It’s Spring, and the Prenups Are Blooming

{3:15 minutes to read} Because people tend to get married in summer, late winter and early spring are always prenup seasons.

There are 2 aspects to every prenuptial agreement: the legal aspect of what goes into the agreement, and the emotional aspect.

A prenup is a challenging thing to negotiate. Everyone knows this to be true. If you are thinking about getting married and considering a prenup, it’s helpful to think about why it can be so hard.

I think it might be, at least in part, because our brains work with two systems—one is fast and hot, the other is slow and cool. Hot cognitions involve emotional decision-making whereas cold cognitions are based more on rational thought. Clearly, decisions about whom to marry are heavily influenced by our emotions. As the relationship develops and marriage is contemplated, we tend to be

  • Excited;
  • Passionate;
  • Thinking about this fantastic life together going forward;
  • Imagining what the wedding will be like;
  • Having great sex, and it’s all fabulous.

Introducing the possibility and even the probability of future problems is unwelcome at best. “Let’s sit down and think about what happens if something goes wrong,” or “let’s consider what happens when one of us dies.” Understandably, people on the verge of marriage rarely want to think about that, and when it comes up, they just want to get it over with. Drawing up a prenup is potentially disruptive and destructive process for the relationship when it is months-long, heavily layered, challenging, and upsetting. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. If the couple can give the process enough time and preparation, they can use the discussion not only to think through some important decisions about their partnership but also work out and discover what their conflict resolution style is going to be and how it might evolve, potentially in a very positive way. 

I often ask my divorcing clients: “When you were working successfully as a couple, how did you respond to conflict?” 

9 out of 10 say either they didn’t have conflict, or they didn’t resolve it. They just ignored it, swept it under the rug and went on with life, often building resentments along the way. 

Failing or refusing to figure out how to resolve conflict in a way that is mutually respectful is a real problem in a relationship. The process of negotiating a prenup can reveal that there isn’t a productive process in place to resolve the conflict. With patience and good professional help, a successful conflict resolution style can be developed. 

I don’t, however, believe that the best way to develop a prenuptial agreement is for each person to hire a lawyer and draw up draft documents to pass back and forth between lawyers. That usually leads to hurt feelings and potentially damaged relationships—one of the reasons why many lawyers don’t “believe” in prenups. Lawyers do not recognize the emotional piece, and they are not mental health professionals.

Much better to work with the help of a mediator or collaborative attorneys to focus on what’s important to both people and move forward in the context of those reference points.

Do you and your future spouse need help developing a conflict resolution style?

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