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Celebrating the Holidays as an Interfaith Couple

Holidays Can Work with an Interfaith Couple

The holidays are a wonderful time of celebration, giving, and spending time with family. However, for some they’re also a time of great stress; especially when you don’t see eye-to-eye with your and you practice a different set of beliefs all together. Being an interfaith couple already presents challenges, but it’s even tougher this time of year. I have personally navigated the tricky waters of an interfaith relationship: I am a Catholic-Christian and my husband is Buddhist. Although we celebrate different sets of holidays and traditions, we respect each other’s beliefs and are willing to be supportive. In the end, I think that’s the most important thing about dealing with the holidays when you don’t see eye-to-eye with your partner or other family members, regarding your faith or otherwise: find someone who is supportive, and hold onto them. Here are a few things to keep in mind so you can still enjoy the holidays, even as an interfaith couple:

List of Helpful Tips:

  1. Be respectful – even when you disagree. Remember, you got involved in this relationship for a reason. See if you can find anything in your partner’s beliefs that reflect some of the things you most value about him or her. Put those thoughts into words in a conversation, or even in a card that you give him or her, signed with love! For example, Buddhists believe that mindfulness and focusing on the present can reduce anxiety, worry, and suffering. I struggle with this, but my husband will remind me to get back into that state of mind and I always let him know I deeply appreciate it. 
  2. Keep your eye on similarities, not differences. The themes of lights and traditional foods and songs, for instance, run through many of the holidays that appear around the time of the winter solstice. Also, cultural and religious celebrations are about finding ways to live a moral, caring, and responsible life. You may surprised to learn that every religion’s tradition and focus is on trying to teach these values.
  3. Stop using the excuse of “We always did it this way.” Even if you both grew up in the same religious tradition, you will have different rituals. Just because yours are meaningful to you does not mean they are necessarily right for your partner. Rigidly adhering to those old practices will interfere with your ability to create new rituals for your own adult life. But that doesn’t mean dropping everything that has meaning for you. Instead, try to find ways to integrate your rituals with your partner’s. Taking holiday meals for example, consider the possibility of incorporating food that your partner enjoys into your own holiday feast? This leads me to my next point.
  4. Create new family rituals together. They do not have to be complicated or even religious. Although my husband doesn’t view the meaning of Christmas in the same light as I do, he still enjoys the get-togethers with friends and family, swapping gifts, and decorating our house for the holidays. In fact, we’ve made it a tradition to pick out a new ornament for our tree every year. These rituals that we’ve created make it so that we still enjoy the holidays together, even if we see them in different ways. Also consider learning about the traditions of other religions than your own. I make it a point to accompany my husband to his Buddhist temple to celebrate Lunar New Year every year. Although I do not practice the Buddhist faith, I still acknowledge the beauty of the temple, the fun and excitement in the way they celebrate, and the similar teachings between our faiths. 
  5. Know and accept that tensions will rise, but work on managing them together. This may mean sitting down and talking instead of arguing. Sometimes, it may be enough to admit that you both know that this is a difficult time of year. Being vulnerable enough to acknowledge that fact opens the door to softness, understanding, respect, and compromise. Remind yourself of what you loved about one another to begin with. And remember that conflict is a normal, even healthy, part of any relationship, and learning how to resolving conflict is perhaps the most important part of maintaining and nurturing a healthy, satisfying long-term connection with another person.

Maigen Pham

Maigen Pham is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern and Certified Sex Therapist-Candidate at Amy Wine Counseling Center in Cypress, TX. She specializes in relationship-related issues and works with adolescents, adults, and couples.
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