“My boyfriend’s parents are super religious and want us to attend a Christmas Eve service at their church. This is not something that is part of our lives, and we don’t want it to be. I am uncomfortable around religion in general and did not grow up in a spiritual household (my parents are both atheist scientists). I don’t want to go. Frankly, it feels inauthentic. But my boyfriend wants me to go and honor their religion, every single year, to make life easier for us both. Should I go? Or is this a boundary I should not cross?”
’Tis the season for blending family traditions…for better or for worse. This is an issue for tons of couples during the holidays, because many parents, religious or not, assume that their adult children are the same (and believe the same things) as when they were 10.
When it comes to your own personal decision on this matter, I think it boils down to whether you feel really, deeply uncomfortable practicing a faith you don’t believe in or if you think you can suck it up and take one for the team.
If you just don't feel like going, even though you know you’ll be fine showing up and putting a smile on, you should probably just suck it up. As your boyfriend said, it’s a minimal investment of time to negate conflict.
But if you’re feeling unsettled about pretending to practice a faith, that’s a different story. In this case, you have two good options.
1. Go and be respectful, but stay mum.
If your boyfriend wants you to attend the hour-long Christmas service at his childhood church, you can view that as his personal decision that you are honoring; whether he conveys his religious beliefs (or lack thereof) to his parents is up to him. Go because you love him, but also make a personal pact that you will only do what you’re comfortable with.
That means if you don’t want to take communion, don’t. If you don’t want to sing "O Holy Night," skip it. Choose to respect your boyfriend’s wishes, but don’t do something that feels inauthentic to your own values.
2. Tell his parents your feelings about religion before making a decision.
You don’t need to tell your boyfriend’s parents how their son feels about religion, but if you’re close enough and feel comfortable enough, you could tell one or both of them how you feel: You love their son, you’d be happy to go and be respectful, but you may never become religious and certainly do not want to be at this time. Your honesty might even inspire your boyfriend to speak up himself.
Maybe they’ll be understanding and suggest you skip the service. Or maybe they’ll say you’re welcome to join anyway. Let their feedback be your guide.
This issue boils down to a difference in personality. Some people value harmony over authenticity (like your boyfriend), while others prefer to stand in their truth even if they ruffle some feathers (you).
Whatever you decide, this is a great time to have deeper discussions with your boyfriend about what you value and how you will honor each other’s family traditions—and that might be different for each set of parents. It’ll be an issue every single year if it’s not addressed now, so come to an understanding together and commit to honoring that mutual decision moving forward.
Jenna Birch is a journalist and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a relationship-building guide for modern women. To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.