I left religion completely. How can I live with my religious family?
I have left religion completely, but I’m still living with my religious family. How do I navigate that?
I was also raised in a religious home. And while I’ve maintained a spiritual practice into adulthood, I too have navigated away from my family’s religious traditions. It was a painful transition, one that took nearly a decade. And while my family remains steadfast in their beliefs, we’re having to learn how to respect each other’s differing views and opinions.
I don’t know your specific situation and whether or not you’ve told your family where you’re at. But regardless—and for anyone else in a similar spot—I would first encourage transparency if that is a safe option for you. Of course, this should be on your own time, and as you feel ready. It took me more than five years and a lot of therapy before I finally told my family that I’d left their religion.
But this honesty was a necessary first step. I tiptoed around questions about church and religion for too long. It created a lot of stress in my life and put a strain on my familial relationships. Whenever my family would talk about their beliefs, I found myself resenting them. Except they couldn’t have known my beliefs had shifted because I hadn’t told them.
I’d start by being upfront with your family. Then I’d encourage you to set some boundaries, especially since you live together. Boundaries are as much for you as they are for them—whenever people have differing beliefs, heated conversations are likely to occur. Discuss some mutual ground rules for when and where to have conversations about religion—or if you even want to have them at all. Some of us have been hurt by religious institutions, and we need to separate ourselves entirely, even from conversations. That’s entirely okay and valid.
You can explain that certain topics are off-limits. Even if you do enjoy a bit of theological banter, perhaps you’d prefer it not to be while drinking your morning coffee. Tell your family that. Explain what you need and why it’s important to you. Then ask them about their needs and boundaries as well. Communication is everything when it comes to living with others. And if those boundaries are crossed, it’s okay to reinstate them or ask for space.
Next, bridge divides by inviting your family into the beliefs you do have. Share your loves and interests with them. For me, this is writing. My family may not agree with everything I write. Still, it’s important to me, and they do a wonderful job of respecting and supporting that.
Perhaps there are social causes and organizations you care about. Maybe it’s the arts or creative living. Whatever it is that makes you feel alive and true to yourself—share it with them.
Consider asking them about their passions outside of religion, too. It’s easy for us to put ourselves and others in boxes, especially when it comes to our belief systems. But humans are complex, and we’re evolving creatures. Relationships flourish when we share what we love with one another; you may be surprised to find you and your family have many common interests outside of your former beliefs.
Finally, let me end by saying you are far from alone. I find so much solidarity in your question and the fact that many others share this experience (or similar ones). To know that others have found ways to connect and remain close with their families despite differing beliefs offers me hope—for you and me. May we discover together how to navigate differences with respect and kindness.
Sending you and your family love and strength. x
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Kayti Christian (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for enneagram 4s and other sensitive-identifying people. Outside of writing, she loves hiking, reading memoir, and the Oxford comma.