July 9, 2024
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Should I Marry Someone Who Wants Me to Change Religiously?

Dear Dr. Chani,

I am wondering how much I should be willing to change to marry someone. I have been dating a man—let’s call him Ari—for several months, and we are really happy together. Ari is a sweetie-pie and is a really good person. He is always thinking of others, a natural giver and spiritually inspired. He makes me want to be a better person. He strives to make me happy, and when something goes wrong, we tend to work it out. Yet, when Ari hinted that he would like to get engaged soon, I began to panic. Despite all of his good character traits, I sense that we are not on the same page religiously. I am worried that I will have to change if I marry Ari.

When we first began dating, I was instantly drawn to Ari’s good nature. After we went on a few dates, I already noticed that Ari was always looking for ways to improve religiously. Overall, I think that is a great quality and I deeply admire that about him. I even told Ari how much I appreciate his growing mindset. Yet, as time went on, I sensed that Ari wanted me to be growing, too. Ari even began to ask me directly why I do not strive to do more religiously. For example, I enjoy sleeping late (very late) on the weekends. Ari asked me why I do not get up earlier in the morning to daven on time. Also, when I mentioned to Ari that I sometimes have time to kill, Ari enthusiastically suggested that I use the time to say Tehillim. Although I do prefer to sleep late and to sometimes walk around lazily, I know that Ari is right, so I have been responding to his encouragement and practicing the things he suggested. I now get up earlier, and often use the Tehillim app on my phone.

Recently, we started discussing what life would be like once we are married. Ari asked me if I would accept some of his stringencies about kashrut. He also asked if I would be careful to cover my hair fully. Until I met Ari, I had not planned to cover all of my hair. These questions really made me take notice of the differences between us. I began to ask myself if I am comfortable with all of the religious changes that Ari is suggesting that I make.

When I told Ari that I am not ready to commit to making all of the religious improvements that he described, he reassured me that he accepts me as I am. He said that he is fine marrying me the way I am now and I do not need to change for his sake. But I think I would feel pressure to change anyway.

I am torn about wanting to marry Ari and not wanting to change so much. Part of me wants to be on Ari’s level and wants to grow with him. But the other part of me wants to stay the same and just be myself. What should I do? Is it enough if Ari is willing to accept me as I am or do we need to be exactly the same religiously?

Sincerely,
Ayala

Dear Ayala,

It is nice to hear how impressed you are with Ari’s wonderful character and growing nature. At the same time, there is an aspect to Ari’s religious strivings that has the potential to impact you. It is understandable that you are concerned about how your relationship might be affected by Ari’s expectations of your own religious growth. Let’s explore your situation from different angles to clarify some points for you to consider.

It sounds like one of the reasons you are attracted to Ari is because you appreciate his desire to “go above and beyond.” Of course you are ecstatic when you see this quality manifested in how well he treats you and his dedication to making you happy. Yet, you also seem to recognize that his quality of striving to “do good” extends to other areas, including his spiritual drive and his desire to improve in his religious practice. Since Ari’s religious growth is a natural expression of his personality and values, you would not want to stifle Ari’s religious growth, just as you would not want to stop Ari from being so thoughtful and giving.

It sounds reassuring that Ari has attempted to relieve your concerns about your religious differences by telling you that he accepts you as you are and that you do not need to change for him. Yet, you still feel unsettled. It is possible that you are asking yourself, “Even if Ari is not bothered by my religious choices, would our differences still bother me?” Would I be comfortable being myself around Ari, or would I feel an underspoken pressure to conform to his chosen lifestyle?”

You might be telling yourself that right now the religious differences between you and Ari are not that significant; they are not insurmountable. It is true that Ari accepts you as you are right now and you are more or less accepting of Ari. Yet the key question that you need to ask yourself is not where you are holding religiously right now but what your religious goals down the road are.

Even though right now the differences between you and Ari might be negligible, if you are headed in different directions then the difference between you can possibly widen over time. Imagine what happens when you strike a golf ball with a club. There is a slight difference between the angles with which you need to hit the golf ball to send it soaring way out onto the green in totally different directions. At the outset, the difference seems small, yet it widens as the ball flies out. So too, if you and Ari want to lead different lives, even if right now you are happy together, as time goes on, you may find yourself feeling increasingly frustrated and distant from one another.

You might ask yourself, “Would I be okay with Ari growing in his own religious practice, even if I stay the way I am now?” A broader way to think about this is to ask yourself questions to gain your own self-awareness about what you want—independently of Ari. Ask yourself, “What is the direction in which I would like to go when it comes to religious practice? What kind of home do I want to build? How do I want to raise my children? What community would I like to live in and affiliate with? What would I like my religious identity to be?”

After spending time thinking on your own about your goals based on your values and your past experiences, discuss your reflections with Ari. As you both talk about your answers to the questions above, you will likely get more clarity about if you and Ari are headed in the same direction. You may find that you have common goals even if you are different in some of the details of religiosity. On the other hand, you may realize that even though you and Ari have a beautiful relationship, you will each need to find another partner who shares your vision so that you will be able to actualize yourselves and build the lives you wish to live.

Wishing you much success,

Chani

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Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist who has specialized in helping people build and enhance their relationships for over two decades. If you would like to improve your relationship with yourself, your loved ones, or others in your life, reach out to her at chanimaybruch.com.

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