Women tend to be more underconfident about their financial abilities, while men are more overconfident. I believe that some men secretly want to be taken care of by their women, if their partners are wealthier. But this is a far more taboo attitude to admit.
I talked to Ellen about her desire to have Mark take care of her, and helped her look at what it might be reasonable to want and expect, separating that from her fantasy of being first and foremost in the security pecking order. Then I encouraged Mark to talk frankly about how he saw his future financially as he moved from his current, semiretired status to full retirement in the next few years.
The final step of working through this issue with Mark and Ellen was to have them take some actions that allowed them to bridge the gap in their two views about the prenuptial agreement. As they continued practicing empathetic communication at home and with me, Mark came up with several ideas about how he could help Ellen feel more cared for: giving her money now to help her feel more supported financially and emotionally, making provisions in his will to take care of her in the event of his death, and so forth. All this seemed to reassure Ellen, quieting her fears that his desire for a prenuptial agreement suggested that he didn't trust or love her. She said that she could honor Mark's need to see his children well taken care of by agreeing to the provisions he wanted to make for their financial security prior to their marriage.
Ultimately, they agreed in their prenuptial contract that, whatever happened, a stated amount of money that Mark entered the marriage with would be reserved for his children. Ellen received written reassurance that he'd write a will saying that, in the event of his death, after this initial amount of money was distributed to his kids, his remaining assets would be divided in half, with one portion to go to Ellen and the remaining portion to be divided among his children.
I've realized in the last few years of my couples coaching and therapy work that not all people marry all at once on their wedding day. Many folks (especially men, and particularly those who've been damaged by previous marriages) tend to marry (and trust) slowly over time. I'm confident that, if Mark and Ellen have remained together, they trust each other and their relationship more than they did when they were working out their prenuptial agreement. In money matters as in all issues, patience and compassion are the cornerstones of progress in marriages.
Olivia Mellan, M.S., is a psychotherapist and coach specializing in money psychology. She's the author of Money Shy to Money Sure; Overcoming Overspending; Money Harmony; and Advisor's Guide to Money Psychology. Her monthly column, "The Psychology of Advice," appears in Investment Advisor Magazine. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to the Editor about this department may be e-mailed to email@example.com.