What Would a Humanist Do? Converting Away My Sense of Self

Today we bring you our latest installment of “What Would a Humanist Do?”—offering multiple AHA staff opinions on reader questions. Because while humanists are committed to being good without a god, sometimes they need a little advice on how to pull it off.

Q: I’m a spiritual humanist (raised Catholic) and am married to a Jewish man who cherishes many of his traditions. When we started dating he told me he was Jewish almost as an aside, and then a few months later, when we got more serious, he expressed that conversion would be important to him since his family is religious and he’s close to them (although they live overseas). I agreed to begin exploring classes, attend weekly synagogue, and participate in the Jewish holidays to better understand what I was getting into.

There are values in Judaism I can appreciate (such as being family-oriented and having an attitude of commitment to what you do), but it didn’t take long for me to understand the immense responsibility converting to Judaism entailed and how much the of keeping traditions falls on the woman (for example, keeping a kosher kitchen). I expressed my concerns and my then boyfriend assured me we would do things our own way and on our own terms. He grew up very religious and said while he hated that, his religion molded him into who he is for the better and that Judaism produces the most successful and ethical kind of people.

A year later we were engaged, but he hadn’t told his family because I was only halfway through the conversion process. At this point I was regretting having gotten engaged to someone who was asking me to convert and fundamentally accept his belief system even though he himself wasn’t very observant. He said he planned to become more so once we got married and started a family. I continued to tell him how challenging it all was for me, but he was convinced we were on the right path and assured me we would get through it together and that I only needed to trust him. So I finished the conversion, and we got married shortly after.

We’ve now been married a little over a year. I still don’t fundamentally resonate with the religion, we pretend to be more observant than we are to keep good relations with his family, and I fundamentally feel I have damaged myself spiritually by trying to find meaning in a belief system that I just don’t identify with. I have expressed this to my husband, along with my desire to raise children in a way that feels more natural to me. He says that if he can’t give them a good Jewish education he would rather not have children and is willing to forego having a family if that will keep us together. I have suggested couples’ therapy to which he is reluctant.

I know he loves me deeply and is a good guy, which is what made me open to all of his requests to begin with. But I feel like I am a fragmented person. How much compromise is too much?



I understand what it’s like as someone with very different religious views than my partner and his family. In the beginning, I made a lot of concessions like going to worship weekly and practicing rituals that I didn’t believe in. It felt like it was the right thing to do as a “good partner,” but it began to wear on me and I began to feel like I was losing my identity.

For your partner to give you all or nothing ultimatums about your fundamental belief system is unfair because then the burden of the relationship falls entirely on your shoulders. A relationship is supposed to be a compromise between two people, not a constant concession by one partner. My advice: continue to push for couples’ therapy. I think you’re heavily compromising and deserve to have a balanced relationship.

At some point in my relationship I put my foot down, which turned into long and emotional conversations over a span of a several months. We pushed our relationship to the brink with our competing religious views, but I never regretted advocating for myself. Eventually we found something that worked for both of us, but it wasn’t overnight, and if we could’ve afforded it at the time, we absolutely would have gotten couples’ counseling to ease that process. You are your biggest advocate in this world and know that you deserve a life where you can publicly practice what you believe in (or don’t believe in).

—Margie Delao, social justice and policy assistant

Relationships succeed when both people are secure in their sense of self and are willing to grow together and accommodate one another. While it’s certainly not fair to assume that the values and life stance someone holds will be static forever, it’s also not fair to drag another person along a journey through faith and demand that they adopt beliefs that are incompatible with their own.

How much compromise is too much, you ask? Reader, to put it bluntly: the level of compromise you’ve described here is too much. And it doesn’t exactly read as compromise—it’s been a series of goalpost shifts that your husband has set and to which you’ve acquiesced. While he initially assured you that your joint adherence to Judaism would be set on terms comfortable to you both, it’s clear that only one perspective matters—his. It’s not a relationship if you have no space in which to express yourself. It’s a dictatorship.

That may seem like a harsh analysis, but you need to do a serious audit of where you two stand. Introducing children into a family that is experiencing these kinds of fractures is not a solution and certainly not a healthy environment in which to raise a child. You’ve shown the many ways you’re willing to sacrifice and accommodate to make your relationship work. How has your husband done the same? We can hope that our partners are innately fair and equitable people, but we also must push and assert our own values and needs. There is no dignity or joy in being a mere vessel.

I’m not saying all is lost. But to begin healing your fragmented self, your morals, ideals, and spiritual views must be treated with the same level of respect as your partner’s.

—Peter Bjork, web content manager, managing editor for TheHumanist.com

You’ve certainly put in a considerable amount of compromise for your relationship, and I think now is a smart time to be a little selfish.

It seems like your husband wants the framework of Judaism because it’s what he knows best, and what he believes will be best for your children, but it seems like your personal spirituality and sense of identity are decimated. I grew up in a nonreligious household with a Jewish mother and Episcopalian father, and I never thought any particular set of beliefs or traditions dictated my sense of right and wrong.

I applaud your effort converting to Judaism. I know from a handful of converted Jews that it takes considerable effort. But it seems like more of a move to preserve your marriage than for your spiritual enrichment. If your husband really is a loving and good guy as you say, he should be open to couples’ therapy, or a discussion about how after all the efforts to convert, you’re not yourself.

 —Sam Gerard, communications associate