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Boyfriend feels he has to defend his spirituality?

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  • #735022 Reply
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    Susan

    Hi all, thanks for reading,

    I’ve been with a guy for half a year, and we’re getting along really well. We love each other and it’s been wonderful.

    We’re both argumentative types that enjoy debate on a lot of topics. I think sometimes I tend to be a little more emotionally detached than him, however, and if its a topic he believes strongly about, it can occasionally disconcert the both of us, as he gets emotionally invested and sometimes debates “dirty”, and feels hurt during our spars. I cannot place all the blame on him however–often I forget to be considerate and can be a bit ruthless with how I debate, especially over personal beliefs, in which some, like my SO, have emotional stake in. Despite this, we’re pretty much aligned in our political beliefs, so there isn’t too much strife. We mostly agree to disagree, and honestly, it’s a big part of why I enjoy his company so much. We respect each other’s intellect and beliefs and enjoy our differences in the end.

    What troubles us the most is religiousness. I am pretty much an atheist, and my bf a practicing Christian. My previous relationship was with a partner that was also fairly religious, but much less argumentative than my current SO.

    I am naturally an inquisitive person, and I think religion is fascinating, though spirituality not necessarily for me. I respect persons of all faiths, and I believe that it honestly has nothing to do with the quality of one’s character. My interest isn’t of ill-will, or trying to prove a point, or at least, I consciously make an effort to avoid falling into that pattern of thought. I’ve gotten in theological discussions with my boyfriend, in which I very much aimed to remain one who listened rather than debated, and he was kind and patient with me about explaining at least his views on it all.

    However, upon a recent discussion in which we talked about the historical negative effects organized religion, and Christianity in particular, has had on society, he grew noticeably uncomfortable and quiet. He had partially brought up the topic of conversation, and I pursued it, being interested in his viewpoint on the subject, as someone with clearly different religious views than I. Upon gentle questioning, he confessed that he worried that I considered him lesser because of his spiritual beliefs, in the way that a great deal of stereotypes of “obnoxious atheists” are often viewed, and at the same time, feared that I would put him through the task of defending aspects or actions of individuals of his faith that he personally did not believe or agree with.

    I tried to emphasize that I didn’t think any less of him because of his religious beliefs, nor would I view anyone with a greater deal of credibility because they were atheist. I told him that I loved him, and that I never wanted him to feel insecure about his religious beliefs around me, and he expressed distress that most of the people around him (friends, family) were not religious or spiritual in the way that he was.

    It’s clear he feels isolated, but the way he seemed to emphasize the emptiness in that area of his life made me feel like I wasn’t spiritually enough for his needs. I know this could likely be me reading into his confessions of personal distress and taking issue with myself, but I still feel that I am not spiritually sufficient or aligned for my partner, and that the disconnect creates feelings of distrust in him towards me. We both want to sustain our relationship, and we both really love each other and the other’s company. I think this is the biggest strain on us, if not the only.

    Are there any pieces of advice for a nonreligious partner in being tactful and respectful, and making their religious partner feel comfortable about expressing their faith in front of them? Does anyone have experience in a similar situation? I’ve looked online, but a great deal of literature deals with the distress and actions a religious individual should take towards their nonreligious SO. We both love each other dearly and I don’t believe this is anywhere near a breaking point for us, but I want to be compassionate and proactive about the issue, instead of possibly letting it stew into resentments or worse. Then again, I’d rather not barge into the problem and create a larger issue with insensitivities.

    Thanks so much,
    Susan

    #735043 Reply
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    Northern Star

    For religious people, faith in God and Jesus is simply not something to argue about. He doesn’t need to “defend” his faith to you, if you want to be a respectful partner. You can’t discuss “Christians” as if they are curious, foreign specimens of antiquated thinking. Perhaps that’s incompatible with how you operate, though.

    Do you want children? He may want to raise his children in his faith as part of his church. Are you OK with that? That is THE biggest issue I could see coming up.

    And you can probably get over any hurt feelings about insensitivity regarding religion—but the children issue is something you need to discuss with your boyfriend if applicable.

    #735058 Reply
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    Golfer.gal

    Honestly, I’m an atheist and you sound exhausting. What Northern Star said. The way to make your SO feels comfortable is not to “ruthlessly” debate something he is deeply emotionally tied to. Honestly you might want to reevaluate whether your style of communication isn’t harmful in general; what your boyfriend is saying is pretty concerning.

    The way to make him feel comfortable is to lay off the subject for a while. Completely. Even in a “listening more than talking” way. You could also offer to participate with him in a way that is comfortable for you. Like “hey I see your chuch is having a picnic/bingo night/movie screening next Friday. Want to go?”. Encourage him to start attending a bible study or something else to get him in touch with others of his faith since he is feeling isolated. If you have a Universal Unitarian church nearby it might be worth both of you checking it out. They are a non Christian, non denominational, very liberal church where every faith (or non faith) is welcome to their Sunday services and events. It’s kind of like church without the religion part. Services focus on being a good person and exploring the best aspects of all religions, and they encourage a strong community just like other churches.

    You are going to ultimately have to decide if your religious differences are a deal breaker. Are you on the same page with how you want your kids raised? Can you deal long term with someone whose beliefs differ so greatly from your own? Christianity is hugely problematic for me personally, and I would really struggle being with someone long term who asribed to it. You definitely need to consider this stuff as you move forward.

    #735059 Reply
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    Heatherly
    Member

    This is whole issue is why I don’t date other people who have actual faith. We don’t see the world in the same way( beyond being moral). And the child thing is a real issue. Good luck & yeah your styles of communication with each other sounds exhausting.

    #735060 Reply
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    Essie
    Participant

    You say it yourself: you can be “ruthless” when you debate a topic that he has an emotional stake in.

    You’re not arguing an abstraction when you debate religion. You’re questioning, if not outright attacking, his belief system. His values. His worldview. His upbringing. His family’s beliefs. And you’re surprised that he’s taking it kind of personally?

    If the two of you are going to keep up your debating ways (which do, indeed, sound utterly exhausting), you’re going to have to find a balance. Do you want to win the debate, or support your partner? The way you’re doing it now, you can’t have both.

    I have strong feelings about politics and religion. I spend a lot of time venting to like-minded friends these days. That’s the key: “like-minded.” There are people in my life that I care deeply about who would be terribly, terribly hurt if I really let it fly. Because I love and respect those people, I keep my opinions to myself, or talk about them in a limited way when I’m with them.

    You can be right, or you can be kind. You can’t always be both at the same time.

    #735061 Reply
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    Fyodor

    “I was a attempting to have a rational discussion about why his beliefs were garbage and he got all touchy and sensitive about it”

    #735068 Reply
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    Susan

    Thanks for all your thoughts,

    I should have clarified that I don’t discuss religion with him, or with anyone else that holds views on faith similar to mine, in the same way I might debate or talk about other topics in the way I’ve described in my first paragraph of the original post. It’s also not a primary mode of communication for us, but I provided the paragraph as context for the types of personalities we are. We make compromises and do our best to communicate openly on issues in our relationship, but we find enjoyment in these kinds of conversations when there isn’t a issue in our relationship at stake. In hindsight, I’m not quite sure why I included the paragraph. I think I worried (correctly) that the context of our friendly, if not competitive debates cast an uneasy background to the issue, and likely partially fueled my actions and his reaction in this situation. I think it should factor into my future actions in striving to emphasize that I don’t ever hope to be competitive or “right” in anything relating to faith with him, or anyone else, for that matter.

    I am realizing now that despite best intentions, conversations about religion can get muddy and hurtful fast. So far, conversations about religion have mostly consisted of him telling me about his faith and answering questions I’ve had about why he feels the way he does, which he really was enormously patient and compassionate to oblige to in the first place. But these interactions could hardly be considered debates. I believed he wanted to share this aspect of his life with me, and I knew how much it meant to him. I think being an individual with no real equivalent belief or faith in my own life blinded me to how some of my questions could come off disrespectful or prying, or seemingly trying to disprove his beliefs. I don’t think it would be wise for me to try and continue trying to apply my own judgement on what actions of mine are appropriate, so avoiding the topic of faith seems to be the best course of action.

    My largest concern is that he is often the one to bring up the loneliness he feels in this area of life in conversation. I know he seeks understanding and compassion, but I obviously can’t provide much common ground or spiritual solidarity/experience to him on matters like this. Nor would it be right for me to dismiss his emotions, which he chooses to share with me despite my previous missteps. I really like the suggestions posed. I think I would like to make the effort to accompany him to church related activities. I’ll bring it up the next time he expresses those kinds of concerns. I’ll also suggest that he reach out to the few religious people in his life that he does have, and be honest that any conversations he pursues on the topic with me will likely end in misunderstanding or further distress.

    On the children issue, we haven’t really worried or thought about that too much, as it is likely in the distant future, if at all. I want to be supportive in his faith and beliefs, in the end. It’s a reality and difference I’m willing and okay living with, and has worked out before (my previous relationship ended for unrelated reasons), but it’s also up to his judgement on the matter. I think a good conversation we should have is whether or not he is okay with this difference.

    #735078 Reply
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    Ron

    If this is a serious relationship and you are considering marrying this guy, then you need to understand how your differing views on faith/religion work going forward to the rest of your lives. Kids “likely in the distant future, if at all” just doesn’t cut it. Unless you are planning a short marriage followed by a quick divorce, “in the distant future” is something to plan going in.

    Things to consider and talk about:
    1. EXACTLY what does “I want to be supportive in his faith and beliefs” mean to both of you and is there a common definition you can compromise upon? Does it mean attending religious services with him as a non-believer (almost weekly, on holidays, when visiting with his family)? Does it mean that you will convert to and nominally participate in his religion? Will his religious participation consist of more than attending weekly services and are you expected to participate? How much volunteer work/financial donation/tithes are expected of your family as he/(you?) live life to some extent in accord with his religious beliefs.

    2. Will you have a religious wedding?

    3. Are there practices/behaviors you will be expected to adopt/spurn as a ‘good wife’ to one of his religion, or can you basically live your life totally on your own secular terms?

    4. How will children be raised, with special focus on their religious training?

    Marriage between those of differing religious beliefs can work, especially when neither partner feels especially strongly or where one partner feels strongly and the other is very adaptable. When both partners feel strongly about quite different religious/faith beliefs and practices it can be very difficult.

    “It is far in the future” is not your friend here. If you and bf see a long-term future and each of you is at a point in life, where you are considering a forever future together, then now is the time to examine all potential deal breakers.

    #735086 Reply
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    Grleorginasees

    You need to listen to him more if you really want him in your life. Otherwise leave him if you don’t want to hear about religion everyday as this is central to his life

    #735087 Reply
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    dinoceros
    Member

    Even if you’re not arguing with him, the conversations you’re having are not coming across as passive listening. The thing is, when you ask someone questions about “why” they believe something, it can seem like a challenge. I don’t mean that as a blanket statement or saying you can’t ask why, but a lot of religions is based on blind trust and faith in something that’s not very logical. So, they may not have a reason why they believe something other than “it’s part of the religion,” and asking them for one can appear as though you’re trying to have a gotcha moment, even if you aren’t. I don’t know what sort of things you ask about, but if you say to someone, “Why do you believe that God did XYZ?” it’s awkward because the answer is probably going to be “the bible says so.” The fact that you’re asking implies that answer isn’t good enough, especially if you are from the US or somewhere where Christianity is pretty mainstream (and thus probably know the basic concepts).

    I have a friend who is converting to Catholicism and she has a lot of stress over it, so when I talk with her about religion (in order to connect and be supportive), I don’t ask “why.” I say things like, “What part of that class that you attended made you uncomfortable?” “What beliefs overlap for you between catholicism and judaism?” Etc. Maybe ask less “why” questions and more “what” and “how.”

    Also, I would like to echo the ideas that folks brought up about kids. I don’t know how old you are, so if you’re like 20, then yeah, maybe it can wait. But having conversations about the kind of future you want is good to have early on in relationships too because even if you don’t have kids for several years, do you really want to be with someone for like 5 years, then find out you have wildly different ideas of how you want to live your life, and have to break up? (Or if you’re like most people, put your head in the sand, pretend it’s fine, and then become miserable five more years later.) So, you don’t have to talk about it now, but if you start becoming more serious, don’t wait until you’re imminently planning to get married or something.

    #735091 Reply
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    SherBear

    The kids/wedding discussions need to happen while getting serious with someone. I’m in the category of spiritual not religious, my ex was raised catholic non-practicing – I casually mentioned to him that I would never get married in a church, that was fine. I stated another time that no child of mine would be baptised, thinking it would get the same reaction but nope – that was something he had never considered before. Some things are deal breakers – figure out what yours are (and not what books tell you, but what your heart tells you).

    And I will say it was exhausting reading your letter and your update – that over analyzing/wordiness communication style might exhaust him too, especially with more sensitive topics so when it comes to religion try a bit more listening and less analyzing/talking.

    #735102 Reply
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    Kate

    Everything everyone said. People with religious beliefs, or faith, it’s their whole framework for how they see the world. It is not productive or appropriate for you to ask why they believe what they believe. It is a total pain in the ass for you to make arguments about how bad organized religion is for the world. Wtf is he supposed to do with that?

    What’s *appropriate,* and you’ve blown way past this, is to ask a few questions about what he believes (NOT why, NOT trying to challenge), and to find out early on, like weeks into the relationship, not months, how he feels about dating an atheist. Has he before? How did it go? What’s his thinking on kids and how they’d be raised.

    Personally I don’t think I could be in a long-term relationship with an atheist. You don’t have to share my beliefs, but I need you to respect them, not hound me about them, and believe in God yourself even if you don’t follow or practice a particular religion. I like and respect atheists, but I don’t think I would match with one as a life partner – and kids are a no for me. If I wanted kids, it would be a whole different story and I’d need to date a guy who shares my faith.

    Your posts exhaust me too.

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