Is Religion a Big Deal?

 Within each of us lies an inclination, a compulsion to want to connect with and relate to a force or being outside of direct experience, a higher power, the supernatural, a particular deity, we gravitate towards the transcendental, the sacred and the divine. Many think of religion in terms of the half dozen world religions, and their subgroups. Though the fact that our religion is at once a very individual, but also universal human need presupposes that for all the categories and subdivisions, that delineate the nature of humankind’s relationship to divinity, its nature is of infinite and breath-taking variety and scope, a tapestry of immense proportions perpetually shifting and differing across the world and throughout time.

 Such a fundamental aspect of our existence invariably means that religion has become a definitive element of our identity, and our definition of ourselves is often inevitably established and reinforced unfortunately in the extent and manner of its difference to others. Where there is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the subtlety of another’s beliefs and little acknowledgement of its value, prejudice prevails and peoples’ perceptions of this crucial area of human existence are reduced to broad brushstrokes and crass stereotyping. If we allow our attitude and behaviour towards people to emanate from this limited perspective, then we cannot reasonably expect to be able to relate to this person with any depth or apprehend the importance of their own affinity with divinity.

 Our understanding of different religions and their beliefs and practices is often clouded by the opinions of our family, friends and associates, while societal norms and the influence of mass-media and social networks can leave it riddled with misconceptions. Such an obfuscating outlook can impede our ability to empathise with the other person, appreciate their beliefs and respect their right to worship. Many deeply embedded social events and family occasions within closely-knit communities have their basis in a shared religion, as well as these societal ties and religious doctrine reinforcing accepted standards regarding marital practices and choice of partner. Given then, religion’s significance in terms of who we are, how we see ourselves and others, and the decisions we make from the choices we have; it is unsurprising how incredibly influential it has been on our selection of a life partner and our relationship with them.

 Which is why perhaps there has been a tendency more recently for people to describe themselves as agnostic or spiritual, favouring a less rigid outlook on humankind’s connection with the sacred. This way, we can appreciate the religion in the person rather than the person in terms of their religion. It would seem that people don’t wish for religion, although an essential aspect of our lives, to be the dominant factor in our relationships, or for it to dominate those relationships. That said, the major religions today are for many a source and channel of contentment, solace and power, enriching the lives of those who follow them and the people they know. Being such a fundamental element of human nature, it cultivates numerous qualities and endows people with a fulfilling sense of purpose and direction in their lives.

 So in traversing this sometimes delicate area, particularly in a world that is increasingly cosmopolitan and where intermarriage between different ethnicities, cultures and religions is ever more common, it needn’t necessarily be a question of your religion or your relationship. By abandoning preconceptions we become more likely to attract people into our lives we never would have otherwise. By focussing on the person, we can see in what ways their religion is important to them and how it makes them the person they are. From this perspective, the decisions both big and small that have to be made are done so from a position of mutual respect and understanding and the relationship itself is strengthened and ultimately more harmonious, as it is a platform from which to share experiences and learn about each other. Religion is ultimately a form of self-expression in our relationship with the higher power and like anything else in life its variety and the freedom to do so in the manner of our choice is what allows for the remarkable diversity and progression of humanity. Religion and relationships are not mutually exclusive but beautifully inclusive, let’s give them the chance to work for each other.

The Importance of Being Honest about Your Feelings

Honesty is one of the most important aspects of a healthy and loving relationship. Its contribution is the foundation of trust and intimacy, which harvests the happy and successful relationships we all aspire to have. It creates less worry in a relationship which in turn creates a better you. The more you trust in your significant other, the easier life’s difficulties may seem. This is because honesty is exceptionally important in all aspects of a couple’s life, from discussing how to parent, to deliberating about finances to everything else in between, as it allows you to feel open and understood.

Concealment of the truth causes far greater pain than the truth itself, as it demonstrates a total disregard for your partner’s feelings. This is because when you enter a relationship, you do so with the premise that you are sharing your life with someone. A huge part of sharing that life with them, is gaining the ability to understand them for all their perfectly imperfect quirks. When dishonesty comes into play it jeopardises the understanding you have of your partner and vice versa, which can bring numerous aspects of your relationship into question.  Once trust is broken it can never fully be restored, so it is imperative that you are always honest with your partner with how you are feeling. It is easy to forget that in a relationship you are continually learning and understanding your partner and that dating your partner should continue throughout your relationship. This allows you to comprehend and appreciate who your partner is and how they may grow over the years.

It is also important to be self-aware. If you are not being honest about your feelings with your spouse, the likelihood is that you are not being honest with yourself. By burying your head in the sand, you are putting your mental health at risk. You can build up anxious thoughts and feel unsatisfied with how things are panning out for you and your relationship. Your partner will also try to fill in the gaps that your lack of honesty creates. Consequently, they may believe you are thinking and feeling something completely different to what you are, which may unduly escalate a situation. Is it not better to let your partner know how you are feeling as opposed to allowing them to agonise in inaccurate perceptions of your thoughts? The answer is yes, you may feel as though you are saving your partner from harm but essentially you are feeding the negativity that dishonesty breeds.

It is far more detrimental to conceal your true feelings than it is to share a truth. It is important that you are in a relationship that you feel you can be honest in and you must remember that your significant other and yourself will differ on how you feel about certain situations and that is ok. It is about how you communicate your differences which will determine the success of your relationship. Simply going along with your partner’s feelings to keep the peace or for ease, will not only build up resentment but the dishonesty supports an unhealthy relationship. Being honest with both yourself and your partner about your feelings is so incredibly important. It allows a healthier mind, a happier partner and an open and loving relationship. 

Intimacy (a very important subject that should be discussed openly amongst couples)

The concept of intimacy is often misunderstood in relationships.  It is mistakenly thought to be just physical rather than a complex interplay of emotional, psychological and physical needs.  True intimacy stems from physical and emotional closeness.  Each impacts on the other, meaning that intimacy is either increasing or dissolving in a relationship as one side cannot exist without the other.  The need for intimacy often gets lost in the course of a relationship, either due to the demands and drudgery of everyday life or because of misunderstandings between couples which are subsequently denied or repressed.  Yet intimacy is what makes a relationship truly fulfilling and increases happiness on both an individual and collective basis.

The impact of evolution

It could be argued that intimacy is even more important in our close relationships in this day and age.  In the past, we often lived in closer proximity to others, either as part of larger families or communities, so in a sense we are herding animals.  Therefore, many of our needs were provided for from this broader network from whom we could gain support and understanding and have a myriad of other needs met.  Today we lead more solitary lives and consequently need more from the significant other in our lives.

Additionally, sex and emotion are increasingly separated in society with so much focus on diverse dating apps, websites and pornography which suggest a dichotomy between the physical and the emotional.  The need for true intimacy has its roots in evolution with predispositions for attachment and biological needs - it is human to long for real connection with our partners.

Building intimacy

Creating real intimacy is not just about what we do in a relationship.  Although it sounds clichéd, it is vital to know ourselves, our beliefs and have an understanding of our desires and expectations before we can build intimacy with another.

The work we need to do on ourselves

We need to understand ourselves and how we have developed our attitudes to relationships before we can build true intimacy with a partner.  Our beliefs from what we learned about relationships when we were young will influence our relationships today. Additionally, these beliefs will have led to experiences in previous relationships which determine how we interpret behaviour in our current relationship.  Conflict in relationships is frequently caused by our interpretation of events in accordance with previous relational experiences rather than what is occurring currently.  Understanding our biases, past hurts and positive aspects of our belief system will help us understand our responses.  Furthermore, it is imperative that we are clear about our needs and expectations before we can communicate them to a partner, and being able to communicate them is the real key to intimacy.   

The work we need to do with our partners

The biggest barriers to intimacy are misunderstanding and miscommunication.  Most of us fall to attempting to ‘mind-read’ our partners, filling in blanks, making assumptions and failing to see that what we perceive to be going on in their minds is largely based on what is going on in ours.  To overcome this we need to be open to listening to our partners and discussing our needs and expectations clearly with them.  The most important thing to remember when listening to our partners is to understand that we are looking through different lenses.  A deep understanding comes from empathy and perspective-taking rather than processing what we are being told through our own way of looking at the world.  To do this well we must drop criticism and judgement and take a compassionate and open mind-set towards our partners.  We must also avoid the tendency to engage in ‘selective hearing’ and only hear what is relevant or important to us.  The more you can interrupt the routine and habitual ways of relating that are not working, the better your chance of building the deep connection that can only come from a true understanding of the other person.

With physical intimacy the basis is the same.  You need to know your own needs and desires to be able to communicate them to your partner so that a fulfilling physical relationship can be achieved.  A poor sex life is generally the result of poor communication and misunderstandings which are never explored, and so solutions never sought.  Intimacy is a frequently misconceived concept in relationships, but its foundations are in open and compassionate communication. 

Big spender or a savvy saver - making a statement when it comes to relationships

We are given an insight into ourselves on a monthly basis when our banks provide us with a statement detailing our incomings and outgoings, deposits and expenditures. While the data contained therein is largely numerical and functional, catalogued and listed column by column and row upon row, the information that can be gleaned is invaluable in that it offers a truly sanitised reflection of our habits, whims and priorities. In addition, it provides us with a true statement of our outlooks and approaches through the prism of our financial transactions, our cash withdrawals, card payments and online purchases, forming a composition of our mental make-up.

So what kind of statement is yours? What does it say about you and your attitude to the fundamental areas of your life? Are you a spender or a saver? Is your financial forecast long-term or short-term? Do you like your gratification instant or delayed? Our relationship with money can be very telling of our relationships with the people in our lives, nowhere less so than in our romantic ones. Could it be that those predisposed towards saving and investing are more likely to favour monogamy and equally to invest more in the relationship itself? Are the serial spenders and compulsive clickers more fickle and fleeting in their pursuit of love and consideration of a partner?

When it comes to accruing personal wealth, how we play the markets can be a strong indication of our approach to relationships. Do we stick to the tried and trusted, diversify our assets, do we embrace risk or play it safe, do we take a chance on the unknown entity or wait for someone to prove their worth? Are we looking for an immediate return on investment or to reap significant dividends further down the line? Our natural inclinations to perceived value and worth encompass numerous aspects of our lives. While no-one wants to be emotionally overdrawn or paying excessive rates of interest on their relationships, it is important to take into account the extent to which your attitude regarding your love-life invariably defines its inherent worth, as well as the quality and depth of its resultant experiences.

To budget for relationships is as much about creating time and making effort to attract people into our lives who will enrich it. In financial terms, it is perhaps much less of a priority as in the earlier stages of a relationship there is never any guarantee of success, while once stability is established it becomes ever easier to take things for granted. Those who are truly wealthy seek continually to maintain, consolidate on, expand and pass on their fortune. Equally those seeking to build wealth might believe and behave as though the worth was already realised, acknowledging the inherent value in a particular venture and seeking less to extract value from it but to contribute value to it.

Should a first date be dinner or coffee? For some, the idea of being stuck with someone they don’t turn out to like makes coffee a safer option. If this should be the case, why default to a couple of flat-whites in a high-street chain? By affirming someone’s existing value and worth, could coffee not be an espresso martini in a sumptuous hotel-lounge or a couple of cups of a quality roast from a market stall and a stroll round the park? Likewise an exquisite bouquet of roses or a weekend at the spa is not reserved solely for birthdays, Valentines or anniversaries. Economy has only ever been a means of exchanging value and so the ultimate aim should always be to enrich the lives of the ones we love and care about.

So whether you spend or save, try to think about the manner in which you are doing it and your essential reasons for doing so. Treat your relationships as your most valuable asset and never miss an opportunity to show someone how much they mean to you. Consider to what extent your financial habits serve you, define you and add real value to your life. Make sure your future clicks and taps reflect your future goals and appreciation for others, as well as your heart’s desire.

Let's talk about money – the importance of talking about finances in relationships.

Discussing finances can be an awkward topic in general, let alone in the context of relationships. This is due to the fact that there are a number of assumptions made about a person regarding their finances. An individual's financial status can also throw up a number of questions when it comes to dating. Will they only want me for my money? Do they have the stability to raise a family? Will they be threatened by my success? These are just some of the questions that people may ask themselves when it comes to money and a potential significant other. New relationships make us feel vulnerable and when coupled with a topic which can make some feel equally as vulnerable it can lead to an unsettling and stifling conversation. The circumstances you start thinking about regarding the topic can increase any pressure already felt by a new couple, due to the fact it occurs when you start seeing longevity in the relationship and are enjoying someone's company.

Advice differs on when is best to broach the subject, however most professionals will advise that although it is certainly not a topic for the first few dates, it is undoubtedly something that should be discussed towards the beginning of a relationship, when you are still in the honeymoon stage. This is because you are still at the point of being inquisitive and exceedingly happy, which helps to counteract the negativity that talking about finances can often bring. It is also important to normalise the topic of finances early on, so as to ensure it does not become a bone of contention down the line.

A report by The American Psychological Association in 2016 found that one third of couples confirmed that finances were a major source of conflict in their relationship. This was particularly the case when there was financial uncertainty and a lack of equality in the control over finances. This inequality referred to one partner taking full control over the other, leaving the other with no responsibility, which can lead to a lack of communication which in romantic relationships is highly destructive. This is because differences are not discussed and a lack of understanding leads to heated conflicts. Dew (2008) found that couples who disagreed about finances once a week were 30% more likely to get a divorce. This highlights the negative emphasis finances can have on your relationship, if not discussed in the correct manner.

In order to avoid such a fate, it is important to keep calm when discussing money and to come up with a plan to fulfil financial goals. Blending financial goals helps to minimise the effects finances have on your relationship and examine what it is that you want out of life financially, as well as a couple. The likelihood is that you and your partner will differ in your approach to spending and saving, one of you may be more money conscious while the other free-spirited when it comes to spending. Our pattern of perception is a direct reflection on how we witnessed finances in our childhood and how money impacted us growing up. Thus, it is important to understand where your partner is coming from and to recognise your differing perspectives. Once you have achieved this understanding, you will be able to figure out what works for you as a couple. It is important that you are both involved, as previously stated, but the responsibilities each partner takes needs to work for you as a partnership, whether that be dividing financial responsibility straight down the middle, or assigning specific tasks to each person e.g. one focusing on daily expenditure whilst the other focuses on savings.  

Finances can also be seen as a cornerstone of creating a life together, hence the importance of understanding each individual's financial goals as well as shared goals. As a result, it can become an emotionally charged subject, as more often than not, it can feel like there is a lot on the line, will you have the ability to buy a family home, travel to undiscovered places or afford to have a child? If one person does not feel like they will get their goals met or their partner is too controlling, it can build up resentment. There is also the chance of misperceiving your partner's intentions, which again shows the importance of positive and honest communication. Conflict regarding finances is the strongest predictor of divorce over any other marital issue, it unearths a deep-rooted power struggle of how you want to live your life. Talking about finances can bring not only a resolve in your financial status as a couple but can bring clarification on how you tackle life together as a whole. If you do so in an equal, honest and positive way it will pave the way for a happy, successful relationship.  

 

References

American Psychological Association (2016). Stress in America: The impact of discrimination. Stress in America Survey.

Dew, J. (2008). Debt change and marital satisfaction change in recently married couples. Family Relations57(1), 60-71.