It’s that time of year again. She wants a Christmas tree, he says, “Not in my house.” There are many variations on these differences in holiday rituals, but the source of the problem is the same—the couple’s lack of a respectful agreement. Here is a tip sheet for managing religious issues during the holiday season.
- In good relationships, each partner should accept and celebrate their differences, including religion. Variety in personalities, interests and values add richness and strength in resources to couples.
- Don’t use other issues as your battleground for your underlying problems. If you are fighting about the holidays, it’s likely that you are fighting about topics such as respect, power, inclusion of your kids, money, effort, caring and allegiance to one’s parents or fear of their disapproval.
- Respecting your partner’s religious needs is a not a contest where one person “wins” his or her way and the other person loses. Unfortunately, a person often feels like the loser if he or she does NOT have any clear or strong religious identity. But a funny thing happens in many dual-faith marriages: each person solidifies his or her religion. One partner’s belief prompts the other to reconsider the value of religion.
- Religious-orientation usually is a product of family experience. Celebrating a different religion can feel like one is being disloyal and disrespectful to the family. Remind yourself that respecting another’s religion is not the same as dishonoring your family.
- Interestingly, when a person feels too bound to a parent, one of the ways to build a buffer zone is to pick a partner whom the parents don’t fully like or accept. Typical buffer zones are differences in religion, race, ethnicity and class. The clash of differences serves as the stand-in issue for the real problem, which sounds something like this: “Leave me alone, let me run my own life, don’t over-need me so much and please won’t you work out your own issues in the marriage and stop turning me, your kid, into your better partner.” Phew! That’s a tall order. So, it seems easier to short-circuit the huge separation issue and fall in love with someone who is against your family-grain—and then spend the rest of your life arguing about how your mom or dad don’t accept your choice of mate. The end result? You and your partner bicker about how to celebrate the holidays.
- If you have children, you must decide how to manage all religious issues. Some couples raise the children in one religion—usually in the faith of the partner for whom religion matters most. For some families, especially if the other partner is not religious, this arrangement works. However, an unintended consequence arises over the years–one parent feels “left out” of family closeness. Children tend to feel very close to the parent with the faith; later reject the faith of that parent or feel sorry for the left-out parent and then feel compelled to be closer to that parent. My, what confusion. Rather than place your children in a structure of divided loyalty, try celebrating both religions. If one parent does not have a strong religious belief, then teach your children about other religions in the world.
- Do come up with a plan. There is no right plan for everyone. You might have to experiment. Here are some suggestions that other couples have tried:
- Agree to decorate only one room.
- Celebrate and decorate with both types of decoration
- Educate your children about all religions
- Exchange gifts for both holidays
- Volunteer at a charity to help out with aspects of other religions
- Include family for all holiday celebrations.
Remember, religion is supposed to make you emotionally richer and caring.