Religion can make or break your love

Xoliswa broke up with her boyfriend a year ago.

No, he didn't cheat. He didn't lie to her. He was not abusive. In fact, on paper, he was practically perfect. He had a good job, was good looking and had a great personality. So why would Xoliswa break up with him?

"He was a hardcore, Bible-hitting Christian and I couldn't take it any longer," she says.

Xoliswa says that when they started dating in 2013, she knew that he was a churchgoer, but when he started preaching to her, she had to draw the line.

"I consider myself to be spiritual, meaning that I have my own relationship with God.

"I just choose not to go to church or belong to any kind of affiliation, for my own reasons. So when I met my ex, I knew that he was a member of a charismatic church, but I liked him regardless.

"After a few dates, we discussed beliefs and that's when I explained my stance on religion to him. He told me that he understood."

But Xoliswa says that as time went by, her ex would put her in uncomfortable situations, insisting on praying together, even before a meal in a restaurant.

"I had made it clear that I only pray when I'm alone because I believe that a relationship with God is one of the most intimate ever. He would ignore that and would ask that we pray before we ate, even going to the extent of stopping me from taking a bite of my food before prayer.

"Then he started inviting me to church, constantly. I initially would politely remind him that I don't do church, but when he persisted I started getting irritated.

"When he started wanting to 'share the word' with me, that's when I had enough. I realised that he was trying to change me, that I was not good enough for him as I am. I had to end it."

Mlungisi Fundzo, who is a practising sangoma, says he cannot hold down a relationship because his partners always judge him for his beliefs.

"I have resorted to dating people who practise my beliefs only because most women out there either think being a sangoma is embarrassing and would not want to be seen about town with me in my attire, or have no respect for my beliefs and are constantly questioning things that I do. It just never works out for me dating out of my beliefs," Fundzo says.

Can partners of different beliefs coexist in harmony within a relationship?

We spoke to pastor and marriage counsellor Charles Mokoena from the Greater Alex Bible Church in Alexandra township, and asked him if having different beliefs is a deal breaker in a relationship.

Mokoena says it depends on how open and honest the couple is with each other.

"When two people enter a relationship and the subject of beliefs or religion comes up, it's important for both parties to lay it all on the table and explain exactly where they stand in their beliefs. There should be no expectations or any grey area where beliefs are concerned. This is the reason why I always advise people to go for marriage counselling before they get married so that such issues are discussed and one knows exactly what they are getting themselves into.

"You cannot, for example, be okay with your partner's beliefs and then change your mind down the line," Mokoena says.

"You also cannot want to convert the other party to your side of the fence. It's just selfish. There needs to be a deep respect for each other where religion or beliefs are concerned."

He says that while there is nothing wrong with putting on a sales pitch to your partner about your religion or your beliefs, one should retract if the buyer does not bite.

"You can entice your partner into floor-crossing into your religion by telling them about how it works for you and the wonderful things they can benefit from it. But one shouldn't be aggressive. If they are not interested, they simply aren't, and you need to respect that and not force the issue.

"So, I would say that relationships of different beliefs will only work based on the couple's mentality. Some people feel the need to recruit as many people as they can into their religion.

"Some people have the 'this is me, join me or leave' mentality when it comes to their beliefs, and are perhaps best suited to dating people of their own beliefs."

*Xoliswa is not her real name