Relationship Conflicts With Different Religions – What Do We Do?

Sonal and Terrence met at a mutual friend’s birthday party the summer after they graduated from college. He said a cheesy pick up line to get her attention and make her laugh, which worked. She was smitten from the beginning.

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As with all new couples, that summer Sonal and Terrence spent as much time together as they possibly could. He planned romantic dates and she made sure to dress up every single time. They got along with each others’ friends and enjoyed all the time they spent together, no matter what they were doing.


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Their six month anniversary fell just days before Christmas and Terrence had planned a beautiful private anniversary celebration two days before he left to spend Christmas Eve with his family. As they settled into their seats preparing for the  upcoming 5 course meal, Sonal asked, “So what does Christmas look like at the Paul house?”

“Well, Christmas Eve we have a big feast at my aunt’s house. Then we go to Mass at midnight. We wake up Christmas Day and attend 10 o’clock Mass. After that we go home to open presents and then all of the cousins and everyone meet up at my aunt’s house for a big lunch.  Dinner is done by my mom for the entire extended family that night,” he said with a smile.

“Wow that sounds so nice!” Sonal exclaimed. 

“And what happens at the Patel household for Christmas?” Terrance asked holding Sonal’s hand.

“Christmas Eve is the evening that my family watches a movie. We all put our picks from the year into a hat like a week before and whatever we pick we watch. Every year. It’s been a tradition. Christmas Day we open presents in the morning and just lounge around for the rest of the day. Sometimes a family friend will come by or we’ll watch another movie or play cards. At night, all the cousins that live by us will get together at our house and we’ll have a feast of Indian food for dinner,” Sonal shared.

They were both thrilled to be sharing with each other their family traditions. Sonal was excited for the day she could be there to witness his family tradition first hand.  She also couldn’t wait to bring him home to her family and have him try the delicious Indian delicacies that they only eat on Christmas.

The following year, when they had been dating for over one year, Sonal invited Terrence to her family’s house for Diwali.

“I would love to be there! I’ve never celebrated Diwali before,” Terrence said excitedly. Sonal was surprised. 

“Aren’t you Indian?” she said half-teasingly.

“Well ya, but Diwali is a Hindu holiday so we didn’t really do much for it. Sometimes we’d play with fireworks or go to a Diwali party but we didn’t do anything else,” Terrence said nonchalantly as he picked out a shirt to wear to the festivities.

Sonal was still confused by how an Indian could have had such a different cultural experience from her but she shrugged it off. At least now she could introduce him to her family’s Diwali traditions and she was proud to be able to do so.


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Two months later, Sonal picked Terrence up from the airport as he returned from his annual trip home for Christmas. After they exchanged their family Christmas stories, Terrence said with a smile,

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“So if we were to get married, how would we celebrate Christmas?” Sonal’s heart began to flutter. This was the first time that they were talking about their future seriously and she almost lost her breath thinking that they might get married someday! Similarly, Terrence was excited to broach the subject of their future together. Unfortunately, neither of them were prepared for where this conversation was going to go.

Sonal, trying to downplay her excitement about the conversation, said, “Well there will have to be a Christmas tree!”

Terrence laughed. “Yes I agree.” After a short pause he continued, “Would you be ok going to Mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?”

Sonal was taken aback by that question. She had never thought about it. But she quickly came up with a solution. “Sure! One year we’ll go to Mass on Christmas Eve and one year we can do my family’s tradition of movie watching.”

Terrence’s heart began beating faster but this time it was not out of happiness. He was hurt. 

“Are you asking me to not go to church one year just so we can watch a movie?” Terrence asked trying to control his feelings.

“Well isn’t that how it works? When you get married you have to combine traditions,” Sonal said trying to maintain a happy mood to the conversation. 

You’re comparing my religion with watching a movie?” Terrence said heatedly.

 “Well no, but it’s my tradition. Why can’t that be ok?” Sonal asked defensively

“It is ok but it can’t replace faith!” Terrence said, shocked by the insinuation. “Do you even know what Christmas is about? How would you feel if I said I don’t want to celebrate Diwali every other year because I’d rather watch football?”

“That is not the same thing,” Sonal said raising her voice. Now she was hurt. “You have no right to make fun of my traditions just because they’re not typical Christian traditions.”

“Traditions are not the same as doing something because the religion calls for it. Christmas isn’t just another day off for me. It’s a real holiday to celebrate Christ,” Terrence said emphatically. He didn’t like that he had to defend his faith to a girl he had imagined as becoming his wife.


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They were both hurt by the other’s seeming lack of respect for their own traditions and values. They didn’t talk to each other for the rest of the car ride and for almost one week after they did not call each other. Both Sonal and Terrence were questioning whether this relationship had a future.


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Article Contributor:  MySahana, meaning my “patience” or “fortitude” in Sanskrit, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading awareness about mental health issues as they pertain to the South Asian community.

By providing culturally-sensitive and relevant information, they aim to correct misinformation, remove stigma and begin a dialogue about mental health and healthy living. They believe it is from these dialogues that South Asians will feel more comfortable seeking services and making the necessary changes to live a healthier life.

For more information, please visit their website at, follow them@MySahana on Twitter and connect with them on Facebook.