The holiday season is one of the most joyful times of the year; unfortunately, it can also be one of the most stressful times, and in an interfaith relationship, many conflicts may arise.
Consider that approximately 40% of Americans wed outside of their faith, and less than half of those couples discuss which faith they plan to follow. Because of the confusion and high stress levels, two weeks before Christmas and the month of January are the highest break up period for couples.
If you and your partner are getting along the remainder of the year, don’t allow the limited days of the holiday to ruin your relationship. Here is a list of tips that should help you and your partner have a joyous and peaceful holiday season.
Communication may seem like an obvious suggestion here, but are you having an honest and open discussion? Have you both discussed and answered the following:
- What religion (or religions) will we choose?
- Do we have to choose or can we practice both?
- Which holidays will we decide to celebrate?
- What values and childhood memories do we want to hold onto?
- What traditions will we keep? How will our families react? What works for us?
You and your partner should have an open-minded and respectful conversation while answering these questions together. It is important to truly listen to each other and express your honest feelings while remaining sensitive to your spouse’s needs. Consider that you both have to give up something and experience a new holiday that may be completely foreign to you. While that may be scary at first, it doesn’t mean it can’t be exciting and fun as well! By creating these new traditions and rituals together you may find that you’ll experience a more memorable and enjoyable shared holiday season.
Don’t expect your spouse to know the details of the holidays you wish to celebrate; it is both of your jobs to educate each other on the traditions, customs, religious practices, meaning, and any other details that accompany the holidays. By creating a picture book, PowerPoint, or simply explaining it to your partner, you’re providing your partner with the tools he or she needs to have a successful holiday season filled with shared understanding. It is important to remain patient and give your partner credit for taking the time to learn and understand something that is so important to you. Most importantly, remember the connection you can create by educating each other about your childhood traditions and memories.
In an interfaith relationship, compromise is crucial during the holiday season. While you may not be able to compromise on every single aspect, it is important to be able to give and take, and find a happy medium that works for both of you. So, you may have to split holiday dinners, or merge two holidays together, or alternate holidays every other year, but you’re still celebrating them together, and isn’t that the real purpose of the holiday season, to be together with family?
Perhaps you both need to decide what IS the meaning of the holidays for each of you and which values and traditions you would like to maintain from those holidays. Where are you willing to budge and what are you adamant about keeping unchanged? Focus on the beliefs and teachings that are similar in both of your religions. If you both can find areas of compromise and areas of shared meaning and values, then you’re already on your way to creating new traditions, meanings, and memories.
Once you and your partner are able to compromise and find a plan that allows you to both feel included and comfortable, it is time to accept that you both may still experience some differences. Learn to accept that you and your partner have practiced these holidays differently your entire lives, and that some of these traditions and commemorations may mean a great deal to each of you. If, for instance, your partner is adamant about attending a religious service at his or her place of worship and you are against the idea of going, could you accept that your partner would go without you, or vice versa? This way, you are both still able to practice your respective holidays and you each feel like you fulfilled your need to participate without anyone feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed.
They say that when you marry your partner, you’re marrying your partner’s entire family too, and in most relationships this statement holds true. Most couples don’t consider the potential conflicts that could arise when discussing holiday plans with family members and friends. Perhaps your families don’t even understand what your spouses’ holiday is commemorating, what traditions they include, or the importance is has to you. It is just as important to discuss these holiday plans and educate your extended family as it is with your partner. You may not be looking for their approval, but sometimes their support and understanding is good enough, and someday they may come to appreciate your shared traditions.
Don’t even give the holiday season a chance to create conflict in your relationship. Before the day arrives, before you’re both driving home in silence, before including a child into your plans, EXPERIMENT! Test the holiday celebrations in the comfort of your own home, where it is okay to make mistakes and educate each other along the way. Remember, this may be completely foreign to your partner, but being alone without the pressure of making a mistake in front of your family and having you there to explain the process will alleviate some of that stress. Who knows? You may find that the new celebrations and traditions are more blissful and unforgettable than the ones you wanted to retain.
After all, when the holiday season is over, all we remember is the delicious food we ate and the nice gifts we received. So, relax, rejoice, and have a happy holiday, however it may look in your home.