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The Economics of Romance

Pre-nups and other dirty words

By Olivia Mellan

The next step was to teach them some communication skills so they could begin to understand each other's viewpoint on the prenuptial agreement. I've found that Harville Hendrix's mirroring technique can benefit nearly all couples, by helping each partner shed his or her own emotional agenda and perspective long enough to enter the other's world with empathy and compassion. Ellen and Mark were both willing to learn the simple "mirroring" steps of emptying their minds of their own thoughts; listening to their partner's words (said in small enough chunks to be remembered); repeating what he/she said, using the same words as much as possible; validating their partner's perspective on the matter; and empathizing with what their partner might be feeling.

Ellen mirrored Mark's feelings of pain that his divorce settlement left his children with half as much money as he'd planned. She then reflected back his statement that he hadn't intended to remarry, but was willing to marry her because he loved her and wanted to make her happy, as long as there was a prior financial agreement.

After Ellen had listened to, repeated, validated, and empathized with Mark's viewpoint, he did the same for her. By the end of the first session, both of them had been able to get closer to the other's point of view, although Ellen still felt some pain and disappointment regarding Mark's lack of joyous anticipation regarding their marriage, and he was still worried about whether they'd be able to work out this issue. Before they left, I urged them to use the mirroring technique at home at least once a week.

When Mark and Ellen returned the following week, she'd become more open to the idea of a prenuptial agreement to soothe his fears and concerns about his children's future security, but she still didn't feel sufficiently taken care of, or cared for, by Mark. Many women I've encountered over the years have paradoxical needs regarding money. They want to be at least partially independent (or at least not too dependent) financially, but, at the same time, many of them need to feel taken care of—provided for—by their partners. I believe this comes from a long-standing history of women's economic dependency on men, and years of cultural programming about the romantic ideal of being financially and emotionally taken care of by a heroic "knight in shining armor." So, although Ellen made a good living and had been on her own for a long time, the idea of that Mark would take care of her in some way financially was comforting and reassuring. The need to feel cared for was important to her partly because he was so committed to taking care of his children.

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Last modified on Monday, 30 July 2012 10:40

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