Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


I feel a calling to learn more about my religious faith and lead a more spiritual life. How can I do this in a meaningful way when my partner does not share this interest?
October 19, 2012 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I feel a calling to learn more about my religious faith and lead a more spiritual life. How can I do this in a meaningful way when my partner does not share this interest?

I was raised secular Jewish, as was my common law partner. I went to Hebrew school and forgot most of it. I went to synagogue and didn't like it much.

Now, as an adult, I want to learn more. I want some faith and ritual in my life. My partner, who had some bad experiences, is profoundly disinterested. He doesn't mind that I want to learn more, but he doesn't want to participate and is not interested in hearing about my discoveries.

I am not interested in synagogue, but I like to read and would not mind finding a study group of some kind. Obviously I don't expect or need him to come with me. But it does feel weird to not even be able to talk to him about it.

Has anyone ever been through such a thing? Is it possible to deepen my spiritual life completely privately, or is that missing the point? Are there ways he and I can negotiate a little bending on his part, or is this an unreasonable request for me to make of him? I welcome any feedback, advice or stories. I am in Toronto if anyone has any comments as well on local stuff.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
But it does feel weird to not even be able to talk to him about it.

That's generally the deal. He ignores it without making negative comments. (I assume that's what you're worried about.) You let him ignore it and keep topic of conversation away from what would lead him to make negative comments. Presumably you have, or will soon make, friends who share this interest. Why press-gang him into it?

Rereading your last paragraph, what exactly do you want from him? Profound spiritual conversation? Not going to happen-- I would call that unreasonable. Private spiritual development is sort of the point, isn't it?
posted by supercres at 4:10 PM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, I think this is more normal than not. Doesn't he have any interests that you don't care about? For instance, any discussion of carburetors is going to get me to tune out. If he pressed me to care more deeply about carburetors, and/or discuss them at any length, our relationship would end up in jeopardy.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:13 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has anyone ever been through such a thing?

Yes. Lots of people. The first five minutes of this This American Life episode are about such a couple. Such examples could be multiplied.

Is it possible to deepen my spiritual life completely privately, or is that missing the point?

I'd say that it's not possible to deepen your spiritual life completely privately, but that the kinds of community it requires don't require action by your partner. In my spiritual tradition, it's first of all impossible to deepen your spiritual life completely privately because it involves interaction with God (which is therefore not private), a spiritual community of people you meet is incredibly helpful as well, finally, it will affect the community that is your partnership, but this doesn't necessarily involve your partner's overt action. For instance, we might hope that as you grow in your spiritual life you would increase in compassion. This would be expressed in the community that is your partnership even though no overt action by your partner is involved, but it still involves them as it involves your action towards him.

Are there ways he and I can negotiate a little bending on his part, or is this an unreasonable request for me to make of him?

Perhaps it's a little early to ask for him to bend, beyond such basics as e.g. allowing you to spend some money/time on this project (buying books, reading, going to meetings, etc.)
posted by Jahaza at 4:14 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Write a journal of your learnings and discoveries. Keep it out in the open. Tell your partner he can read it if he ever gets bored and wants to. In this way you get to;

1) reflect on and document what you've learned
2) respect your partners wishes
3) allow your partner to learn about what you're doing and hear about what you've learned on his own terms and his own pace.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:15 PM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


You should totally explore this on your own without pressuring him. You may be surprised at what you find out. I think my partner (who converted to Judaism at my request) was very surprised to find that things that would be unacceptable to many religions were acknowledged and perfectly fine within the framework of reform/conservative Judaism - his (and my) atheism, for example.

I would probably go and explore with a study group (something at a nearby shul for instance - they should be ok with accepting a non-member; you might want to make some reasonable contribution to the rabbi's fund or something if you're not a member) for a while before suggesting rituals for your shared life. Learn what the options are, what appeals to you and why, and what might appeal to him. Again using my partner as an example - while he wasn't resistant to learning, he was surprised to find that he came to value a weekly Shabbat dinner because of the way it demarcates and elevates the end of the working week.

Have you asked him why he's so opposed to hearing about it? Is he perceiving pressure from you - maybe his parents pressured him, or something like that? Because I think the fact that your partner is also a lapsed Jew is making him extra sensitive in a way that he wouldn't be if you were, say, exploring Buddhist rituals. If you go "back to the fold" he could perceive it as a rebuke to his not doing so. So I'd be sensitive to that, learn on your own, and then maybe tell him what you've been discovering, particularly if you're finding that it is different and more valuable than you'd remembered.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:49 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Raised as a Reform Jew here, and married a man who is in complete rebellion from a fundamentalist Christian upbringing and identifies as a pagan or an atheist.

So, when I started going back to synagogue and going to classes there too, I did it on my own. My husband often asked how it was, just to be polite and because he is interested in what I do, and accommodated me lighting candles/saying prayers etc. at home.

But you really can't ask more than that from a partner. He does not need to "bend" or otherwise pursue your spiritual path with you. Each person comes to their own decisions about faith and belief in God, and part of loving someone is being scrupulous about not infringing on their freedom to do that without pressure or coercion.

Many events in Judaism involve family and community, I know. I went to a synagogue where friends I already knew were attending, and built from that. They'll understand when you tell them that your partner isn't interested in joining you.
posted by bearwife at 4:54 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do what fingersandtoes said. If you live in an area with a good Jewish community center, go that route (more likely to find folks in your situation that way; the teachers might also be formerly secular Jews.) For instance, if you're in NYC the 92nd Street Y has a lot of good stuff; in Columbus Ohio the JCC offers the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School and there are a bunch of places everywhere in the US that offer it.

Please be aware that tension can result in a marriage/relationship where two people are at different levels of commitment to a particular religion. It is not a zero-level risk. Christians often refer to 2 Corinthians 6:14 when this comes up; it's often believed that this is a reference to Deuteronomy 22:10. You may want to read some stuff from Jewish sources on the subject (Chabad's library has a great example of warning/angst/don't-do-it stuff;) it's probably wise to read some of this before you run into it in person. Which you probably will, in all but the rarest study groups.

However, the local synagogue/church only interfered with one relationship in my entire family - and that was Uncle Sol's decision to dance and play bingo there, without his wife, all the time. My great-aunt refused to join him, because she didn't like bingo and dancing. He ended up leaving her and marrying another retired lady (this was after something like 40 years of marriage) who did like to dance and play bingo. That is, it was more about the "without his wife" and "all the time" and "refused to join" parts, than the synagogue, the bingo, or the dancing.

If you have children and then break up, I can promise you this is almost certainly going to be a really big issue for a really long time. Most of the really hurtful things my dad has managed to say about my mom over the years have managed to include something about religion; my mom's had a few choice words on the subject as well.
posted by SMPA at 5:20 PM on October 19, 2012


My partner, who had some bad experiences, is profoundly disinterested.

Unless these "bad experiences" were really "was bored in Hebrew school," I think it's probably unreasonable to expect him to be a sounding board for your explorations of the thing that hurt him.

I don't know him, or his experiences, obviously. But I do know that, having been raised very religious (a different tradition from your partner), I now feel extremely uncomfortable when people from my former tradition want to share with me how meaningful it is to them to do some religious practice that I have direct negative experience with. It's not that I necessarily disapprove of what they're doing (in some cases I do, but not always), it's usually more a matter of just being in such a different mental place from the other person--they're so happy about this thing, and that same thing made me so unhappy, and even if neither of us is wrong it's unpleasant to try to bridge that divide (in my experience, at least).
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:40 PM on October 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Are there ways he and I can negotiate a little bending on his part, or is this an unreasonable request for me to make of him?

My husband and I are both atheists. I would be profoundly uncomfortable if he suddenly found religion, so much so that if he pressed me for involvement with his newly found faith I would consider it a relationship dealbreaker and we would probably no longer be married.
posted by crankylex at 8:22 PM on October 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


If you want him to change, then you need to find out the benefit to him in changing. Right now, it's all about you and what you want. How does this benefit him? You could argue that he'll have a happier partner, and that's a good thing. But he could also argue that it will make him unhappier, which isn't so much a good thing.

My own psuedo-spiritual path is something that I don't discuss with other people because it's very personal and private to me, and it also doesn't follow a specific, set path. To me, spirituality isn't like a course where you learn a specific thing and then get tested on it, then move on to the next bit. It's much more convoluted than that, and discussing it with another person doesn't always help because they might be at a completely different place with very different experiences, even though you're under the same religious umbrella. I don't really have any experience with any religion other than the Catholic aspect of Christianity, though, so I could be way out of line here.

I don't think it's unreasonable to have a conversation where you ask him what's up with his not wanting to hear about it. At the very least, it gives him a chance to air his grievance as it were. I do think it's unreasonable to have the conversation as a lead in to getting him to change his mind.

I was raised in the Catholic faith. For various reasons, it wasn't a good experience for me. These days, I'm happy for my relatives to perform whatever religious duties they wish to perform - going to Mass, getting their children confirmed, etc. I think that if it makes them happy, they should do it. My problem is when the guilt tripping and arguing and manipulation start about how I'm not taking part. I've made my decision re Catholicism, and I want nothing to do with it ever again. That decision trumps any amount of nagging on the part of my relatives, and I feel like it's kind of disrespectful of them to not accept (note, not like or agree with) that decision. My family don't apparently see me as an autonomous person with regards to their religion, which is kind of rude.

You might find it better to find someone(s) who share your faith to discuss your faith with. At the very least, they'll have a better understanding of the framework you're working from and will be interested in it, unlike your partner. It kinda sucks that you might not be able to discuss this thing with the guy you're intimate with, but one person can't always be everything to their romantic partner.
posted by Solomon at 3:05 AM on October 20, 2012


I don't know how you're going to work this out, but whether it's 'reasonable' or not I don't think you should expect him to change soon. I'm in a similar place myself, with a partner who's had bad experiences of religion (though he's from a different faith than I am). Although we've gotten it to not be a sore spot over the last few years I still feel awkward about it.

I mean, I'm going out and learning something that's fundamentally meant to be applied in family life, and my closest family feels uncomfortable about it. He's accepting of it when I want to light candles or something. But I care about him a lot, I'm not going to enjoy the fact that he's enduring stuff he dislikes. So there aren't many times when I feel like the enjoyment of doing something together would survive the fact that he'd be uncomfortable through it - and so, although I'm fairly involved on my own behalf, I just don't push him to do things much.
posted by Lady Li at 10:39 AM on October 20, 2012


Is this a case of him insisting that you never mention Judaism in his presence, or a case of him not wanting to have deep conversations about it? I think the former would be quite unreasonable (and controlling), while the latter is quite reasonable (and I would say the same about discussions of carburetors or anything else). As for deepening your spirituality privately, nothing wrong with that, but Judaism is so oriented towards the collective Jewish people -- not private spiritual development -- that I think you're right to look for some sort of group. That would also solve the problem of having people to talk to.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:14 PM on October 20, 2012


Please be aware that tension can result in a marriage/relationship where two people are at different levels of commitment to a particular religion. It is not a zero-level risk. Christians often refer to 2 Corinthians 6:14 when this comes up; it's often believed that this is a reference to Deuteronomy 22:10. You may want to read some stuff from Jewish sources on the subject (Chabad's library has a great example of warning/angst/don't-do-it stuff;) it's probably wise to read some of this before you run into it in person. Which you probably will, in all but the rarest study groups.

This is absolutely incorrect wrt liberal Judaism. In a Reconstructionist or Reform context, the OP's chances of running into officially sanctioned angst about her husband's rejection of Judaism are practically nil.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:22 PM on October 20, 2012


You are interested in furthering your faith, and your partner is "profoundly disinterested" and "is not interested in hearing about my discoveries." Could there be a reason beyond bad experiences that has prompted the disinterest of your partner in a significant change to your life? Have you discussed the things that could change with this addition, and the things that will not?

The tradition I worship within is off-putting to many because of the beliefs and actions of the more vocal members of the community, which I neither agree with nor participate in. When these matters came up, like with my partner, he was worried about how this religion informs my life. As we bonded and our conversation deepened, we found that our values and morals were nearly in sync and that the difference between us was how we acted upon them (me through participation in a religious community and volunteering, him through being a just fantastic human being!) not in the particular differences in our specific religious beliefs.

Maybe you could talk with your partner and reassure him that you'll still be the same person he knows and loves? Maybe have some conversation about why you feel impelled to explore, and what you want to get out of it? He might just need some reassurance that you'll still be the same 'you' he loves! Be open with him. My non-religious partner is the person I most enjoy discussing my faith with, by miles!
posted by horizonseeker at 9:00 AM on October 21, 2012


If you were my wife, I'd be extremely nervous that you would get caught up in the religion and start changing your personality, priorities, and life, and that it would strongly affect our relationship (and not in a good way.)

This nervousness is founded not only in my "bad experiences" (I grew up Orthodox and I might feel betrayed if my wife started moving in that direction) but in the knowledge both personal and abstract of the huge numbers of people who get sucked in by religion (and Judaism in particular) and go through these changes. I'm sure the liberal versions of Judaism seem harmless enough, but I'd always be scared that she was going to move rightward. I've personally seen how amazingly effective kiruv workers can be and how people's entire personalities can change seemingly overnight when they get caught up in that.

Imagine if your partner was attending Scientology emeter readings or whatever, and wanted to come home and share his excitement about Scientology. Imagine further that you had bad experiences with Scientology growing up.

My main advice is to be very careful and try to find both sides of the story. Seek out the testimony and experiences of those who have left the religion as well and watch out for the professional missionaries-who-aren't-called-missionaries-in-Judaism. They believe they are on a mission from God and are very good at using various techniques including dishonesty to suck people in.

My secondary advice is to talk to your partner and address any fears he might be having in that direction.
posted by callmejay at 1:27 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older how hard is it to get a birth ...   |  As a novice gardening is it cr... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.