In the fall of 2007, I prepared for my first trip to India as part of my seminary studies. Part of the preparation entailed a class to study about Indian culture, customs, faith traditions, etc…Although our professor attempted to help us dig deeper in our preparation, often our conversation veered in the direction of what would our housing arrangements be like and what would happen if we fell prey to “Deli Belly”? With anxiety about the unknown, truly exploring all the cacophony of social, political, religious, and even dialectical voices we would engage was not always possible. Like so many journeys, the readings only seemed to make more sense in hindsight. Once we’d had our feet on the ground and our bodies amid a population of people.

In many ways I find premarital coaching and counseling like preparing for a cross-cultural experience. Even when you’ve lived together and known each other’s families, there are elements of “making family” that do not fully appear until after the I Do.   It might not be until you’re knee deep in planning to host your first Thanksgiving feast, that you realize that perhaps you and your beloved truly do not think, feel, see, and understand the world the same.   Suddenly, a favorite holiday becomes a window into the cross-cultural divide between your two worlds. Even couples who grow up in similar ethnic, socio-economic, and geographic regions speak different familial dialects. One of the joys and challenges of long-term relationships is learning each other’s dialects and in many sense creating a new, unique dialect that is all your own.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, who believe that we have our own unique love maps, emphasize this idea. These maps are a metaphor for your partner’s world—their inner and outer terrain. The Gottmans discovered that knowing the in’s and out’s of what makes your beloved tick is one of the keys to successful marriages and long-term relationships. Recognizing that relationships are like a cross-cultural experience and seeing this as a time to learn and explore rather than fight or retreat is the challenge.

So in many respects, premarital coaching is an intentional time to get to know your future spouse’s love map in more depth. It is a time to affirm the ways and places your maps complement and resonate with each other and to lift up places that might have more rugged terrain. It’s a time recognize that your beloved is a deep, complex, and multifaceted person that you will continue to know more fully.

Premarital counseling and coaching can transform the focus from one day to the dreaming about the rest of your lives.