People have strong feelings in one direction or the other about cohabitation, marriage and relationship agreements (sometimes referred to as prenuptial agreements). I appreciate both points of view. I hear the contention that it is “preparing for the worst” and “expecting things to fail”. I also respect the other side of statistics and practicalities. When it comes to the financial side what I like best about any pre-partnership commitment is transparency. After decades of working as a financial advisor, I have seen that the biggest issue for most partnerships is a lack of honesty about money. People will discuss their views on parenthood, geographical preferences and sex needs until they are blue in the face while daintily skipping over their financial beliefs, behaviours and expectations. I cannot tell you the times I have heard someone tell me they would wait until after they were married to reveal their debt situation. Or their compulsive spending patterns. Or that they have set up a new will leaving everything to their children. They want to avoid these contentious discussions before the wedding. To me, this is the height of disrespect.
We all know discussing money is tough. No matter how comfortable you are with your economic decisions, opening your books to show someone else what you “are worth” brings even the bravest communicator to their knees. But adults entering into such an important legal, financial and spiritual relationship must overcome this reluctance. Recently, my adult daughter was in the process of purchasing a condo with her partner. This signalled a whole new level of partnership. And I was adamant that they develop a shared list of understandings and promises, including what would happen to the condo in the event of a separation. “If you can’t talk about money and your expectations, you are not mature enough to make this commitment”. That may sound harsh. But it is my experience that secrets about money are tied to other relational issues. And they will always come back and do damage. My belief, borne of decades of experience is that open-hearted communication is the foundation of a solid, productive relationship. And these tough discussions about money, though challenging, can lead to greater intimacy and trust.
Healthy relationships require shared understandings. Before my husband and I got married we invested a substantial amount of time in creating a personal, signed agreement that we called our “Sacred Promises”. This answered many of the legal questions my Collaborative lawyer colleagues expound upon. But most importantly it is a collection of our beliefs about what we were committing to with one another. We looked at everything from what really was infidelity to how we would handle a major illness to under what conditions we would break our promises. Given that we had both already been divorced we knew that promises get broken. We could not ignore that reality even with our love for each other. It was an illuminating dialogue, and often very surprising. Now that we have been married for almost five years I can say with certainty that we did not cover all the situations that we faced but we created an infrastructure of communication that has helped us weather the unexpected storms that have arisen.
We cannot predict the future. But we can prepare for it by laying in the groundwork for positive outcomes. Cohabitation, marriage and relationship agreements address the best of all worlds by increasing the probability of success while allowing for changes in plans that do not have to lead to conflict and trauma. And if you can talk about money with candour and trust, you are already on your way to a long and happy relationship.