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She Said He Said: Partner doesn’t share my spiritual goals

Lori Ann Kret and Jeff Cole
She Said, He Said

Dear Lori and Jeff,

My partner and I have recently begun talking more seriously about marriage. He possesses many of the qualities I believe are important in a spouse. He’s genuinely kind, trustworthy, responsible and reliable, and we share many interests. We also have great chemistry and laugh often. However, I find myself deeply unfulfilled in the relationship when it comes to exploring spirituality. Yoga, meditation, and Eastern-based health and wellness are integral to my lifestyle. I’d always imagined marrying someone I could practice with and who would help me continue to grow and expand in this realm. My partner is incredibly analytical and skeptical about much of what I believe in. He always supports me in doing what I want, but also politely chooses not to engage with me. Is this a dealbreaker?

Signed,



Spiritually Unsatisfied

Dear SU, 




Jeff and Lori: When partners are similar in every aspect of life, the familiarity can feel comfortable and safe. However, that degree of alikeness comes at a cost to the mystery and healthy tension that creates curiosity and real growth.

Lori: You can’t isolate the aspect of spirituality from the rest of your partner’s makeup. His pragmatic approach to life is likely intertwined with the responsibility and reliability that you appreciate. Having a partner to spiritually grow with in the way you envisioned may come at a loss of other qualities that you find important. Before moving forward towards marriage, get clear on what your partner non-negotiables are. Start with a list of everything you would like to have, and then narrow it to the top 5-7 that are absolute musts. This list can include: personality traits, lifestyle, goals, health, finances, hobbies, interests, world views, politics, parenting, family, and values. If spirituality makes the cut, you have your answer. If not, focus on your partner’s strengths that you’ve prioritized. Commit to growing spiritually with community support and recognize that your partner’s pragmatism creates a different opportunity for growth by pushing you to create deeper conviction within yourself. 

Psychologist Eli Finkel, in his book The All Or Nothing Marriage, highlights how the expectations of marriage have evolved over the last two centuries from focus on love, commitment and community, to now also including one’s primary support in achieving the highest levels of self-actualization. The responsibility of personal growth and spiritual enrichment has shifted from community to spouse. Furthermore, sociologists Natalia Sarkisian of Boston College and Naomi Gerstel of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst identified a growing tendency for married couples to become more socially isolated than their single and dating cohorts by over focusing on their partner and letting community connections dissipate. These trends put unrealistic pressure on a spouse and marriage to make someone feel whole and complete.  

Jeff: Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, one of the most influential teachers of Tibetan Buddhism in the western part of the world and the founder of Naropa University (where I earned my graduate degree in psychology), often spoke of the trappings of what he called spiritual materialism. He warned of the common pitfalls in seeking spirituality as a way to avoid deeper issues by escaping to the realm of self-importance and ego. Your pursuit of wellness, meaning and purpose through spiritual means can undoubtedly be a very positive experience, but be careful not to forgo the other elements of your relationship in search of a higher path. Sometimes we have to dig around in the muck for a while before we can work through the things that are keeping us stuck. Spirituality is best explored from a solid relational foundation, as intimate partners are often the best catalysts for challenging our assumptions and self-limiting views.

It sounds like there are qualities that you really appreciate and value in your partner, so don’t overlook the strengths of your relationship just because there are some challenging differences. If your partner seems less willing to embrace your particular views and perspectives of spirituality, be curious about what his are. Set aside some time to talk about what personal and existential growth means to him — I’ll bet you’ll be able to find some common ground.

Lori and Jeff: Marriage can be one of the most wonderfully significant transitions in a person’s life but it’s important to be realistic about what your expectations are of a spouse. Keep in mind that great lasting relationships are those in which there are differences that create balance and challenges that inspire growth. Whether or not spirituality is a difference you’re willing to commit to exploring is ultimately up to you. 

Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit ​​http://www.aspenrelationshipcoaching.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.