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Mindy Utay Headshot

Saying 'I Do' to a Prenup

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Let's free associate to the following ideas:

Courtship:
Dating, romance, sex, fun, love, companionship, excitement, bliss, movies, strolling, sunsets, kisses, tenderness, laughing, presents, snuggling, happiness, well-being.

Contract law:
Excuse me?

It's jarring to put concepts of romance and legal contracts side by side. And most people bridle at doing so. Marriage is itself a contract -- and most people respond to that reality by throwing a lot of rice and rose petals at it.

Welcome to the world of prenuptial agreements. Here engaged people, at a pinnacle of hopefulness and happiness, face down lawyers and financial negotiations. It's the romantic equivalent of a very cold shower.

Even broaching the idea of a prenup activates the hot-button issues of a relationship: Who do you love more, me or your kids? Is that all I am to you -- a dollar figure? If you love me for myself, why are you so interested in my money?

Writing a prenup is becoming much more common these days of later marriages and high divorce rates. And it brings lots of anxiety with it. But it is also a clarifying moment. Although clarity can be a killjoy to romantic fantasies, it strengthens marriages.

In my experience as a therapist, creating a prenup raises volatile issues. But after the smoke clears, a prenup can actually bring stability and clarity to a marriage in the long term, precisely because it does expose the core issues of a relationship.

The process of creating a legal prenup, if done with sensitivity and compassion, can lay the groundwork for honest communication about money -- one of the top marriage wreckers.

In relationships, money isn't about dollars and cents. Viewed psychoanalytically, is about power, love, self-worth, security, abandonment, envy -- you name it. Money is energy -- it's a life force.

This is exactly why it's important to discuss money before walking down the aisle, to ensure that it doesn't throw a relationship off kilter.

Especially when one partner brings considerable assets to a marriage -- and monetary disequilibrium is a fact of life -- prenuptial agreements are sometimes important in laying a fair and compassionate groundwork for a successful marriage. It is also important when children from a past marriage are part of the picture.

In talking about money openly, a funny thing happens. The topic looses its bite and intensity. And communication about a core issue builds trust... provided that both parties really are marrying for love and both commit to honesty and full disclosure.

Prenups can be a daunting process of mutual and self discovery. In the long-run, though, it's better to move into a house with clean closets than one with layers of clutter, mess and chaos behind each closed door.