Religious conflict in marriage

Religious conflict in marriage

When thinking about religious conflicts, there are usually associations with religious or tribal wars, with terrorist attacks or with vandalism of sacred places and worship. However, conflicts of this type can also take place in the family environment. They can occur between spouses. This text is an attempt to find out what should be done in such a situation.
Looking at the statistical data, most marriages in Poland are of a religious nature. However analyzing the files of cases for annulment of marriage, it is often possible to encounter a conflict between spouses on the background of the faith professed and practiced1. To a large extent, this problem occurs on the part of husbands who do not want to attend the Sunday Mass with their wives, pray together or help in the religious education of their children. There are cases when a husband mocks his wife's piety by ridiculing the truths of faith she professes. Of course, such a circumstance may also apply to husbands whose piety is condemned by their wives. Therefore, the question arises, what a person can do when practicing his faith is not accepted by his spouse? These are quite difficult situations, because a husband or wife who does not accept their spouse's religiosity may become a source of humiliation, pain, lack of understanding, negation of values, discredit, intolerance. Success in resolving a conflict is multidimensional and depends on several factors that will be discussed briefly.
First of all, when resolving conflicts between two parties, especially if they are spouses, the right attitude is needed, consisting in perceiving the conflict not only from the negative side. Most people who hear about the conflict have pejorative associations. Most often, conflict is identified with quarrel, anger, aggression, hostility, war, pain, suffering, violence, and competition. Much less often one can meet the terms that a conflict is strengthening, useful, inspiring, creative, enriching, creating opportunities, mobilizing. It is worth remembering that the conflict itself is neutral. If a conflict situation is not handled properly, then it has negative consequences. If handled skillfully, it results in a positive outcome. Therefore, it can be said that a conflict carries two realities - it is an opportunity and a danger. The meaning it takes depends on the style in which it is conducted. Skillful conflict resolution has a positive effect on emotional relationships, contributes to achieving satisfaction in marriage, deepens and strengthens relationships, improves the mental condition of the parties.
The second step is to specify what the point of dispute is, i.e. what is the purpose of the conflict. There are four basic ones: subject, relational, identity, and procedural2. Thus, spouses who are in conflict on a religious basis should help determine which purpose applies to them. For example, does the husband have a grudge against his wife for being too involved in parish life or attending church services too often, thereby neglecting her domestic responsibilities and spending too little time raising children (objective or procedural)? Does the husband reproach his wife for being too closely connected with friends from some religious group (community), seeing them and talking to them too often, which makes him feel less and less important to his wife (relational or identity purpose)? Does the wife not accept her husband's religiosity, accusing him that his faith is too expansive and that every level of life cannot be considered from the perspective of religion? Therefore, clarifying the purpose of the conflict is crucial, because the choice of resources to help resolve the dispute and rectify the situation depends on it.

In the next step, although in value disputes (and a religious dispute is about values), negotiation is rather unlikely to be used, in a situation of a marital conflict on this background, you can try to implement this technique, especially if these are integrative negotiations. They consist in resolving the conflict in such a way that both sides win. The opposite is in confrontational negotiations, where the resolution of the conflict is on the win-lose level, which is not desirable in marital relations as it destroys the sense of community. In intergration negotiations, spouses wanting to achieve personal goals at the same time take into account the goals of the spouse, therefore they look for solutions that would satisfy both parties. In cooperative discussions, the spouses should therefore: “focus on mutual interests, not differences; focus on needs and benefits, not positions; exchange information and views; find ways to benefit each other"3, be honest with each other and avoid manipulation, as is often the case in confrontational negotiations.
When conducting negotiations, it is also worth remembering the rules of the so-called "constructive dispute", which, apart from setting the goal, also includes open communication, i.e. honest presentation of your intentions and thoughts, as well as adherence to the rules of fair play. They include the following indications: not to use arguments that are not related to the dispute and are only intended to offend the interlocutor; not to humiliate your partner or pin him down; not to recall past disputes and quarrel topics unrelated to the main conflict; not to attack people and values important to the partner; do not intimidate, threaten or blackmail your interlocutor; not to take offense and not withdraw your commitment to solving the problem; recognize your mistakes and appreciate your partner's strengths and values.
In a constructive dispute, one cannot forget about assertiveness, which is a firm expression of one's opinion, opinions, rights and feelings towards another person, while respecting their opinion, opinions, rights and feelings. Assertiveness is related to the strategy of protecting personal boundaries, which consists of five stages:

  • presenting the request expressed directly and clearly: "I am asking you not to ridicule my religious beliefs among our friends",
  • providing feedback: "When you ridicule my religiousness, I feel unaccepted, disrespected, disregarded",
  • setting a boundary consisting in its firm determination by means of expressed objection: "I don't want you to behave this way towards me",
  • an announcement of the sanction to be applied when the first three steps have not been successful. A sanction is a condition and determination of consequences in the event of no change in the behavior of the partner: "If you do not change your behavior, then ...",
  • implementation of sanctions, i.e. fulfillment of the previously announced condition and consequences in the absence of the expected change of behavior in the interlocutor.

Applying the principles of constructive dispute and skilful use of assertiveness can help conflicted spouses understand each other in obtaining new information about each other, relieving emotional tension, looking for the source of the problem and discussing a conflict situation.
When analyzing the issue of the religious conflict, it is impossible to ignore the importance of one more issue. The above-mentioned suggestions of assistance in resolving this type of dispute, in order to be effective, require the interlocutor to have a mature personality. If the spouse does not have it, it will be difficult to find a platform for dialogue and mutual understanding. One of the determinants of a mature personality is having a compact worldview, philosophy of life, hierarchy of values, and a system of ethical and moral behaviors. Having and practicing faith is also one of these determinants. According to Chlewiński, religion integrates and directs the functioning of the personality, as well as gives meaning to life, explains the meaning of death and suffering, helps to interpret various events related to existence, gives them value, organizes the hierarchy of values, and gives a sense of security4. Therefore, it can be said that by shaping the religious personality, a mature personality is formed.
Summarizing the above considerations, it should be stated that the mere techniques of conflict resolution in the form of defining goals, conducting negotiations and having knowledge about constructive dispute and assertiveness may turn out to be insufficient if the spouses show deficits on the level of mature personality. Nevertheless, it is worth using these tips and techniques to take advantage of the opportunity to resolve the dispute.

fr. dr Sławomir Tykarski
Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń



CHLEWIŃSKI, Z., Wprowadzenie do psychologii religii, in: Psychologia religii, ed. Z. CHLEWIŃSKI, Lublin 1983, p. 73-75
LEWICKI, R.J., BARRY, B., SAUNDERS, D.M., Zasady negocjacji, Poznań 2012, p. 90
TYKARSKI, S., Kryzys małżeński jako wyzwanie dla duszpasterstwa. Studium teologiczno-pastoralne, Toruń 2015, p. 223.
WILMOT, W.W., HOCKER, J. L., Konflikty między ludźmi, Warszawa 2011, p. 105.

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Autor: Laboratorium Wolności
Date: 6 April 2021
Financed from the Justice Fund, which is administered by the Minister of Justice
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Pro Futuro Theologiae Foundation
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