A Marriage of Beliefs

coexist-staticBy Wendy L. Hawksley

In the past, I have committed the horrible faux pas of referring to my husband as “you people” (Christians) when arguing about religion. I have lumped him in with his mother, who tells him I am evil. I have accused him of trying to push his faith on me.

When a relationship with someone is new or when there is trouble, it can be easy to do these things. Because religion is such a major part of life, it can be difficult to remember the common ground that brought you together in the first place. My husband’s plea for peace was always “I don’t want to start a holy war,” and I had to laugh at that because I agreed.

So it came to the day when we actually sat to face one another across the kitchen table, and my husband asked, “What are you, what are your beliefs, and what does it all mean?”

Sixteen years after a naïve 18-year-old and hesitant 26-year-old married, we are still together. Through adventures in Christianity (me getting sick after a church service in Maryland that made me feel like I was surrounded by witchhunters) and forays into Paganism (my husband taking on the part of High Priest during a Mabon ritual), we have bonded and grown stronger in our separate faiths.

Now my husband refers to himself as a Unitarian Universalist and feeds my ego such calorie-heavy fare as “I’ve learned so much from you” and “Now you’re the one who seems to be right all the time”.

In other words, we found a way to share spiritual and intellectual experiences (through the UU), and my husband has mellowed through the years.

Never let anyone tell you “it won’t last” if you have fallen in love with a non-Pagan, and vice versa. Finding a balance is difficult, I won’t lie to you about it, but it can be done. We tend to find our balance in shared humor, such as:

Wendy murmurs, “Come to the Dark Side” to David after his mother has said grace
David’s mother says to him about Wendy, “Your wife is the devil!” Both of us giggle about it every time we watch “The Waterboy”.

Other times, it’s all about sitting and talking, discussing your beliefs, contrasting and comparing, expressing points of contention in a civil manner, and exploring similarities. In Paganism, we often see the masculine married to the feminine, light to dark, the sky to the earth, to create a perfect blending of these characteristics.

Or, to put it in less mystical terms, opposites attract. What one lacks, the other makes up for, to create balance and harmony. My sociability makes up for my husband’s reticence, while David’s need to know all the facts balances out my passionate opinions. Even better, my husband and I have no problem in agreeing to disagree.

Sometimes it’s tough to do that, though. I am liberal and he is conservative. I was raised by my father and he was raised by his mother – yes, this DOES result in very big differences, since my personality was molded by a masculine influence, and his was molded by a feminine influence. Let’s just say, I’m the one who “swears like a sailor” and my husband is the one who complains that it is unladylike. But it can be easy to compromise here. We both have discussed our political views and, in many instances, we understand and accept the other’s point of view.

So, with the biggie – the Christian and the Pagan – we had to learn an even more precarious balance. People take their faith very seriously. Those who can truly call themselves Christian or Pagan are those who actually walk the walk. Religion is not just something you do. It is something you ARE.

Before the UU became our spiritual home, a place that accepts both of us just as we are, David did his best to attend the Lutheran church (the faith in which he had been reared), to socialize with others of like mind, and to say grace over his meals. I tried to infuse everything I did with magick, such as projecting thoughts of love into my home cooking, tossing negativity out the door along with the trash, and thanking the Goddess for all the wonderful things in my life.

David listened while I babbled about how to fit all of my circle work into my week – planning meetings, Pagan Pride Day, writing for our newsletter and other publications, just to name a few. I always asked him how he enjoyed church, was willing to listen when he discussed the sermon or his thoughts on his faith, and encouraged his participation in activities such as choir.

We observed our holidays, both separately and blended. I wished David a Happy Easter, while he bid me a Blessed Ostara. He even gave me Yule gifts in addition to Christmas gifts. The “mainstream” holiday names still dominated, but we explored the differences and similarities between these holidays, and embraced one another’s traditions.

In the evolution of our relationship, we found a way to blend even more seamlessly through the UU, while still holding on to key personal beliefs.

Not every couple needs to or will meet in the middle as we have, but an interfaith relationship can succeed regardless. The odds that your significant other will be non-Pagan are fairly high, so how do you meet the challenges of couplehood?
Love, mutual respect and honesty are the keys to making an interfaith relationship work. Being up front about who you are from the start, or explaining that you are exploring something new and feel it is the right path for you, are important. The second – discovering Paganism when you are already in a relationship – can be more difficult to deal with than the first. If your mate knows that you are Pagan from the start, then that will either make or break the relationship in some instances. However, after a three-year marriage or partnership, if one of you comes home with “witchy” books and a newfound interest, this could cause some tension.

The way to handle this particular situation is to open up to your mate from the start. Explain what brought you to it (a friend, a television show, a book that caught your eye, etc.) and that you have begun researching Paganism to get a better understanding of it. Share your findings with your mate, and I don’t mean that you should let them come home on Beltane to a full-blown ritual with an elaborate altar or you dancing skyclad beneath a full moon. Ease them into it.

It is not this simple for everyone, but with respect, patience and love, you can make any of your differences work to enhance the relationship. Thanks to my husband, I know what Christianity is, and thanks to me, he knows what Paganism is.

The added dimension of having a son complicated things for a short time, however. We both wanted to observe certain rituals – a baptism to make my husband happy, a Wiccaning to make me happy. And then, of course, there are the Christian in-laws who are utterly fearful that our child might learn some iota of Paganism from his mommy.

This is when teamwork and compromise are absolutely crucial. My husband and I both agree that our son will be permitted to find his own spiritual path. Our job, as parents, is to give him the information he needs to make his own decision. At the moment, he attends the UU Religious Education classes, enjoys lighting candles for Sabbat rituals, and checking out all the wrapped goodies beneath the Yule/Christmas tree. Our son does not seem confused or concerned about the entire religion issue, and we are both open to responding to his questions.

If you are attracted to someone of another religion, do not take it for granted that the relationship will fail. An interfaith relationship CAN work, no matter what the odds. But it takes effort, patience and perseverance from both partners to make it work.

Tips for the Interfaith Couple

  1. Be honest about who you are. Lying will set you up for failure.
  2. Arguments about religion can be brutal. Step back and cool off before discussing any disagreements.
  3. Try not to insult your partner’s beliefs or lump them in with the “bad seeds” of their religion. Stereotyping is not only wrong – it is hurtful.
  4. Keep a sense of humor.
  5. If the opposition comes from outside the relationship, enlist your partner’s assistance. Be loyal to one another and defend each other.
  6. Empathize. Try to keep your partner from feeling alienated by family or friends who may pose a problem.
  7. If you can’t avoid a certain situation that is important to your partner (a church wedding, a baptism, etc.), but may not fit in with your beliefs or may even make you feel uncomfortable, discuss it. You should never be made to participate in anything that is against your beliefs, but at the same time there is usually a way to compromise.

9 comments for “A Marriage of Beliefs

  1. June 3, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Great article! Really hit the nail on the head for me, since I married a Christian man despite the choruses of ‘it’ll never work’ we got.

    It works just fine if you’re both open minded, keep a good sense of humor and work not to hurt each other’s feelings. I’m not terribly comfortable going to services with him because I feel like half of them are eyeing me up for their next conversion (he has agreed that many of them are doing exactly that…) but I’ll go to important events like baptisms and weddings in his family to show my support.

  2. Sadie
    June 3, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    This is a great article! I found paganism not long ago (after being a hesitant Christian for many years), and my husband is still struggling to understand it, just as I am still learning. It’s a balance we’re still learning, and this article really helped me believe we can find a peace. I may even direct him here so he can read this!

  3. June 3, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I love you!!! I sometimes feel like the only pagan who married a Christian. I am always being told it can’t last. I have been with my honey for almost 15 years, married for 3. I am pretty sure that it’s going to last. We never belittle each other. We have heated discussions but we always come back to it and air it out. Most importantly, we agree to disagree.

    Anyway, thank you for this! I can’t wait to start sending links to people who try to tell me I was an idiot for marrying “the one who wants to convert you”.

  4. Tara Swaim
    June 3, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Loved the article! I am very pagan, and married to a Christian. We actually had a handfasting AND a church wedding. We have had some arguments, one memorable one about him wanting to put a cross up in the house, and I said fine, but only if we displayed a pentacle next to it. I agree with you…mutual respect it the key.

  5. June 4, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    This is such an interesting topic! My family is very diverse in race, religion, and nationality … but love holds everything together.

    What makes this topic interesting to me is that I am writing a paranormal romance about a modern witch and an 19th century man who fall in love. But the man falls in love and THEN finds out the truth about the woman. Oops!

  6. Shanti
    August 19, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I am married to a Christian as well, and want to share my problem here. When we were getting married, I agreed to do a Christian ceremony and even went with him to a few church meetings.
    I had hoped, and we talked about it once, that when we go back to visit my family in my country, we would also have a Pagan ceremony. We were not able to visit my country as soon as I hoped for. When we went back two years later, he got sick and we couldn’t do the ceremony, so I had to visit my pagan friends alone.
    I don’t have a circle of pagan-friends in this country, I tried one local group, but didn’t feel like I “belong” there.
    My husband is not a devoted Christian (he doesn’t go to church anymore that is), he says that he doesn’t know who he really is, but I think he is just trying to hide his emotions from me. He often changes the topic of conversation when I start talking about pagan “stuff”, which makes me feel like he is rejecting my faith and with it – me. I don’t lecture him on Paganism, and don’t push to do things with me. We celebrate Christmas, but he never pays attention to any of my pagan holidays, and doesn’t take them seriously. We are married now almost five years, and other than that – we are getting on well, but I still have this feeling that something is missing, and don’t know where to start a conversation with him. What should I do?

  7. August 22, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Hi Shanti,

    I have been married for 16 years and over that time, both my husband and I have found that it is most important to communicate.

    You hear that all the time, and it is definitely true. We talk about our beliefs with one another.

    Have you tried to explain to your husband that it is important to you that he accepts you as are, and appreciates that your beliefs are important to you?

    Tell him how you feel… “I feel like…” or “I feel that when I try to talk to you about my beliefs, you tune me out.”

    He might not realize that you feel that way.
    .-= Wendy Hawksley´s last blog ..Follow-up to comments =-.

  8. Shanti
    September 24, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Thank you, Wendy, I will try to talk to him.

    In the beginning of our relationship he actually told me, that he would try to support me in my beliefs, if I go to church with him. As I mentioned above, I did my part of the promise, but he conviniently “forgot” about his part. On the top of it – now I can light any incense only when he is not home, otherwise he will have coughing fits (real or not – I can’t tell). I celebrate my holidays quietly at home, while he is at work (luckely, I work from home). When he gets home, most of the times he will spend his evenings by TV or computer (or both), and any attempts of talking to him will end up in irritated responses. I am afraid, that our marriage is going to end just because he refuses to communicate, and I just don’t know how to breach that wall.

  9. April 2, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks, I’m openly Pagan for many years, and in a serious relationship with a Christian. His family’s church is among those who give sermons about how all other religions are “stupid” (yes they really used that word, a dozen times in one sermon), and I’m in the process of getting to know his family who is as uncertain about my faith as your husband’s family seems to be.

    I’m in Maryland, too. I wonder if we’ve met each other on Pagan Pride Days or other events. :)

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