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The Economics of Romance

Pre-nups and other dirty words

By Olivia Mellan

Q: A male client of mine who was burned by an ugly divorce is getting married again and wants a prenuptial agreement. His fiancée is angered by his request. How can I help them work it out?

A: After years of doing therapy and coaching in areas relating to money conflicts, I've discovered one constant about prenuptial agreements: whoever broaches the subject is labeled the bad partner—unromantic, suspicious, cold, controlling. The other member of the couple is seen as the romantic, emotional, generous, trusting one. Yet prenuptial agreements have a role to play in helping couples plan and commit to their future together, particularly when they've been married previously. When handled well, they can even make a marriage stronger.

Mark, 52, was a few years out of an ugly divorce. Ellen, his intended bride, had been single for many years, following a brief marriage when she was just out of college. They were planning to get married after dating for more than a year, but Mark had told Ellen that the only way he'd remarry was if they signed a prenuptial agreement. Their disagreement about this was the urgent presenting problem when they came to me.

The first thing I do with couples at odds over a prenuptial agreement is to try to shift them away from a view that one of them is romantic and one is calculating. I want them to feel that they're just two people with differing, equally valid, emotional needs.

So, as the session got under way, I said "Whoever brings up a prenuptial agreement is always seen as the bad guy. But I don't see it that way at all. A friend of mine, clinical psychologist turned financial planner Victoria Collins, said it perfectly: "Everyone does yellow-pad prenuptials in their head anyway. Making them overt and explicit, though a difficult process, is a healthy way to clarify issues and avoid problems down the road."

Both of them seemed to relax a little after I said that.

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Last modified on Monday, 30 July 2012 10:40

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