Tuesday 17 September 2019

Ask Allison: My husband is anti-religion. Could I get our child baptised in secret?

Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships

'We have so many hidden and unconscious belief systems that need a proper airing'

Allison Keating

When our children were born, I agreed with my husband that we would not have them baptised.

We are both Catholic but he is vehemently opposed to the church and I do not attend Mass so did not feel I could push to bring our children into a religion we did not observe. However, now I do want to start going back to Mass, and our oldest would now like to be baptised.

I know that I cannot reopen this conversation with my husband. Any talk about religion drives him into a rage. I am considering going off and having our youngest child baptised in secret, as she wouldn't have a memory of it and no one would never need to know.

I feel so sorry for our children, who get great comfort in God, yet they are never able to mention this at home. Is it just better to keep the peace at home and forget about baptism - after all, it's what I originally agreed to? Talking about it so far has only created division.

Answer: Do not put your marriage through a baptism of fire. You will not come out of it unscathed and the consequential damage of lying (not telling is deception) may prove irrevocable. I imagine this is an issue in many homes in Ireland as a generation reared as Catholics as children may have come to adulthood with conflicted feelings to outright dismissal of a church they don't trust.

And we're back to trust, the cornerstone of every relationship whether in your marriage or with your children or within your faith. Break that trust and you break the sacred connection between two people, within families and communities.

I hear what you are saying, your husband is "vehemently opposed to the church" and it has caused major division. Firstly, do you know why? What are his beliefs about the church? Do you understand why he feels like this? Step out of the boxing ring and sit with his 'why'. This is obviously deeply upsetting to him, his reaction is indicative that the subject of the church is highly emotive for him.

You may know his 'why', but sometimes knowing each other well in your relationship can be an intimacy blocker as you avoid 'that conversation'. It can be hard to be curious about something when someone we love reacts so strongly, especially if it's directed at you.

It makes sense as to why couples pull back and avoid difficult subjects. However, it is only by opening up these highly emotive and charged conversations that things can be brought into the air. Undiscussed taboo topics stay in the dark and feelings such as shame and fear grow. These types of conversations are tender bids to support each other through difficult topics or experiences.

Connection only comes by allowing vulnerability a voice. Go in soft, with the idea and intent of supporting your husband through what is major a trigger for him. This could repair and build compassion between the two of you. If you baptise one of your children without his knowledge or consent, this could prove irrevocable.

The clue to his reaction is that the trigger is so strong. Rather than seeing his reaction as a personal affront or power struggle between his beliefs and yours, it is time for you to both have your emotional needs met and to explore your own spiritual needs and your hopes for your children together.

If you imagine religion as a tug of war 'power line' between the two of you, the struggle just continues and becomes more complicated as it becomes an 'us' against 'dad' mentality. Imagine making a circle with the rope above and step inside. This is your hypothetical safe zone.

Even thinking about it like this is soothing and calming, as everyone drops their defences and knows they will be heard. Starting with 'I know we have talked about religion in the past and it's something you feel so strongly about and I respect that. I would like to open a conversation where I can support you and I'm wondering if you can understand what is going on for me at the moment.'

There are some serious topics to be discussed within this safe circle. Establish ground rules at the offset such as respect, kindness, trust, listening and knowing when to have self-directed time-outs when it gets too heated, which it invariably will.

In my book The Secret Lives of Adults the second chapter looks to the beginning, to your family of origin. We have so many hidden and unconscious belief systems that need a proper airing. This is often triggered by being in an adult romantic relationship and double triggered when you have children.

How often do we explore and re-evaluate our belief systems? Mostly we either absorb this information as procedural memory and this is where couples face a stumbling block when your family 'norm' is different to your partner's and both feel the other is doing or thinking about it all 'wrong'.

Or, we revolt strongly against family norms, which can be quite adolescent in a black-and-white thinking-style of this is all 'good' or 'bad', 'right' or 'wrong'. Polar responses and rejection of religion outright are common in adults who lived in staunchly authoritarian Catholic households or, as we know, there may be more traumatic reasons for rejection of the church.

This will not be a one-off conversation, it is opening up a safe space where all needs are heard, acknowledged, validated and examined. This is the beginning of the healing process.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie

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