CAN A PRE- or POST-NUPTUAL PROCESS SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE?
By Joy A Dryer, Ph.D.
INTRO. The month of June is famous as the wedding month. Folks choose to marry in June. Weather is balmy and usually reliable. And, 'vacation' season starts. I'll bet you 100 to one that maybe one of a 100 couples tying that knot in June have a PreNup. And hardly any of those will even think about a PostNup after marriage.
I'm a Clinical Psychologist who sees a lot of couples. Also, as a Divorce Mediator and Collaborative Divorce Coach I work with folks deciding to separate. I believe that a PreNup might, just might, have saved some of those marriages.
What I mean is that those couples who spend the thought, energy, and time thinking about the issues raised by the PreNup --- i.e. who gives what to whom when -- would have earlier on in their relationship started to lay down a foundation of mutual trust. OR, they would have discovered sooner where they might have irreconcilable differences in life goals and/or what gives their life meaning, and how to get 'there'. The frank and intimate conversations required to construct a first rate PreNup gives both partners a chance to do a 'road test', to 'kick the tires', and decide to ride away together, or to leave that model on the lot.
ISSUES COVERED. The PreNup frames many of the same questions asked in a Separation Agreement [which in many states becomes the Divorce Agreement]. It can cover a range of issues such as:
1) Financials: Assets [e.g. income, stocks, bonds etc]; liabilities [e.g. debts]; beneficiaries of pensions, IRA's etc, ;
2) Property: pre- and post-marital; whether you live in an equitable distribution or a community property state; home ownership;
3) Support: spousal maintenance ["alimony"]: Child / custody; special needs [for child/ aging parents];
4) Insurances: Life/ Disability/ Medical/ Health Care Proxy/ Living Will/ Long term;
5) Lifestyle: Having children/ stay-at-home vs. work/ religion/ spirituality.
These issues focus you on who gives what to whom for how long. So if your relationship falters, you've already considered these issues when you were feeling good and generous toward one another. OR if you sail through your lives with a deep loving bond, you will have tackled and survived dialoguing around some pretty sticky issues. Either way, all the more power to you both!
Some here's some general background about the PreNuptual process. I urge you to consider making such dialogues wherever you are in the progression, or even stalling, of your relationship.
STARTER BELIEFS. The PreNuptual Agreement is like a terribly misunderstood child, with bad behavior on a few well publicized occasions. But it's basically well-intentioned, and can be delightful smart and creative.
PreNups have traditionally had a bum rap. You might think, as many do, that:
1) The partner who asks for the PreNup expects the relationship to fail.
2) Or, s/he is selfish and wants to keep what's mine as mine.
3) Or, a PreNup is for the rich and/ or famous.
These are what I call "starter beliefs" because there can be a grain of truth in each. For some folks. They've mushroomed into culturally accepted "truths". But they are not necessarily facts, and may not be accurate for most folks. And they do not have to be true for you!
Caste aside your starter beliefs. Cast aside unfounded fears. Cast aside even your deepest IRrational feelings.
REASONS. Here are 3 rational reasons to consider a PreNup. The 3 "L's : LOSS LUCK LOVE. I hope they will counter any irrational beliefs or feelings you might have lurking in the back of your mind toward the 'bad child' PreNup.
REASON 1 - LOSS: A PreNup stares straight into the reality of LOSS. Yes, reality. Loss of your love. Or loss of your life. A PreNup is designed to describe clearly who gets what, when, and how, should your relationship end, or one partner dies. If you're like most people, you don't want to think about such loss. But there's an end to every relationship, because we all die. At some point.
So, on the one hand, death is inevitable. On the other hand, some relationships will end when love fades, and a couple separates. You may know the statistics: that 2 million Americans marry each year...and about one million divorce each year. That's an approximate 50% divorce rate! [Why that is so... is a different story, of course.] A PreNup acknowledges both these LOSS possibilities.
REASON 2 - LUCK. Life is sometimes about luck. Luck of the timing of stuff. A PreNup codifies past, present and future. The goal of a PreNup is to disclose completely & transparently your past, to share your present love and goals, and to discuss your future hopes and dreams.
Life is full of uncertainties. And risks. No one has a crystal ball. If you have a car, you have auto insurance. If you own a home, your home owners insurance hedges your bet against damage from fire, wind. or flood, no matter how small the possibility that these might occur. There's no irrational causality here. Just because you have a will, does not mean you'll die soon. Just because you have car insurance, does not mean you'll have an accident. Just because you have a PreNup, does not mean your marriage will end. Rational conclusion: If you have a love, protect it too.
REASON 3 - LOVE. You may be cohabiting, heading into marriage, already married, or considering heading out of marriage. It's hard to think about the end of a relationship that's just starting, or in full bloom.
Your conversations with one another about who gets what, who does what, who owes what, show that you TRUST one another to say and to hear anything and everything. Complete transparency. That's real intimacy ! It's in both your best interests to be prepared.
SUM. If the end comes, you'll both be less bitter. A written PreNup agreement, just like car or home owners insurance, insures against an explosive end to your relationship. And, if you thrive together, these discussions can contribute to the enrichment and understanding of your bond.
Pre- and Post-Nups answer the questions of who gives what to whom, how, for how long. The 3 L's -- Loss, Luck, Love --are 3 rational reasons to have this conversation. The goal is to KNOW one another on the deepest level of meaning and life values. Such knowing might even save your marriage!