A prenup is all about trust and sharing


Dear Duana,

I make a reasonably good salary and have been a good saver, and I’ve thought long and hard about whether I would want a prenuptial agreement if I met a woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, who didn’t have much in the way of financial resources. What I decided is that if I wasn’t going to throw all of myself into a marriage, then I shouldn’t be getting married. I have become very comfortable with the decision not to ask for a prenup to protect my assets “in case.” I want to be all in.

Well, wouldn’t you know, I recently met and am falling hard for a woman who is many times “richer” than I am. Actually, her wealth is not a source of joy for me, as I’ve been working through my feelings of what it would mean to me as a guy to bring home less bacon than my love interest, and what it would mean to me as a guy that I can’t personally support the kind of lifestyle she now lives (i.e., I doubt I could contribute even 50% to her level of living).

Because this relationship is new, we haven’t discussed money in any detail. However, since I tend to think through all scenarios, I’ve been wondering what I would/should do if we grew together to the point that we wanted to get married, and then she handed a prenup to me to sign. I think that if I signed it, I would always resent that she didn’t trust me. So, I think I might express the idea that I came to terms with myself, that if she didn’t trust me enough to be all in, then we shouldn’t be getting married.

I’m sure there are all kinds of evolutionary instincts behind my musings and concerns. I wonder what this looks like to you. Thank you so much.



Dear Colton,

You’re in a tough spot and yes, it’s likely that much of that is to do with evolutionary psychology.  As you probably noted from other LoveScience articles, women have spent all of human history, and presumably human prehistory as well, preferring mates who can and will provide and protect.

This means that women have literally shaped men’s evolution; by selectively sexing it up with men who could and would offer resources in a marriage, women ensured that men would develop a strong preference to bring home the bacon, and keep it coming.  Experiments confirm it; men who merely *view pix* of young, attractive women express more ambition than men who haven’t just seen such images.  Just as vitally, men have developed self-esteem that revolves around being able to provide.  A man who can’t provide tends to feel bad about himself.

But women really don’t care about that stuff anymore, do they?  Yes.  In fact, the richer a woman is, the *more* she usually expects her partner to provide; the richest women typically want the richest partners of all.  And so it goes.

So it can be a self-esteem-eroding festival when you’re with a woman who has much more in the way of resources than you do, and most men report feeling uncomfortable if a woman they’re with makes more ka-ching than they do.

It reminds me of a letter I got from a woman who was 10 years older than her boyfriend; men value youth and beauty, and she felt that she could not continually meet that preference.  Although her guy told her he loved her and was attracted to her, she could not handle the feeling that he might leave (or merely want to leave) for someone younger or prettier.  Regardless of his behavior, her own mating psychology ate away at her, making her uncomfortable even when things were going well.

Note that I’m saying this is how most people are, most of the time.  There are exceptions; I’ve had many clients I’ve encouraged to become truly exceptional, and some who’ve done it.  For instance, I had a client who overlooked her husband having fewer degrees; he was just as smart, and just as successful, so this didn’t matter for them.  I’ve had other clients who couldn’t budge, including women who insisted on a male mate with more resources even though she had enough to go ‘round.

So one thing you’ll have to sort out is whether you and she can be exceptions.  As you know, I understand evolutionary psychology is running our unconscious show, calling the shots anytime it can.  But that’s a different matter than whether it *should*.  Can you consciously override your own deep-seated, inherited programming? Can she be happy with what you provide?  Can *you*?  Will you feel less-than, threatened, belittled, disempowered?  Will she have too much ability to make choices such as where you vacation?  Will you have too little?  Or will you be able to buck the psychology we all cart around like so much baggage, and be happy anyway?

Nobody can answer that but you.

Back to your prenup question.  This is a very complex issue and I don’t have enough information to fully address it.  For instance, does she have children?  Do you?  If so, do you need separate plans for inheritances for your respective kids?  What does she think of prenups?  What does the law where you live say about prenups?  In some locations, you may find that you and she both feel like the law provides coverage enough; don’t take my word for it, since I’m not an attorney; if and when the time comes, look into the matter with a lawyer.  But in some places, whatever is owned prior to marriage remains separate as long as you don’t intermingle it, and if there is a divorce, what gets divvied up is the profits made since the marriage.  In those cases, even without a prenup, it’s your shared life that gets shared, not the life you each knew before.

But even that answer does not get at the heart of your question.  You want to be fully invested in a marriage—no holding back.  Now that you’re unexpectedly involved with someone who has something to lose, you’re worried she might be inclined to withhold.  And going in prepared for the worst is not what you’re after; you want to enter marriage prepared for, and committed to, the best.

I hear you.  I agree.  In fact, pre-Vic, I broke up with a man who wanted a prenup.  I readily agreed that anything held prior to marriage was fair to hold separately, and the laws in our area already ensured that; but I didn’t think a marriage that encouraged people to withhold from one another even while they were together was a union worth having.  Like you, I thought it smacked of a lack of trust, a readiness for divorce.  It seemed too much like “me” and not enough like “us.”

Science agrees.  In research, we-ness, not me-ness, is absolutely a vital mentality for happy marriage.  And other studies show that a withholding mentality is predictive of divorce, as well as of less happiness even if the marriage lasts.

But many financial planners disagree; they say you should expect the best and prepare for the worst; after all, if your mate is trustworthy, you’ll never need that prenup anyway—right?

At the end of the day, though, what you’re really dealing with is not what I think, and not what the research shows, and not what various financial planners advise, but what you feel.  Your feelings are what they are.  You’re the one who must live with them.

This relationship is relatively new; it may or may not be telling that you’re already having so much angst about her resources in proportion to yours.  Maybe the biggest issue isn’t the possibility of a prenup.  After all, you’ve got plenty of money to support yourself, regardless of what happens with her.  Maybe the biggest issue is your feeling as a man—your feeling that you are relevant, worthy, powerful in the eyes of the woman you love.  

Ultimately, then, these are questions where I can point you in a few directions.  But only you can find the answer.  How do you feel?

That’s the most important question of all.  And one only you can sort out.  I wish you well as you lean into this relationship and listen to your heart.




Coming in January 2015: new book, Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do

The author wishes to thank “Colton” for his letter, and several scientists for their work relevant to this article:  for much research relevant to human mating psychology;  for research relevant to how a self-protective mentality can erode happiness even in marriages that last; for research germane to me-ness versus we-ness as predictors of marital happiness.

The specific study on men expressing more ambition when they’ve just viewed images of young, attractive women is found here:

Roney, J. R. (2003). Effects of visual exposure to the opposite sex: Cognitive aspects of mate attraction in human males. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 393-404.

Source:Fall wedding in Georgia- Blushing bride wears strapless wedding dress, traditional veil




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