The test of a relationship occurs when infatuation bubble bursts

Can one foretell whether a couple considering marriage will ultimately divorce?

One family researcher found he can predict the outcome with a high degree of accuracy by asking each partner to respond to only six questions. One of those questions asks, "Do you have conflicts over religion?"

Jewish couples, particularly those of varying observance levels, as well as interfaith couples, should honestly face their religious differences as early as possible in a relationship. Research as well as common sense point to the necessity of taking a serious look at such critical issues.

But few couples want to disrupt the delicious experience of new love with disturbing thoughts of possible future problems. And who can blame them? Falling in love is one of the most sought after experiences in life, a magical emotional and sexual state of being. Frequently, part of falling in love includes the belief that we have found our true and unique soulmate.

There is only one problem with being head-over-heels in love. No matter how high up we start, we always come down. Time is the gravity of love. The intoxicating and delusional state of new love, that sense of finding the perfect other, never lasts.

The real test of a relationship comes when the bubble bursts. Whether it's over making religious choices or deciding who is supposed to wash the dishes, differences eventually emerge. New love ends, and couples then have the opportunity to begin forging deep and solid relationships by acknowledging and dealing with their differences.

As a psychologist, I often meet with couples when they're in the midst of a crisis of definition about cultural and religious identity. As unimportant as the past may have seemed when they fell in love, life passages can shatter a couple's denial of their differences. An upcoming marriage, the death of a loved one or the birth of a child reveals ancestors' shadows. Love is then forced to come to terms with tradition.

What becomes obvious in many of these conversations is not only the differences between partners, but the confusion each person feels about his or her own commitment to religion and tradition.

Whether we admit it or not, many of us carry around a mixed bag of contradictory feelings about our cultural and religious identities. In a rapidly changing, culturally diverse society, it's hard for anyone to maintain a clear and consistent sense of group identity. Our desire to melt into the melting pot is at war with our wish to be a member of a distinct group. It's hard to have it both ways.

History has always involved dramatic shifts, but the accelerating rate of change has never approached that of today's world. Change was measured in generations, and the distant horizon was more likely to be the next town than an alien land halfway around the world.

Throughout most of history, the practice of religion was inseparable from immersion in the life of a community. Because they were so intertwined, it wasn't necessary or even possible to separate family loyalty, cultural identity and religious belief.

Among Jews, as in other religious and ethnic groups, each of these factors reinforced the other; all were integral in giving each person a clear sense of belonging and identity. The family was part of a community, rooted in a culture that was linked to a religion.

Today, the bonds connecting the three cornerstones that have always formed the foundation of identity — family, culture, and religion — have been weakened by the pace of change and the new world disorder.

As a result, we are constantly confronted with crises of definition and find ourselves asking questions that most of our great-grandparents could not even have imagined.

What is the nature of my allegiance to my family, my tribe, my nation, and my God? Are they of different intensities? Could they come into conflict with one another? Our religious and cultural identities are no longer just accidents of birth. Today, we must pick from among shattered remnants of the past to create answers to the question "Who am I?"

Before trying to negotiate with another person, it's important to work to clarify your own sense of religious and cultural identity. Don't hide behind vague statements like, "I'm a very spiritual person." That can mean very different things to different people.

The following questions can help you clarify your relationship to Jewish life:

*Which aspects of the religious traditions you were raised in are important to you?

*Which aspects of your religious heritage have you rejected?

*Which aspects of your religious beliefs and practices could you compromise with a partner on?

*Are there any issues that you are not willing to negotiate?

*What practices and beliefs would you want to pass on to your children?

*How do you separate "culture" from "religion?"

*Do you contribute time and/or money to communal or religious causes?

*What are your goals in terms of your religious and spiritual development? What ideas do you have about reaching these goals?

What ideas do you have about reaching these goals?

Because discussions about the religious and cultural identity of a relationship can be so complex and emotionally charged, many couples choose to avoid them.

But putting off dealing with these issues is like buying peace for a relationship on an emotional credit card. You may enjoy the temporary freedom from anxiety "purchased" by avoiding the difficult topics, but when the bill finally comes due, the "interest" that's accumulated in the form of resentment and regret may be devastating.

If you do the work now, you will have a greater chance of creating a clear religious and cultural identity for your family. Pay as you go.