Mixed relationships

Most relationships require compromise and effort if they are going to succeed, but what about when you come from different religious backgrounds? Or from different races?

boy and girl looking upset

Different backgrounds doesn't mean it can't work.

Can you be together if you’re from different religions or a different race?

Whatever background you come from, there will always be some differences between you and your partner, but they won’t necessarily be based on your religious beliefs or race. However, if you completely disagree on important issues you may find life difficult. To some extent, it will depend on what religion you both are, and how religious you are.

You don’t always have to agree with your partner, in fact it can make life interesting to be close to someone who disagrees with you, just as long as those disagreements don’t become monumental hurdles that you’ll never get over.

Telling your friends

Friends might believe stereotypes a and have negative reactions to your choice of partner at first. Explain to them how you feel about your partner and let them meet each other and form their own opinions based on the person rather than the religion.

“Often people go through a process of uncomfortableness before they see each person as a human being, rather than from the culture that they are from,” explains Emily Sommerman, a clinical psychologist.

Her advice is to prepare yourself for every kind of reaction: “Before you introduce your new partner, work out internally what your own reaction to other people’s comments would be, and then decide how you want to talk to people about it.”

What if my/their parents don’t approve?

Both your family and your partners’ family may have problems accepting the relationship. Your partner may choose to keep your existence a secret from them. It doesn’t feel nice to be someone’s dirty secret but you have to try to be understanding.

21-year-old Ali, a Muslim, had a three-year relationship with a Catholic girl. He chose to keep the relationship a secret from his family. “Girlfriends aren’t allowed in Islam,” he explains. “My family would be ashamed and my dad would probably have disowned me. Keeping the relationship secret was an emotional drain and made my girlfriend feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice.”

According to relationship advisor Matt Whyman, this kind of problem isn’t uncommon. “The main problem people face when getting into a relationship with someone of a different background is negative reactions from family and friends,” he says.

So what can you do? “The most important factors are respect and understanding – for your family and your partner. Be prepared to sit down and discuss issues; listen as well as talk. You need to address problems without steaming in with demands.”

Cultural differences

You may have to get used to certain customs, such as removing shoes, special diets and celebrating religious holidays. Keep an open mind and remember it doesn’t hurt to compromise. “Sometimes I felt my girlfriend was insensitive to my culture and I disliked that,” says Ali.

Make an effort to learn about your partners’ religion so you understand their point of view. Some things may seem strange at first, but if you stay together long term, they will quickly seem natural. If you are unwilling to make small changes it’s unlikely that the relationship will work in the long run.

“Any relationship is going to throw up vast differences – any two people have cultural differences, but in these situations there’s more to negotiate,” says Emily. “Don’t forget controversy and difficulties can bring you closer together.”

Happily ever after…

However, when it comes to bigger issues such as moving in together, marrying and having children, it’s important to talk early on and set some boundaries on how much you’re willing to change. If either of you have strong feelings that your children should be brought up in a certain way, for example, you will need to come to some agreement about it.

Sarah, 22, was in a three-year relationship with a Hindu man. “I’d never go out with someone of a different religion again after my bad experience,” she says. “I think it’s easier being with someone the same as yourself.”

Ali disagrees. He thinks there is a lot to be gained from mixed religion relationships. “Being with someone of a different religion broadens your perspective and teaches you how to compromise,” he says.

According to relationships advisor Matt Wyman from Ask a Relationship Question (this service is now closed), a mixed relationship can be a success so long as the couple work at it. “Whether the relationship will survive long term depends upon the strength of feeling involved and the two people putting the effort in to making it work.”

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Katy Muench

Updated on 21-Jan-2016