What does strict, fundamental religion have to do with relationships?
Well, for me, it had everything to do with how I showed up in my intimate relationship.
A little background about me is that I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian upbringing that had LOTS to say about romantic relationships. These beliefs and "rules" around relationships were mostly fear-driven and led me to experience immense anxiety when I started dating my now husband.
Here are 4 ways that strict religion can influence the development of relationship anxiety:
First, in rigid religious cultures, there is a lot of black and white thinking. The beliefs that are taught tend to be extreme and leave little room for grey area or the messiness of the human experience. You are told what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is bad; what is holy and what is sinful.
Relationships are not black and white. There is a lot of grey area in navigating a relationship with another human. But when your mind has been programmed to see everything as black or white, right or wrong, it causes suffering in the relationship when things aren't "perfect."
You can begin to question and doubt the relationship if it doesn't look exactly how you were told it "should" look. Since your mind sees things as black and white, you can instantly feel like the relationship is "bad" or "wrong" when there is conflict or uncertainty.
In strict religion, you aren't taught how to sit with the uncertainty and messiness of human relationships. You are TOLD how to conduct your life and there is a strong emphasis on certainty of belief.
Second, strict religion often teaches that you cannot be with someone of a different religion or belief system. Anyone who is a "nonbeliever" is an outsider and you couldn't possibly have a healthy relationship with someone who held different spiritual beliefs.
So for me, when I started dating a "nonbeliever" (now my husband), it caused so much anxiety. It challenged all these beliefs that were drilled into my mind from a young age. I was constantly obsessing over the thought is this the wrong relationship?
It caused a lot of problems in the relationship, not because we had different beliefs, but because of the fear-based stories I had about dating someone with different beliefs.
Thirdly, in rigid and controlling religions, you're not taught to trust yourself. You're taught to trust the higher power, god, the elders of the church, the sacred text, etc. You're taught to look outside of yourself for answers. And I was actually taught that my desires were evil. I was taught to avoid turning inward to my own inner truth.
When you're in a relationship, there is uncertainty...that's normal. So it's about being able to feel good about choosing your partner. But if you've never been taught how to make a decision for yourself and see what feels good for you, then it can bring up so much anxiety. You look outside of yourself for the answers on what you "should" do...on if you "should" be with this person. You begin to question if your choice in parter is "right" or "wrong."
And because you don't trust your own judgment, you are constantly trying to seek reassurance and certainty from friends, the internet, parents, etc, which leads to more confusion and anxiety.
Finally, in fundamentalist religions, there is such an emphasis on doing everything "right" and avoiding doing what is "wrong." It promotes perfectionism. So when a thought enters your mind that says "is this the right relationship," the anxiety and fear latches onto that thought and leads you to obsessively trying to figure out the answer. Your mind becomes obsessed with getting it "right" and avoiding failure.
But life and relationships are not about rights and wrongs. We can honestly never have 100% certainty if something is "right." The majority of life is grey. Love is not about having certainty. It's simply about making the choice to be with someone you lve. Really strict religion takes away our ability to choose and our confidence in being able to create our own path. It makes us anxious about uncertainty and making decisions, especially when it comes to relationships.
Relationships require vulnerability and risk. And when we don't have 100% certainty, the risk feels even scarier. But we can't have 100% certainty in life. We can't predict the future or how things will turn out. We can't know all things. Life is vulnerable, messy, and fragile. There is no one perfect person that you must find. So we must learn to sit with the unknowns of life and build a relationship with uncertainty.
We must learn to move beyond black and white thinking and the fears of being "wrong." We must embrace our humanness. We must be able to embrace love in the many facets that it has, rather than it needing to look and feel a certain way.
If you have anxiety in your relationship because you were raised in a rigid religious culture, then I invite you to book a free and obligation-free 30-minute Relationship Assessment. We'll map out the exact steps it would take for you to be free from the anxiety and fear that are causing doubt in your relationship so that you can fully embrace the love that it right in front of you.