Most couples’ conflict is not about religion, even in an interfaith relationship. However, it is certainly possible to use your religious differences to shoot holes in your relationship. Let me tell you about a very effective way to do that, and hopefully you can avoid it.
Many non-Jewish Americans are not aware of how Christianized American culture is. They are what I refer to as American Folkloric Christians. They love the big American holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and the 4th of July. Religion has zero to do with their attachment. When their Jewish partner objects to one of the holidays (most likely Christmas or Easter) they react with shock. “But it so fun,” they exclaim. Then to prove their point they go to their partner’s Jewish friends and tally up all the Jewish friends that agree that Christmas and Easter are must-do holidays. With their list they go back to their spouse and use these Jewish back-ups as proof that their spouse is totally wrong and out of step with other Jews.
Or flip this. The Jewish partner is an agnostic and says that Judaism isn’t really a religion, it’s a culture and therefore, more sophisticated and liberal. They inform their Christian spouse that believing in God is backwards, narrow, objectionable. They go to the non-Jewish friends of their spouse and get their confirmation that Christianity is a homophobic, racist, paternalistic religion that is only for the weak minded. They point out to their Christian spouse that all their friends agree that you shouldn’t raise a child in a religion that practices mind control.
OK, so maybe you actually agree with one of these suppositions – (1) Christmas is completely secular and it would be cruel to deprive a child of its fun, or (2) Christianity is the bane of our civilization. Bottom line – DO NOT GET BACK UP; DO NOT INVOLVE YOUR FRIENDS. Lining up YOUR army against your spouse only makes them feel cornered and very defensive. They are no longer arguing about whether to have a tree, they are fighting for their own authenticity.
Sit down, alone, and write out your reasons for thinking what you do. Don’t bring ANYONE else into your message. This is about YOU and why you want whatever it is you want. Now you have something to say to your partner.
Honey, I love Christmas. It is the only day of the year that my entire family got together. It symbolized family and connection for me. It scares me to think of how lonely and empty I would feel if I didn’t have it. And by ‘it’ I mean decorating a tree, baking gingerbread cookies and smelling apple cider simmering. I feel that I need to have my family get together – my children with my parents. I feel…
Sweetheart, I was raised in a very intellectual family. We read, thought, debated. The Christianity I experienced were things like a girl in fourth grade telling me I was going to hell and going to the neighbor’s daughter’s wedding in a church and someone saying, “that guy on the cross up there is Jewish too.” It all feels like voodoo to me and I don’t have any positive knowledge about it. To me belief in God is a blindness that causes people to do evil things. I just get scared when you talk about raising our children that way…
Remember, behaviors are negotiable. You can test out something one year and drop it the next. But who each of you are is non-negotiable. You are both authentic. Changes in a person can only be made by that person and they must be willing to make them. Don’t squash the person you love.