I have so many dear friends who have either divorced or who have gone through intense struggle in their relationship because of differences in one of the most important categories in life – Religious Preferences. These friends of mine are having a tough time because they tried to fool themselves during the very beginning of the relationship.
“She’s a Mormon and I’m a Catholic. We can both go to both churches.”
“She’s an atheist and I’m a Baptist. I think I can win him over in time…”
“I’m a Christian and she doesn’t go to church. But she is a very spiritual person. We’ll get along just fine.”
Unless you prepare The List beforehand, you will be susceptible to a loud heart and a quieted brain. It will be much easier for you to make excuses. It will be easy for you to justify the pursuit of this woman who seems like a great catch but with religious differences. You must have a list of negotiables and non-negotiables before you jump back into the dating scene, AND you must not compromise.
FREQUENCY OF RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY
When you are getting to know a gal and are considering moving forward in a more serious relationship, consider the Religious Preference issue THE MOST IMPORTANT compatibility category. For you, you may land in once of these:
*I honestly have no religious preference
*I have a background in ______________ church or religious affiliation, but I no longer have ties to that group.
*I sometimes attend _______________ church or religious organization. Just depends on what else is going on.
*I attend religious services at _______________ on a regular basis and I like it, but it’s not the most important thing to me.
*I am extremely active in the life of ______________ church or religious organization. This is the most important thing to me, or at least I want it to be.
The woman you are considering pursuing will fall in one of these religious descriptors, as well. I urge you to move forward ONLY IF she has the same descriptor as you. Otherwise, it will be like puling teeth. You will butt heads. AND, I assure you, most likely your relationship will be characterized by the lower of the two descriptors within a short amount of time. If you have a differing level of priority for religion, ABORT THE MISSION RIGHT NOW. Both of you will be happier for it in five, ten years. Don’t be fooled by her amazing looks or her charming personality. Your religious preferences will make or break your relationship.
Not only does the level of priority you put on your religious activity matter, the actual religion you are affiliated with matters. I assure you, there are deep, essential, foundational differences between all of these major camps of religious thought – Christianity, Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Wiccan, Universalist, new-age, etc. etc. etc. If you take the tenets of your religion and compared them side-by-side to those of the woman you want to pursue, I assure you there are going to be unavoidable differences, i.e. how one must live, what does the afterlife consist of and how do I get there, the origins of evil, what religious activities should I partake in, whom should I worship and how should I worship?, etc etc… Catholics and Hindus are not spiritually compatible. Mormons and Christians are definitely not compatible spiritually. Again, if the woman you want to go after is in a different camp of religious thought, I implore you, ABORT THE MISSION! Hang out with women of like mind, and have them make up your pool of possibilities. Otherwise, you’ll be drowning in further heartache.
A NOTE TO CHRISTIANS
Now, a note to Christians of different denominations. Some denominations are more compatible than others. Lutherans and say, Pentecostals, not so much. But perhaps Baptists and Presbyterians are more. Here’s my point – before you pursue the really cool Christian chick that has caught your attention, do a side-by-side comparison of your statement of beliefs and hers. Doctrine is important. Probably the most important question you should start with is, “What do you both believe about the Bible?” If one of you believes the Bible is the infallible Word of God and depicts historical men and women in history and is literal, and the other believes that the Bible is simply hyperbole or analogy and is just an inspirational book for living, I would have to say, ABORT THE MISSION. This is an impasse and you should not try to force a relationship to work that has this fundamental of a difference.
Another important question, then, is how much of an authority does the Bible hold in your life? Do you find yourself easily obeying whatever it is you read in the Bible, or do you prefer to adhere to what you personally agree with and disregard what seems out of date or just too hard to do? You both need to have the same general response to Scripture to be compatible.
This might be coming across as too narrow-minded. This might fly in the face of the culture of tolerance that has been emerging in our country. But I assure you, just a few weeks or months into a marriage with a difference of Religious Preference or Practice, you will begin to feel the tension. You will begin to notice in yourself either frustration or a growing sense of compromise. The divorce rate is higher for second marriages. I have a hunch that your differences spiritually could have the potential to escalate the odds for a second (or third, etc) divorce. You can’t afford that level of heartache.
If you do find someone, though, that is thoroughly compatible with you on a spiritual/religious level, there is almost no greater joy. My second marriage is centered on our core, religious beliefs in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Yes, marriage is hard, but we have a firm foundation that won’t erode. In our very imperfect way, we are navigating life and marriage and parenthood through faith, one step at a time.
The three and a half years following my divorce were some of the most stark, life-changing, life-giving moments of my life. As I mentioned before, I followed the advice of a friend and I refrained from dating for about a year. Smart, smart move. Those three and a half years were filled with self-discovery, healing, and a reawakening for me.
I actually came to a place where I knew that, although one day I WANTED to have another relationship, I finally knew that I didn’t NEED one to be okay. I had become spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and financially okay enough where I could stand on my own two feet (only with God’s help, for sure). I remember telling a good friend of mine that if I didn’t find a gal who was just right, I’d be okay with being single the rest of my life.
Part of my healing process including coming up with a list, split into two columns- “NEGOTIABLE” and “NON-NEGOTIABLE.” I thought of the traits of a possible spouse / girlfriend that were either important to me to be present or noticeably absent in this woman. The categories I covered followed my priorities – spirituality, personality, habits, hobbies, interests, goals, gifts, talents, etc. I knew that it would be pretty tough to find a gal who fit this description. But I decided in my heart of hearts that I was not going to settle on EVEN ONE of my categories.
One of the absolute best things I’ve ever, ever done. Drawing that line in the sand that said, “I will be a man of conviction here. I will not compromise what I feel is important in a relationship.” If I were to compromise again, then I’d be a fool. I’d only have myself to blame.
I’ll tell my “story” in more detail later. Long story short, though. I found a woman who was a perfect match according to this list. Not one area was overlooked to make an exception. Fast forwarding – we’ve been married now for over a year and a half, and we have a 10-month old son. Do we have the perfect relationship. No. Did I find the perfect wife? No. But I found the perfect wife FOR ME. Our compatibility was through the roof, and we have a great marriage based on faith, forgiveness, and communication.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
Your turn… if you are going through a divorce, go back to square one. As I suggested before, take my ONE-YEAR CHALLENGE. Figure yourself out first. THEN, and only then, make a list and check it twice. Don’t just make your list in fifteen minutes while watching tv. Take a week or so to carefully craft this list. And don’t just look at the physical characteristics of a woman. That’s gonna change as time goes by. Focus on the deep, meaningful stuff, matters of character. Share it with a trusted friend (Again, if you don’t have anyone, send it to me!).
And, my friends, DON’T COMPROMISE. DON’T GIVE IN. DON’T SETTLE. KEEP TO THE LIST. AND RESOLVE TO BE OKAY IF YOU REMAIN SINGLE FOR A SEASON. Focus on becoming healthy, happy, focused, and growing.