As the world embraces diversity; relationships and all kinds of partnerships are inevitable. South Africa’s diverse culture is growing beyond the narrative ‘rainbow nation’ which is, quite frankly, almost losing its essence. On this relationships feature, we discuss whether it is possible to build a happy relationship with someone who doesn’t hold the same belief systems as you – with a focus on religion. 

Nompumelelo Kumalo and Favour Omokafe have been a couple for four years and Nompumelelo shared her experience with us. Favour is from Nigeria and strictly believes in Christianity, so does Nompumelelo, however she also believes in traditional practices such as Umemulo – which is a Zulu traditional ceremony for the girl child after they reach the age of 21 without a child. She shares how her partner reacted when he found out about her belief in traditional practices.
“Well he felt a little uncomfortable at first and just didn’t want to hear it or to even acknowledge it,’’ says Nompumelelo.

Her partner Favour found out almost two years into the relationship that she differed in some aspects, with his perspective on her beliefs as he didn’t comprehend why she was committed to her practices. Nompumelelo also shares that she was offended when he didn’t even eat when he was present at her family’s Umemulo ceremony. 

Professor Melissa Steyn from the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies points out how shared values can provide the space for common approaches to life situations and differences within relationships. Nompumelelo feels that the fact that her partner doesn’t believe in her cultural practices isn’t a deal breaker:

‘’I am not at a stage of dating for marriage, I was also lucky enough to experience this with an open minded person, so I don’t feel judged in a way”, she says.

The difference in religion and acknowledgments of cultural practices should be communicated as early on in the relationship as possible. It becomes a bit complex when children are now involved, however Professor Steyn explains that the conversation is essential, and reaching an agreement where both partners feel accommodated in who they are, is important. If a particular set of beliefs is much more important to the one than the other, it may be that both are comfortable with that partner’s faith being passed on to the child. However, much can be gained from bringing up a child to know and respect both religions and cultural practices, and to learn to integrate aspects of both in their own development”, she adds.

Nompumelelo also notes that she and her partner are not planning on having any children for now, however they have laid a foundation of respect for one another’s cultural beliefs and religious beliefs.

As we end off, Professor Steyn shares the following tips;

5 Tips To Having A Happy Relationship When You Have Different Belief Systems
  • Learn to live with ambiguity and allow for less certainty. 
  • Try to keep conceptual categories open and broad eg. can concepts such as “spirituality” be kept open enough to include both traditions? 
  • Focus on shared values while respecting differences.
  • Keep communicating. Try to find ways where both partners’ needs can be met so that neither feels they have to give up too much of themselves, or the losses outweigh the gains. 
  • See the differences as opportunities to deepen one’s humanity, grow, and meet each other at a deeper level, rather than obstacles that need to be overcome.