When my mum and dad met, she was a Christian, and he wasn't (I'd guess he was Agnostic, but I don't really know). They've now been married over 30 years, so obviously it can work. He became Christian at some point before they got married, I believe. --CH
I should also add to this the data point of David and Fiona Waller; same situation, except they haven't been married 30 years yet (they haven't been married 1 yet). --CH
I would suggest that it depends on how much of life the religious beliefs take in and how seriously they are taken (on the one hand) and what you mean by a relationship 'working' on the other. If a conflict of interest arises between the demands of your religious belief and your 'mate' (and in a relationship that lasts any length of time this is very likely unless the difference in belief is fairly trivial), to which will you give precedence? Is the answer the same for both of you? How much aggro will the differences cause you even if they aren't a cause for breaking the relationship? How seriously you go into these questions depends what you are thinking will be a 'succesful' relationship. I don't believe that much more can be usefully said 'in general', these things will depend on the specifics. --MJ, lamenting edit conflicts
When SunKitten and I first considered a relationship, she was Christian and I wasn't. Clearly, the situation has changed since; but I'll happily be a second data point for CH's "so obviously it can work", at least as far as the becoming Christian before being married bit (no idea what would have come about had things been otherwise). Further to Mike's point, if one of the people is Christian, it's not a matter of "if" a conflict of interest arises, it's a matter of "when" - the couple *will* find one forced upon them by the less liberal of their friends and members of the Christian partner's church; and people *will* feel led to try and get the couple to break off the relationship. - MoonShadow
Generally, it's a recipe for disaster, whether the disaster arrives soon or after several years. I think the only real circumstances under which it would work is if one or both of the people doesn't really hold those religious beliefs. And again, if one of them holds very firm beliefs, then it would only work if the other one is willing to abandon their own beliefs and adopt the other's beliefs. However, the person with firm beliefs should not lead on someone with different beliefs with the hope that they will change in that way. Firstly, it is against most religions' commands to date/marry people outside the faith, and secondly it can often be the case the the other person will fool themselves into thinking they can convert, simply because of the attraction that exists towards the other person. Only later on will this person realise that their beliefs haven't really changed, which leaves the couple in the really difficult disaster situation. In addition, although one may think of the opportunity to convert the other person to one's own beliefs, it is just as likely that one will be converted instead, or end up believing in neither. --Admiral
It makes a difference how different the beliefs are. For example, a baptist could get on quite well with an anglican as long as they are both willing to accept that none of the differences between the two denominations are actually important in the scheme of things. A roman catholic and a protestant would have more troubles but would be quite possible, whereas a christian to a muslim is generally a bad idea. A christian to an atheist or agnostic is also a bad idea, although an athiest to an agnostic could certainly work. --Admiral
If you're talking about friendships, rather than dating/marrying relationships, then the difference in beliefs is much less important. It is only really in a dating/marrying relationship, or where you see way too much of each other (like being housemates) that it becomes a problem. In fact, it's great to have friends of all sorts. --Admiral
"If you're talking about friendships, rather than dating/marrying relationships, then the difference in beliefs is much less important." - my goodness, I should hope so! What's the ratio of Christians to atheists on ToothyWiki - about 50:50 or so? And yet somehow we all get on, much of the time, even in RL... ;) - MoonShadow
My two pennies to this discussion would be to say that it's hard to answer your question without knowing which beliefs each person holds, and what you mean by relationship. If I assume you mean a dating / marrying kind of relationship then I think it can be very problematic, but it depends on the difference beliefs. For instance I'm a (fire breathing?) atheist but I would consider marrying someone who was a fairly liberal Christian (for instance) because I don't think the supernatural component of their religious beliefs would have that much (if any) influence on their behaviour / decision making. If OTOH it was a Christian who actually believed the stuff in the Bible was true then we'd be on really dangerous ground. I can only really talk about Christianity as that's what I've experienced, but I know that Evangelicals think that Christians have a duty to tell other people the gospel, and aim for other people to be converted, and within a marriage the spouse is considered to be especially responsible for this happening. I'd say, how happy would either person be if the other person didn't change their views over time, if they'd be happy then it probably doesn't matter. You do have the problem of decision making on things that are shared though, e.g. how to raise children. These differences might be a impossible to resolve, for an atheist like me I don't think I would ever be convinced that I should teach my children that there is an invisible sky policeman for instance. --RobHu
My atheist mother has been happily married to my christian father for nearly 30 years without either of them changing their beliefs. So it certainly can work. (This also led to me being surprised at the idea that it might be a problem - it just hadn't occurred to me.) --Edwin
Issues to consider in a dating/marriage relationship:
What do you make of your partner's convictions? Do you expect them to change? - are your plans for a future together based on an expectation that they will change? Not a good idea. Do you look down on your partner for their convictions? Think they are silly, or perhaps arrogant in their beliefs? Not a good basis for a relationship.
Possibly slightly OT but since you're thinking about the issue - expecting your partner to change in any significant way to meet your expectations is probably a bad plan, don't restrict it to religion!
It's worse than that even. When you're in love, everything about the other person seems good, which can lead people to change their beliefs to align with the other person. However, later on when the "in love" feeling wears off, those beliefs may change back, and then all sorts of chaos erupts.
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For the atheist
Your partner will make some everyday decisions based on their convictions that are not really negotiable. Consider issues such as giving money to charity and to their religious organisation, avoiding white lies in everyday transactions etc.
Your partner will spend significant amounts of time practising religious rituals, and also meeting with their religious community. Are you OK with that? Are they OK with you not? If they are not, are *you* OK with spending the time joining them, without begrudging it?
Your partner's friends may pressure you to convert, and your partner to break off the relationship. This will be hard on both of you, and on the relationship also.
If kids come along, they will be brought up with your partner's religious teaching. Attempting to negotiate this is likely to be seen as an attempt to poison their minds, and will put a crack between you.
Don't date/marry someone with the hope of them becoming a christian, even if it seems likely. In fact, if someone has recently become a christian, it's a good idea to let them settle down into their faith before going out with them. If someone is to become a christian, it needs to be their decision, not something that they are doing for someone else. I know there are examples where it has worked out, but I would still advise people this way.