It’s wedding season and with it come a slew of decisions that engaged couples have to make before their wedding day. According to The Knot’s 2022 Real Wedding Study, 28% of weddings take place in the summer months while 43% took place between September and November. As a couples and sex therapist and the Director of a group practice specializing in couples counseling, the months leading up to the summer and fall draw a large number of couples seeking premarital counseling. Whether they identify as straight, queer or on any other identity on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, folx who are planning weddings seek couples therapy to clarify many issues, including their finances and whether to create a prenuptial agreement. As unromantic as financial conversations and prenups may sound compared to tear-jerking vows and lavish cakes, the benefits these tough discussions have to a relationship’s foundation can be akin to building a solid scaffolding when building a new home.
The Avoidance of Financial Discussions Before a Wedding is Common
Engaged partners may be aware that 50% of marriages in America end in divorce, however they might not know that financial issues have been linked as a main reason for 37% of these divorces according to Forbes. Premarital counseling is a wonderful way to help partners have challenging conversations about their intimacy but also about how they expect to approach finances while married and in case of a divorce, how to divide up assets afterwards through the creation of a prenuptial agreement. As exciting and stressful as weddings are to plan, it is critical for partners to also consider their marriage as a legal partnership, and that like any business decision, worthy of the detailed financial planning a prenup conversation provides. This is true whether or not the couple decide they create a prenup.
Who Creates Prenups?
Prenups, or prenuptial agreements, are written contracts created by partners before they are married. Contrary to popular belief, it is not only the wealthy who draw up prenups. According to a recent Harris Poll, 15% of Americans reported they signed a prenup. Increasingly, couples with more modest means are turning to prenups to discuss how their assets would be divided in case their marriage isn’t sustainable. While it may be challenging to partners in the throes of love, lust and pre-wedding excitement to address what seems like a depressing thought that their marriage might end up in divorce, as a counselor I find it useful to facilitate discussions around what money means for each partner and how their career goals, spending and saving habits are cornerstones to the way they’re approaching the commitment of marriage. For many partners, even those that are cohabitating, these deeper conversations frequently are avoided but can become silent fodders of resentment especially if partners have grown up in starkly different economic and cultural family backgrounds.
Downsides to Bringing Up the Possibility of a Prenup
What can commonly occur is that when one partner introduces the idea that they should create a prenup, that initiation is perceived by the other partner as what attorney Heather Mahar termed a “negative signaling” that the initiator somehow has less trust in their partner, is less committed to the marriage, is expressing a level of power or selfishness or has been pressured by others in their family to create a prenup. When the 2nd partner becomes emotionally triggered and arguments ensue by the prenup conversation, the couple might seek counseling as the conflict raises the emotional stakes in the relationship and if the fights escalate, it can cause one partner or both partners to call off the wedding. For example, a partner who comes from a financially resourced family who doesn’t have student loans because their family paid for college, has saved a lot while working for several years in a lucrative career will have a different outlook on saving than a partner who is the first of their family to graduate college, may have had to work while putting themselves through college, has tens of thousands of dollars in loans, and while working long hours, may earn just enough to cover their monthly nut and the minimum monthly amount of their school loan. Premarital counseling around how they might approach a prenup will address the meanings they each associate with their privilege, their parents’ financial habits and decisions, their sense of entitlement, as well as possible intersectional microaggressions that come up in arguments which come from lack of education and understanding.
Increasingly, the needs individuals expect of their marriages and spouses to serve have become more complex, more abstract, and more focused on self-actualization than in previous marital eras, according to an article written by then law student Rachel Collier in the Houston Law Review in 2019. And as the nature of marriage in the United States has undergone fundamental changes in the last century, so, too, have metrics for determining happiness. After all, the future has a foothold in the now, and a couples’ commitment to a relationship is today deemed only partially based on their current satisfaction with that relationship.
Can One Predict a Couples’ Future Happiness?
A study by Baker et al demonstrates that current satisfaction is not the key predictor of commitment many assume it to be. Instead, the level of commitment between a couple is determined more strongly by perceived levels of future satisfaction. “Future satisfaction” does not just refer to a carnal metric of pleasure, but includes financial stability and emotional stability as well, both of which can be accounted for with realistic discussions and collaborative decisions. So, this research suggests that if you think you and your partner could have a good future, that strongly predicts what your mentality will be throughout the relationship. Thus having these challenging talks early on around how to align on sharing expenses, how to come to compromises now on goals around buying or renting a home, how each partner hopes to financially and emotionally support children (if kids are in their future plans) and how these resources would be divided to sustain these goals are all part of financial premarital counseling. It also may help in deciding whether or not a couple even wants to draw up a prenup.
What Values and Goals do You Create When You Get Married?
The utility in initiating and pursuing a discussion around a prenup is not solely to shield one party’s property or as a weapon wielded only in the face of divorce as many people initially assume. These unique agreements can, and ought to be, collaborative efforts designed to state the couple’s mission statement for their union. Thus when planning a wedding, don’t get solely caught up in the small decisions of what color the tablecloths should be and ignore your goals towards what your marriage will need as far as achieving both your economic and financial goals. Because marriage is an evolving practice based on shared values, commitment and emotional and economic goals for the future. Prenups are an option in providing the path for achieving this shared future while acknowledging what will occur if the marriage dissolves. By opening up communication before the wedding on the topic of money which most couples find difficult to discuss, the prenup process can at times provide a road map to a more satisfying financial future and celebratory wedding nuptials.