Building a healthy, strong, and long-lasting marriage requires a lot of hard work. Good marriages don’t happen by default, they require intentionality and equality of contribution and effort by both spouses. Unfortunately, even the best of relationships endure many significant challenges. As one marriage psychologist said, “Marriage is really, really, really, really, really hard work for about the first 20 to 25 years…and then, it starts to get kind of good.” This may be an overly negative statement, but it reflects the reality that establishing the foundation of a long-lasting, healthy, and fulfilling marriage is not easy.
There are a number of issues that can spark debates/arguments between married couples. Those issues include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- Raising children or parenting styles
- Managing relationships with the In-Laws
- Religious/cultural differences
- Emotional expressions
This list is a very small sampling of areas that can create challenges even in the best of marriages. The key to managing these issues is effective communication: the ability to listen, experience, and express empathy, and successfully resolve conflict in mutually satisfactory ways.
When engaged couples spend time talking about these issues and their unique perspectives prior to marriage, it goes a long way toward establishing a healthy foundation of communication. These discussions set the tone for effective communication and resolution of conflict in the future. Yet no matter how hard you work at your relationship, it’s important to accept that in our culture divorce is an unfortunate reality. There is no guarantee of marital success. In America, there is a divorce every 13 seconds. That’s 6,646 per day and 46,523 divorces per week. Forty-one percent of first marriages, 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. The odds are clearly stacked against you.
Five of the main reasons people get divorced are:
- Poor communication
- No longer attracted to one another
One of the key areas that causes major challenges both in a marriage and, perhaps more importantly, in the event of a divorce, is finances. Hence, this article is designed to help offer advice on overcoming two of these obstacles: healthy communication and coming to some agreements on finances. My goal is to help strengthen marriages, but this advice will also come in handy in the unfortunate event of a divorce.
The advent of the prenuptial agreement was a profoundly positive development to address difficult situations in the context of divorce. Bringing up the idea of a prenup to your soon-to-be spouse is often the nastiest subject to introduce into wedding planning discussions. After all, you’re in love. That’s why you’re getting married. Why would you want to talk about the potential of your divorce when you’re not even married yet? These discussions are often handled poorly and met with a response along the lines of, “What you are trying to keep from me?” They can lead to an attitude of distrust that becomes difficult to ever fully overcome.
Contrary to what one may think based on the normal reactions to the subject, the idea behind prenups is positive and based on the simple principle that Agreements Preclude Disagreements. Trust is built on the foundation of healthy, effective, open and forthright communication. It’s difficult to build trust in an area that is actively avoided and never discussed. So, that’s why you need to talk about it. To reap the many positive benefits of discussing your finances before marriage, both ask and answer with your fiancé the following questions:
- How will we define equality in our marriage?
- What does it mean in our marriage if you earn more money than me?
- What if you decide to become a stay-at-home Mom/Dad? What does that do to our finances and our individual financial security?
- What if you want to start your own business and use our money to do it?
- How will we define what we are going to share with regard to money? Is it going to be my money and your money? Is it going to be our money? Or will it be a combination of the two? Should I know what you do with your money and vice versa? How will we handle these accounts in the event of a divorce?
- How will we handle assets that we acquire jointly, such as homes, or the stuff we fill our home with? In the event of a divorce, how should we handle the stuff, when both of us want it?
- How do we establish the value of non-monetary contributions to our marriage?
- How do we address any nest eggs we have built up prior to marriage?
- Should we do anything to protect any gifts or inheritances we each might receive from our own parents or grandparents? Should we share those equally?
- How do we address any debt that either of us brings into the marriage?
- What if your parents own a business? How do we give appropriate consideration to ensuring the protection of any family business interests?
- What agreements should we come to regarding all of the above to avoid any difficult disputes in the event of a death or a divorce?
The reason you need to discuss these issues now, while you are happy in love and planning your wedding, is because you don’t have to. When you’re being forced to answer these questions, it’s because you are going through a divorce – no one is in a good mood, everyone is in fight mode, everyone is hurt, it’s laborious, emotionally draining, and the only people who win in those situations are the attorneys.
Again, agreements preclude disagreements. So, while it is awkward to discuss your potential divorce during the midst of your wedding plans, know that you are doing the right thing by practicing healthy and effective communication around a difficult set of questions, some of which you have no idea how to answer. Premarital agreements promote healthy and open communication and avoid disputes that are at best uncomfortable down the road. A little awkwardness now to prevent significant emotional anguish later is well worth the discussion.
And, may you live happily ever after!
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