of being committed to someone: you commit to work together on everything, always, without giving up. Don’t feel dismayed if you can’t find religious common ground right away, or even by your wedding day. It’s a journey, like so many parts of blending two individuals into one new family, and there’s no deadline to get to the finish line.

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