Religion and Relationships

Religion and Relationships


Singles advice guru Marnie Macauley has humorous and savvy solutions for singles struggling with conflicts in their relationships because of religion.

Religion and Relationships

Image credit: 123RF Photo

My “saintly” singles in Los Angeles, as the Jewish High Holy days approach filled with hope for a sweet New Year and repentance on Yom Kippur, the issue of religion comes front and center in my mailbag, especially in the matter of relationships. Can religious differences between intimates cause conflict? Not if you’re both atheists. For those of us who were raised as believers, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever, religion is more than a belief system. It’s a part of the fabric of our lives. Can we mix it up with a member of another tribe? Hmmmm. Before we look, I’m getting a helmet.


Dear Marnie: My boyfriend and I have a little girl, Jennifer, who’s two. We both care about our respective backgrounds (he’s Protestant and I’m Jewish) and are unsettled about how to raise her. This year we put up a Christmas tree and Menorah. Our families have made peace with us, but they feel we should choose a faith for our daughter and each wants it to be theirs. We are considering letting our daughter experience both religions and letting her decide on her own when she’s old enough, or get the general message of peace and love on Earth.  What do you say? — A Crisis of Faith

MARNIE SAYS: Wait. I need time to whip up a matzo ball the size of a blanket to hide under. (Send soup.) No doubt my intelligent Singularians will bombard me with anecdotes of the Kerry-Cohens whose happy children devoured Easter hams and Seder briskets, were told “we believe in both” and survived to become ecumenically correct. But, since you’re asking (and why are you waiting till now?) in the matter of choosing for children when parents celebrate different religious traditions, I say PICK ONE.

Getting It!  Your Personal Strategy:

* While I’m 100 percent behind tolerance, if religion is important to you, ask yourself if it’s realistic to expect a child to grasp the deeper meanings of two or more belief systems without confusion — especially before they’ve cut a wisdom tooth.

* Is it fair to ask a child to choose up sides? (Mom vs. Pop?)  More, isn’t this a Hatfield-McCoy uproar in the making when half the clan feels “rejected” and the little one takes the heat? Okay, you say, she can celebrate both. In my vast experience, expect:

—  The Big “Hanukkah Bush-Green Bagel” show. As adults, many of these kids mumble peace on Earth (a good thing), but are often clueless about religion. Hey, it’s fine by me, but is it okay by you?


— They marry someone who’s mega orthodox or cultish-something, and you get all wiggy.

* This conversation is a little late. Religion, traditions and children should be determined before you’re in labor. But we move on. Seriously question what your beliefs mean to you, and how strongly you feel about passing yours on vs. your mate’s.  Negotiate how and what you and your child will celebrate.

* Choose a religion for your child! Once decided, she can participate, learn, respect, and enjoy the traditions of both religions, indeed many. But in my view, she must know who she is, and whether she’s a loving and learned spectator or a participant.

In general, while a noble wish, it’s an ignoble task to try and do right by all and remain true to you and your daughter.


Dear Marnie:  I’m totally in love with my girlfriend. I would be completely happy to spend the rest of my life with her but I am Catholic and she is Muslim. We have been together for over a year and her family hardly even knows me! What can I do to get in closer with her family and get her to want me to know her family? – Majesty

MARNIE SAYS:  All the Hail Mary’s and Allah himself may not be help you in this Solomon-size dilemma. So heavens! What’s an advice duenna to do?  I’m sorry my man, but I’m positively forced to douse you in Truth. Sit.

Getting It!  Your Personal Strategy:

* MARNIE’S Fact No. 1: Core beliefs are stitched onto our souls from the cradle like grandma’s embroidery.

* MARNIE’S Fact No. 2: “Opposites attract” works if you like the wing and she’ll take the breast, not when she’s on a strict spiritual diet of yin and you’re yanging away.

* MARNIE’S Fact No. 3: In the matter of deeply held beliefs, successful coupling requires that someone give-in or give up.

* It’s going to be you. Here’s why. She’s devout. Plus, the poor thing has legs of silly putty. A whole year and you can’t get past her door jam? Her folks will require you act, accept, embrace and/or convert – if that. Get it?

* Okay, “Majesty,” picture your castle circa 2016. You’re attending a mosque on Ramadan with your children, reciting the Quran and fasting.

* Are you up for the change? What will it cost you? Not sure? Try it on.  Heck, you don’t buy a suit without seeing if it fits you and we’re talking about a whole religion here! Quit mouthing your adoration and go with your beloved to her mosque, celebrate her way and see if it fits you. Then decide:

A) I’m sold;

B) I could learn to live it comfortably;

C) It works for her, but there’s a knot in my stomach the size of a ham.

* Now, “Majesty,” even if you chose A or B, we forgot something: King Papa and Queen Mama — yours. Are they okay with this, or sticking their scepters in their hearts?

You see, young fellow, sharing a castle is tough enough. The question is, are you prepared to dwell in an equally noble but very different kingdom for the sake of your princess?


Dear Marnie: I’m a 53-year-old widow dating a 57-years-old divorced man. We have so many things in common. We love to dance, go boating, travel, and always have a good time together.  We’re thinking of marriage, but there’s one huge obstacle: Religion. I’m a Christian and he’s an atheist. I love him, but his lack of belief is a big issue between us. He refuses to attend church with me or believe in Jesus. I’m torn between my feelings for him, and my faith which is a very important part of my life and find myself trying to avoid any topics that have to do with spirituality or religion because I know it will lead to a debate. What do you suggest? – MC

MARNIE SAYS: Oy my friend. Remember what Tevye said in “Fiddler on the Roof”? If he bent too far his back would break. Well, honey, there it is. The question is, can you bend so far that you’ll meet your tailbone and still call it love?

Getting It! Your Personal Strategy:

* Why marriage?  Unless you’re planning to adopt, children at your age isn’t likely. How about staying terrific friends? Friends come in all stripes and many “with benefits.”  You can agree to disagree and keep your beliefs separate while you’re touring the Colossus of Rhodes or sharing an omelet.

* Okay, you adore each other. But there’s that big “but.” Bending your 53 years of belief, values and training isn’t a mere gesture. It requires a whole new human with a different way of thinking and being that will affect you every single day.

* If you two are determined to “next-level” it, than I’m obliged to ask:  On a scale of one to ten, if ten is the most critical, where does the difference fall? If you chose anything over five, and still think you can maintain love across this chasm, sweetie, it saddens me to say, you’ve cut an unholy deal — for both of you.

So … be friends, or scour the world for like-minded people who will not only whoopdidoo with you, but will also kneel at the altar of your beliefs.

Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2013 Singular Communications, LLC

Marnie MacauleyAdvice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with  hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications.  She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work.  In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on or on Presto Experts. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 
Leave a Comment on Facebook



2 thoughts on “Religion and Relationships

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.