Dear Lori and Jeff,
My boyfriend and I recently got engaged. We never really talked about finance and kept almost everything money-related separate. We share the cost of living even when we eat out. After the engagement, he told me that his parents insisted that I sign a prenuptial agreement as they seem to have a lot of fortune and so did he, unknown to me. He insists that he trusts me enough to marry me without a prenup and that everything his parents do. I’m a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. It’s not that I’m against signing, I’m just not sure what it means and how it will affect our relationship.
Lori and Jeff: There are actually three key themes in your question: how you should feel about getting married, your lack of communication about finances, and the blurred lines between your fiancé and his or her parents.
Lori: Marriages Are Increasingly Used in the US Millennials get married later in life after they have had time to amass some savings. In addition, many have divorced parents and are very conscious of the possibility of their marriage ending. Marriage advocates tend to separate the emotions of marriage from the business aspects of living together. They just see marriages as convenient. And yet I understand how being presented with one can sting. We want to believe that when we get married we will become a team of generosity and equality that will last forever. Marriage can emphasize “mine and yours” over “ours,” and when “yours” is significantly smaller, you may begin to hold grudges. If the marriage is going nowhere, changing your perspective can help. Instead of feeling it against you, remember that this man you love has what is rightfully his own.
Getting married can also be a great opportunity to find out how you deal with money as a couple. Before signing, make sure you have a common vision of finances over the long term. Take the time to sit together and explore:
• What feelings, fears and stories are associated with your handling of money?
• What are your current financial situations (savings, debts, spending patterns, goals)?
• What are your expectations of how each of you will contribute? What happens if a partner loses their job or falls ill? What if you decide to have children? Will either of you stay at home for a while and if so, how will this contribution be recognized financially?
• If you support your husband in his work, how will this be reflected in the event of a divorce?
• How are decisions about spending and saving made?
• What common goals would you like to plan (home, retirement, children, vacation, car)?
Jeff: One of the most significant dynamics we’ve found in our work with premarital couples is how their parents’ views and perspectives can affect the relationship. This is particularly clear when it comes to finance. Parents often throw in their opinions (both openly and passively-aggressive) and want what is best for their children. But when these preferences create conflict in the relationship, it is time to set stronger, healthier boundaries. The challenge is that it can feel like we are choosing between our parents and our partners, and our loyalty is often absolutely required. Your fiancé may feel trapped in this type of scenario of trying to please you, but also feeling pressure from his parents to grant her wishes.
With his situation in mind, there are some difficult questions you need to ask about your perception of his request. Do you feel like the two of you are on the same team, or does it feel like he’s on his parents’ side on issues related to money and financial planning? Do you feel like a priority and believe that he would be ready to challenge his parents to stand up for you and the relationship?
Jeff and Lori: Money is one of the top relationship killers and tends to get more deadly in silence. Now is the time to start thinking about what is getting in the way of talking about money and what each of you must do to have transparent conversations about how to proceed.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at the Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query can be selected for a future column.