The Ups and Downs of
Spirituality can be an abundant source of hope, clarity, a
sense of security, calm, guidance, a foundation upon which to build your life,
and the list goes on. However, differing spirituality, faith, and religion can
also be the basis for deep and painful conflict. When you find yourself in
close connection to someone who does not share your spirituality, tension can
bloom in your relationship. However, much like any other differences that are
bound to be present between you and your partner, differences in spirituality
can be navigated and can even grow into one of the beautiful and unique facets
of your connection.
Finding Common Ground
Though different forms of spirituality often have unique
rituals, symbols, and communities, they tend to share some common foundational
values. Look for where your differing spiritualities converge. Recognize that, while
you are different in some ways, you are similar in others. Try to remain open
to being surprised by how much you and your partner may share in a realm that
can feel overwhelmed by difference, at times.
Discussing Personal Values
What does each of you find important about your beliefs? Share with each other what you find compelling about your spirituality and/or faith. Talk about both the big, foundational pieces (values, practices, histories), and the small details (specific memories, holidays, family traditions, jokes, etc.) This can better inform your partner about your unique and specific feelings inside of your spirituality. You may believe stereotypes or prejudices about certain faiths and/or branches of spirituality and hearing about what your partner holds close and what they don’t care as much about can help you to see your partner’s spirituality as a part of them. You can then start to separate it from that generic information you may have about their faith or spirituality.
Of course, there are going to be
differences in your forms of spirituality. Ignoring those differences won’t
make them go away and it may exacerbate the tension. Talking about them openly
can help you understand each other better and figure out how to navigate those
different views with respect and compassion.
It can also be helpful to consider other ways in which you and your partner differ. Do you root for competing sports teams? Is one of you a vegetarian and the other not? Do you enjoy different activities, colors, styles? Try to come to an appreciation of the different ways your partner engages in spirituality, in a similar way that you can appreciate your partner’s enjoyment of food, game, or piece of art, regardless of if you also share their love of that thing.
Respect is key. If you can agree to a baseline
of respect, even when you disagree, you will have a strong foundation from which
to navigate your spiritual differences. Always avoid discussing your
differences in terms of “right and wrong.” Your focus should be on
understanding, not debating.
One way you might seek to find balance could
be to pick out a spiritual practice from each other’s different spiritualities
and try to engage in them together. Maybe there is a way to mold each of those
practices into something you share, bringing you closer together in spite of differences.
Even if you try it once and you both decide it’s not something either of you
wants to continue, you will have learned something about yourselves and about
your partner’s spirituality that you couldn’t have known without that firsthand
If engaging in each other’s spiritual
practices feels too hard, see if you can find (or build) traditions that are
spiritual for both of you. This way you will still share something from within
your different spiritualities.
Make some ground rules for how to proceed when agreement feels impossible. Will you drop the conversation entirely? Will you hug? Will you write each other a letter? Will you try to make each other laugh? Will you each take some time alone? How can you hold onto the respect and compassion you have for your partner even when you absolutely do not agree with them?
Ask for Advice
If you and your partner cannot come to a place
of respect and compassion around your differing beliefs, consider seeking the
counsel of a neutral third party. This could be a therapist or a consenting,
mutual friend. This probably should not be a spiritual practitioner unless you
can both agree upon a practitioner who does not come from one of your two
If seeking advice together doesn’t appeal to
you, you can each try seeking advice individually. In this case, you may want
to ask someone from within your spirituality for advice.
Strengthening Your Connection
Conflict over differing spiritualities can be a very
tender and difficult experience between partners. However, if you are each able
to cultivate curiosity and respect for each other’s differences, you may find
that navigating your way through this terrain brings you significantly closer
to each other. What was once a source of painful conflict can grow into
something that bolsters your relationship and expands each of your capacities
to love others in their wholeness.
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