The couple sitting in front of me was at an impasse. Married for 12 years, they had solidified their positions on opposite sides of the “having children” question. The wife, now in her mid-30’s, had come from a large, tight-knit family. At this point in their marriage and in view of her age, she was desperate to create a family of her own, while the husband was equally adamant that he didn’t want to be a father. “Hmm … ,” I began as gently as I could, “Did you ever discuss how you felt about having children when you were dating?” They looked at me blankly, as if the thought had never occurred to them. Because it hadn’t.

People grow and change over time, and so should their relationships, which are meant to be dynamic and not static. And so it’s not fair to lock people into decisions that no longer fit, like a stay-at-home parent who wants to work outside the home or vice versa, or where someone wants to change the trajectory of a career. I am amazed, however, at how many couples seriously date and marry without figuring out whether or not they have similar overall visions for their lives together. You know: the Big Picture.

They may feel confident in a relationship in which they have surface compatibilities and sufficient chemistry without inquiring whether their deeply held values mesh and align with each other. They often rely on certain commonalities while ignoring glaring differences. And so, swept away by infatuation or driven by some other unsustainable force or motive, they close their eyes to blatant red flags and warning signs.

It’s a War Out There

Ki Teitzei means “when you go out to war with your enemies,” and it opens with the rules a man must obey when coming across a “beautiful woman on the battlefield.” As the Jewish people were getting ready to leave the desert and enter the Promised Land, where they would be engaging in battles for years to come, this was a very likely scenario. Despite the idiom, “All’s fair in love and war,” the Torah is clear about inserting rules of fair play into the heat of battle, where emotions override rational thinking.

G‑d certainly understands human nature; after all, He created it. Thus, the specific laws of “the beautiful captive” were an intervention. They served to prevent captured women from being violated as victims of lust and infatuation, while at the same time allowed the man the opportunity to avoid entering into a hasty marriage that would ultimately violate his values.

Giving the Rational Brain Time to Resurface

And so, a soldier who came upon a beautiful woman who stirred his desire, he (and the woman) followed a 30-day protocol to give the man time to cool off and think it through. During that period, the soldier had time to reconnect with his rational brain, to heed the red flags and warning signs, and if he still desired her, then he would have to marry her.

But getting married is not the answer either.

The laws of “the beautiful captive” were not a formula for how to marry a foreign woman, however, but to prevent the marriage in the first place. The soldier had to see the woman as not just satisfying his desire for instant gratification in the immediate present, but as a total commitment to the future. Could he picture her as the mother of his children? Would he live happily by her side for the rest of his life? Was she compatible with his values and lifestyle, community and family?

Newsflash: Many Differences Are Irreconcilable

While the famous “irreconcilable differences” provides a legal ground for divorce, the truth is that all couples have irreconcilable differences. In fact, even in the happiest of marriages, a number of marital arguments may never be resolved.

What creates disharmony, on the other hand, is the futile insistence on reconciling disparities that are based on people having their own identities, differences of personality, history, childhood wounds, fears, etc. Successful couples learn to make room for those differences and come up with strategies to manage them without getting deadlocked into positional and self-righteous attitudes.

What You Can and Cannot Work Out

So, it’s not really irreconcilable differences that end relationships, but rather, incompatible values. For deeply held, core intrinsic values, there can be no compromise.

In the case of the childless couple, for example, there’s no meeting in the middle because there’s no such thing as half a child. When a couple’s irreconcilable differences are tied to fundamental values, dreams, life visions and non-negotiable requirements for happiness, either or both of them will harbor resentment and anger, which, if not checked, discussed or resolved, can breed unhappiness and despair.

It’s not inevitable that they part ways, though they will need to discuss how to move forward.

Who Are You at Your Core?

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we all have values and a life purpose. When our choices align with these values, we feel fulfilled; our lives have a sense of meaning.

Sometimes, we think we have a clear road map of who we are and where we want to go, only to realize at some point that we never created the map to begin with, and the unfolding of our lives was charted for us by our parents, society or other external factors. Since the process of creating a shared life vision is only satisfying and sustainable when it’s authentic, there is a danger when we hide behind a fake persona, especially when we don’t even know we’re doing it.

So first, you must understand your core values. Unlike variable or secondary values that can change and grow, primary core values are the ones that endure—the ones that are tied to your belief system. The laws of the Torah, of course, help us shape those core values to express our G‑dly souls and direct our life mission.

In choosing relationships, especially a life partner, common interests will not hold up unless there is also the common ground of mutual meaning, supporting each other’s dreams, and the sense that building a life together is a shared purpose and a loving sacred path.