Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: I've known my boyfriend for several years, but because he felt his conservative family would never accept anyone from another culture and religion, we were just friends until a year ago. Since we acknowledged our feelings, we've been in a wonderful relationship. He gets along well with my family and we have many mutual friends, but I've only met his brother. Now we're thinking about a future. I have no problem raising kids in his religion, but he's worried about the effect my more liberal family might have on them. Is this a deal breaker?
Give each other room
My father-in-law was a United Church minister; consequently, my wife was brought up in a religious household. I'm an atheist. With this pedigree, our marriage seems dubious at best. What has allowed us to last nearly two decades is a common ground. We're really not concerned about anyone's beliefs so long as they're not hypocrites. Too often one's hate and prejudice are rationalized by a doctrine. As long as you're willing to allow each other to grow without forcing the other to compromise their beliefs, you'll be fine. The same goes for the kids.
- Chris Byron, Balzac, Alberta
Set ground rules
Your children need to be raised halfway between your liberalism and his strict religion, otherwise you are going to feel so trapped and resentful that you'll divorce him just to get some breathing space back. How to fix this, if you are determined to go ahead anyway? He needs to agree to a few ground rules. First, unlimited contact with your family. Second, absolutely no disparaging the other side within earshot of the kids. Blended kids need to grow up in a tolerant and accepting environment.
- Marieke Rummens, Calgary
The liberal needs to stand up for her values - wishy-washy is not a value - and the conservative needs to learn that a little flexibility won't open his core truths to destruction. Not the ones that matter, anyway. The two of you need to accept that family influence is going to work two ways and that both have equal value. If you are lucky you'll succeed in working out a blend that suits your own new family - one different from the other two and heir to both. If you are lucky in a different way, you'll realize it can't be done before you have too many pieces to pick up. Better get talking.
- Toby Earp, Montreal
The Final Word
If there's anything likely to transform the delicate bud of your current romance into a glorious blossom of marital strife, it's this issue. What sounds my alarm is not that you identify his family as "conservative" or that he identifies your family as "liberal" but that each of you seems to believe that together you exist in a perfect bubble of unaffiliated morality. Unified, you're not a lady from liberal-land and a he's not a guy from conservative-county. You're just two great tastes that taste great together - a veritable peanut butter cup, elevated high above your families' mundane allegiances to chocolate and peanut butter respectively.
But repeat this line to yourself: "He's worried about the effect my family will have on our children." You need to understand the logical progression here. When people worry about their children, they worry about the tooth-rotting effects of sugar, the brain-rotting effects of video games, the soul-rotting effects of Internet porn. In short, they worry about influences that they perceive as nefarious. Meaning wrong. Bad. Evil. Now apply those adjectives to your family and the values that they hold dear. How does it make you feel?
As go-along-to-get-along as your boyfriend has behaved with your family thus far, he clearly believes their values to be opposed in a significant way to his own (not his family's, mind you, his own) - to the extent that he'd rather his children not be exposed to them. Once again: How does that make you feel?
Don't indulge his assumption that a lack of religiosity on your part amounts to a half-assed set of values. Speak up about your own beliefs and what's important to you when it comes to raising children. If your family is a part of that, let it be known. It may be a deal breaker, but it's a stance your upright boyfriend should respect.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.
Next week's question
I don't like my boss's comments
A reader writes: What do I do when my boss makes racial comments at work? We don't have anyone of a visible minority group working at our office, but the comments royally offend me. Should I just keep biting my lip?
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