Dear Dr. Romance: I would be honored and privileged if I could end up marrying her.

Dear Dr. Romance:

I recently read an article that focused on interfaith couples and their impact on raising children. You were featured in the article and I wanted to reach out to you as a last resort to saving my relationship. My girlfriend and i have been together for three years, live together and are at a crossroads when it comes to religion. She was raised Lutheran. attended Sunday school growing up and places a big emphasis on Christmas, Easter and goes to church on occasion.

My mom and step-dad were not very religious, but we did light the Chanukkah candles every year and I learned Hebrew for my bar-mitzvah and went to Israel as part of a college program. Since then,I have gone to synagogue only for the high holidays and do not practice much. I will always consider myself to be Jewish and want to pass certain traditions to my children.  My grandma was a Holocaust survivor, and she and my mother are the two strongest woman I know.

My girlfriend and I are very sad because we feel like our relationship is close to ending. I am desperate to make things work out because she has been with me through tough times and has no idea how much I appreciate and look up to her.  I would be honored and privileged if I could end up marrying her.

Dear Alex:

Differing religions do not have to be a nightmare. You can us components of both religions. Your children will always have the advantage of their Jewish heritage, and it doesn't have to conflict with what they learn about the Lutheran faith. You can have a menorah and a Christmas tree. Your girlfriend can acknowledge that Jesus was not Christian, he was a Jew. You don't need to have conflict, you can blend traditions.  The following guidelines will help you stop arguing about who's religion is the right one, and start working together to find a way to blend faiths. 

Guidelines for Resolving or Blending Religious Differences

When you and your partner disagree about faith, you may have great difficulty resolving the issue, because it has so much meaning for each of you, and also because your family pressures and obligations affect the decision. If one of you is disinterested, and the other deems faith important, you may wind up having a power struggle about the children and the extended family. Resolving this requires understanding exactly what is important to each partner. Is it what the family will think? Is it concern that the difference will separate you? The following guidelines will help you resolve your religious differences and the question of how to raise your children:

*Agree to Resolve the Issue: Do what it takes to figure out how to work together on this, rather than fight about it. Understand that raising your children with good values can happen no matter which religion or belief you frame those values in, and that having a good, working partnership is more important to your own happiness and your children’s well-being than any particular set of beliefs, traditions or rituals. If you have to go for counseling to get to a point where you can talk calmly about the subject; then do so.
*Do Research: You need to know enough about each other’s beliefs, religious background, and the options available to be able to reach a mutually satisfactory solution. Talk to each other, to your families, if possible, and to clergy to get as much information as you can. Find the most tolerant, knowledgeable and supportive people you can to talk to, and listen to their point of view about it. You don=t have to agree with your partner to understand what he or she is thinking.
*Give Yourselves Time: Don=t insist that you have to make this decision right now. The more time you can spend understanding the issues and developing options, the more likely you'll come up with a solution both of you can accept. No matter how long you waited to discuss this, or how long you've been struggling about it, you still don=t have to decide it in a rush.
* Talk About It Repeatedly: Talk to other couples, to clergy, to friends and to family several times to create more understanding and brainstorm about options. If you can find other couples who have resolved religious differences, find out what they decided.
* Explain Your Partner’s Point of View: When talking about it to each other, or to someone else who is supportive, explain each other’s point of view, which will help you understand.
* Focus on Your Children: Keep your focus on what would be best for your children, and if they are old enough to understand, bring them into the discussion. Don=t try to persuade them to either side, but present the options as objectively as you can, and find out what your children think about it.
* Experiment: Be willing to try some experiments. You could devote every other week to each religion, for example, devoting one week to each religion, reading books on each other’s faith or belief, etc. Jan and Ron tried living Jewish traditions the first and third weeks of the month and Catholic traditions on the second and fourth weeks.
*Create a Blend of Your Own: Whether you realize it or not, within the doctrine, liturgy and beliefs of every religion, people are picking and choosing. You can belong to a neighborhood church that is Presbyterian, for example, and find another Presbyterian church down the street handling things in a different way. Of course, the differences between two different faiths or beliefs will probably be much greater, but you can still adapt the tenets of your different beliefs in a way that will work for both of you. If you could be flexible and tolerant enough to marry someone of a different faith, you can be flexible enough to develop a blend of both beliefs that will be workable.
* Avoid Right/wrong Discussions: As I've mentioned before, arguing about who is right or wrong will not solve anything. Instead, work on understanding what is important to each of you, then finding a way to incorporate that and resolve your differences. Focus on the problem only long enough to understand what it is, then switch the focus of your discussion to what will work, and what will solve the problem that both of you can live with your mutual decision.

 "Couples Can Cooperate for Success" will help you learn how to cooperate instead of struggling.

Adapted from Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage

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