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A rabbi’s guide to love

If values can be so central to the health of an organisation, wouldn’t the same be true of a marriage?

    When Daniela Pears told me about her idea of setting up a new Jewish matchmaking service, I immediately realised that here was an opportunity to do things differently.

    Let me explain. For the past several years I have been working with organisations to discover and articulate their values. All organisations are driven by values — those things that are of utmost concern to the organisation — whether they are consciously aware of it or not. Many claim to value things like “equality” or “transparency” but at what cost? I simulate situations in which leaders consider the costs they might incur for upholding certain values. This allows for an honest discussion about what the core beliefs are, and how they can be promoted and protected, how they become the polar star by which the organisation navigates.

    Values-driven organisations avoid ethical pitfalls, because everyone is clear on the boundaries. They are inspiring places to work, provided one’s individual values are aligned with those of the organisation.

    I then began to apply this approach to the pre-marriage courses I lead jointly with my wife Dina. If values can be so central to the health of an organisation, wouldn’t the same be true of a marriage?

    Let me give you some examples.

    A couple have been married for five years, when the husband is unexpectedly offered a coveted promotion that will involve significant overseas travel.

    His wife is less than enthusiastic. For her, family time together is a core value, and his incessant travel schedule will undermine it. For him, financial success is a core value, and this promotion offers a substantial reward.

    How are they to resolve this conflict? I don’t know. But I do know that had they had a serious conversation about their values when courting, they might have avoided, or at least anticipated this dilemma.

    Or consider hospitality. This value entails opening one’s home to those in need. The cost can be lack of privacy.

    It would be very difficult to navigate a relationship in which the two individuals stand at opposite ends of the hospitality-privacy divide.

    Looking for values-compatibility in a spouse is not just a defensive stance, as a way to avoid conflict. It is also a positive approach towards building a relationship based on a deep sense of shared purpose.

    The type of personal information exchanged when dating is often very superficial. Shared interests may be important, but a mutual love of travel, for example, is not a sign of long-term compatibility nor will it sustain a relationship through challenging times.

    When we study with couples before marriage, we use various exercises to get them to dig deeply into their core value systems and then share their findings. We then invite them to draw up a joint charter of values that will serve as their polar star.

    So, when Daniela Pears approached me with her new and exciting matchmaking initiative, I told her about my values work and its application to marriage. We realised that while shared values are no guarantee of compatibility in all areas of a relationship, they are nonetheless a significant element that is often overlooked. So, if we could find a way of getting individuals to understand, own, and then share their values, we would be in a stronger position to set them up with a potentially compatible partner.

    I will be training a group of volunteers on how to start a conversation with candidates about values. Crucially, I will show them how to zero in on selected areas by exploring with the candidates what their declared values mean to them in practical terms. This information will be used to match candidates with those sharing similar values.

    There is always the intangible “chemistry”, which no matchmaker can account for. What we are trying to do is introduce a deeper dimension to the dating process, to give it a greater chance of success. This method should eliminate gross incompatibility and provide a solid basis on which a couple may go on to build a meaningful relationship.

    Rabbi Brawer is Director of Spiritual Capital Foundation and co-founder of Mishkan: The Jewish Community beyond Borders

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