Ask Colin: Prenups

Hi Colin,

I’m in a relationship where my significant other earns substantially more than I do. He brought up a prenup and how assets would be divided in the case of a divorce.

I’ve reiterated multiple times I’m in this relationship for him and not for any other purpose, and he knows this. I understand the value of having a prenup and I would sign one, but it just kills the romance.

I would appreciate your take on this please.

Kay

Hey Kay-

I would say that, first, there’s no right or wrong way to do a relationship, and a lot of our feelings about romance are tied to someone else’s conception of how such things should look. Thus, it’s probably a good idea to pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and ask yourself why talking about this topic kills the romance for you.

Be honest about the answer: it’s a tricky subject, and money can be deeply intertwined with other considerations and concerns. Tracing those entanglements could help you pinpoint the root of this particular conflict.

It’s also worth asking yourself whether it might be possible to decouple more practical discussions (including money-related ones) from those related to your interpersonal relations. This could help you more clearly see and understand both sides of that coin.

Regarding the prenup, specifically: there’s something to be said for having contracts in place, even when the circumstances are different—when you’re going into business with a friend, for instance.

Such preparations can allow you to avoid muddying your friendship with the business side of things: it’s all right there in ink how things will work, so everyone knows what to expect, no surprises. That knowability can alleviate many potential, difficult to predict conflicts that might otherwise arise.

That said, money-related issues are tough to talk about and a massive source of stress for many people.

Even when everything else is going swimmingly, money-catalyzed discomforts can lob a complexity-grenade into an otherwise calm and wonderful situation.

This is even more likely to be the case when finances, and as a result financial power and potentially financial responsibility, are not perfectly in balance—and they very seldom are.

For what it’s worth, my partner and I have a similar imbalance (she makes quite a lot more than me, having worked her way up through the entertainment industry) and even though we’re pretty good about making sure communication channels are open, it always feels a bit like pulling teeth to have those money discussions.

The reasons for this discomfort vary from culture to culture and person to person, but they primarily tie back to our perception of wealth as a measurement of personal value, of the roles different people are meant to play in couples or families, and social expectations surrounding how overtly or covertly we handle anything money-related.

Knowing this, my partner and I have tried to make sure communication channels remain open and that all topics, including those related to money, are as casually bring-up-able as possible—it’s in our best interest to talk it out and make sure we’re both on the same page.

A conversation about having conversations, then, can also be worthwhile, as it helps you reestablish that you’re on the same team, working together to solve problems before they become real issues. It’s laudable, then, to bring up and address such things before they spiral into something less manageable.

One more point on prenups.

In many cases, working out what would happen if the relationship ended—overall, not just monetarily—makes good sense, so you don’t fixate on that unknown.

“If we break up, we’ll do X, Y, and Z.” Breakup rules of engagement, essentially.

It seems somewhat morbid, I know, but it’s a bit like acknowledging that we’ll die so that we can more fully live; a conversational momento mori for relationships.

Ignoring the reality that your relationship could end or fundamentally change can make it more difficult for you both to fully enjoy what you’ve got.

Just like a contract between friends to protect the friendship if your shared business goes sideways or life insurance to support your partner should something untimely happen to you, having an end-of-relationship discussion and making whatever preparations seem prudent—based on your and your partner’s needs and desires—could help you both get more out of what you’re fortunate to have.





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