Nobody was surprised when Annie Fitzhugh and Bill Scatena decided to get married. The couple met when they were both working at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, and they dated for two years before he put a ring on it. What did surprise some of their friends, however, was their decision to participate in premarital counseling during their year-long engagement.
“I definitely think that there’s a stigma around it,” says Fitzhugh. “I think some of my friends think it’s a little old-school, but to me it was just like, why not take the opportunity to get to know each other better during one of the most stressful times of your life?”
Fitzhugh and her fiancé are active members of Portico Church, a nondenominational congregation that encourages a nontraditional style of premarital counseling: The betrothed pair up with a couple who are already married for insight into lifelong partnership. The two couples meet regularly to discuss everything from finances to family planning, and Fitzhugh says it’s been overwhelmingly positive and eye-opening for both her and Scatena.
“It sounded like a great opportunity to really learn from a couple who’s been married for way longer than we’ve been together,” she says. “Everybody has disagreements, and if anything it’s really made me more self-aware. I’ve learned a lot about my fiancé and a lot about myself, how I communicate and why I make the decisions that I make.”
Fitzhugh says they began counseling last summer, and the process has helped relieve some of the pressure to have it all figured out by the time their January 2017 wedding rolled around.
“I think sometimes when people get engaged they get so swept up in the wedding and all the planning, and it’s been great to get to reset and talk about marriage, not the wedding,” she says. “At the end of the day, the wedding’s going to end and then the real journey begins.”
Portico’s couple-pairing approach certainly isn’t the only option. Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Young offers counseling for both engaged and married couples. His services for married couples is intended to map out and address current problems in the relationship. For those preparing to wed, he recommends two or three sessions to discuss components of marriage that may cause conflict in the future: intimacy issues, parenting styles, relationships with in-laws, etc.
“The divorce rate is pretty high, and I know a lot of people want to prepare so they don’t have big problems when they do get married,” Young says. “If you’re getting married, you want to make sure you’re not diving into disaster.”
Couples bicker about any number of things (“Stop putting the mustard in the refrigerator,” “Why can you never put the cap back on the toothpaste?”). But when it comes to those foundational relationship issues, there are some things that should be addressed both before and during a marriage, says Dr. Robert Young.
- Whether to have children
- Parenting styles
- Intimacy expectations