If you’re newly engaged or have started talking about marriage with your partner, you might be thinking about your prenup. ‘But what if my partner hasn’t thought about this?’ you wonder. Maybe it isn’t exactly that you fear they’ll be opposed to the idea, but you doubt it has even crossed their mind to begin with. If you’re asking yourself how to put a prenup on your partner’s radar, read on.
Put yourself in their shoes
Otherwise known as perspective-taking, imagining how your partner might be feeling can go a long way toward developing empathy and understanding and getting the two of you on the same page. Before you raise the topic of getting a prenup, imagine how your partner might react–especially if there’s any major difference in income, assets, and debts between the two of you. Think about what their financial challenges and concerns might be, and use that to inform how you go about the conversation. Doing so can help you anticipate points of contention and remain sensitive to your partner’s needs. The last thing you want is to cause them to worry unnecessarily about their financial future. Make sure you remind them that you’re on the same team.
Start the conversation early
Writing a prenuptial agreement is a very deliberate process that takes time. You need time to educate yourselves about your options, time to mull over what you’d like to include (both individually and together), time to go through the drafting process, time to finalize the agreement, time to sign, and time to have the final document notarized. Consider also that amid all the craziness of wedding planning, you might not have as much bandwidth to devote to your prenup as you’d like. That would be a real problem because a prenup is one of the most important documents you’ll ever write and sign in your life.
Therefore, it’s important to start discussing the prenup as early as possible. In fact, some couples even begin discussing their prenups prior to getting engaged. If you and your partner have already decided to get married (yes, even if you haven’t gotten engaged yet), it’s not too soon to drop a “so, how do you feel about prenups?” into a conversation about your future. While you don’t need to plan out all the specific clauses that early on, it is a good idea for the two of you to make sure you’re on the same page about getting a prenup in the first place. You should start the actual drafting process at least three to six months before your wedding.
Choose the right moment
Choosing the right time for the conversation is absolutely crucial. This is an important discussion, and therefore you should bring a sense of intentionality to the process of selecting the appropriate moment to open the topic. Don’t bring it up during an argument. Don’t bring it up when you or your partner is distracted or pressed for time. Instead, bring it up at a time when you’re both in a relatively positive state of mind, when there aren’t too many other stressors to attend to, and when you’ll both have some time to sit and talk about it, should you wish to do so. This is another reason why it’s so important to start talking about your prenup before you’re embroiled in the stress of wedding planning.
Read up on prenups together
A lot of people don’t really have a clear image of what exactly a prenup is and what it can do for your marriage. Some people think prenups are merely divorce-planning documents, and others believe they exist for wealthy people to protect themselves from gold-digging spouses. If your partner has never considered the idea of a prenup before, they might not really understand what a prenup is. You probably don’t know all there is to know either–there’s a lot of ground a prenup can cover. Therefore, you might ask your partner, “honey, have you thought about us getting a prenuptial agreement?” and then suggest that you spend some time researching the topic together. Make sure to read up on the specifics of your state. For example, you can read about Massachusetts prenups here and about California prenups here. Go to HelloPrenup and find your state in the dropdown menu at the top right for more information. You might also read about different clauses you have the option of including (or not) in a prenuptial agreement. For a deeper dive, you can read the Ultimate Prenup Guide or listen to the Hello Prenup podcast.
Be honest and transparent
If you’re asking for a prenup, the first question that’s going to enter your partner’s mind is, “why?” They may wonder what your motivation is, what assets you’re hoping to protect, and maybe even whether you’re worried about the marriage not working out. One of the best things about a prenup is that it opens up in-depth communication about a lot of topics you might not otherwise broach in such detail. The process can strengthen your communication as a couple, and the bedrock of good communication is honesty and transparency. And, if you’re totally honest about your reasons for wanting a prenup, you set a precedent, and your partner will feel more comfortable being honest back–even about topics that aren’t always comfortable or easy to talk about. Your honesty and transparency will help to create a sense of safety in the conversation right from the get-go.
Be prepared for some awkwardness
Discussing a prenup is inherently awkward for most couples. It involves talking about how you’re going to manage your money and assets during the marriage, which can be awkward because most couples aren’t going to magically agree on every single point from the get-go. It also involves talking about your contingency plans in case of divorce, which is not the most savory of topics. But you know that? That’s ok. Marriage is not about avoiding uncomfortable conversations; it’s about being able to face them without turning away and navigating them with grace. The prenup discussion is neither the first nor the last uncomfortable conversation you’re going to have with your partner. (Don’t worry–plenty more await you in marriage!) However, the good news is that this conversation can help you to normalize talking about uncomfortable things instead of trying to avoid them for as long as possible.
Don’t demand, converse
Of course, no one goes into the prenup conversation intending to sound demanding–but this is what can happen if you’re not careful and deliberate about how you speak during this high-stakes discussion. For example, instead of saying, “we’re getting a prenup” or jumping assumptively to things like “we need to include [xyz] in our prenup,” try “let’s talk about getting a prenup.” Don’t say, “My parents are making me include a clause protecting my inheritance,” say, “my parents are concerned about making sure their legacy stays in and benefits the family.” In other words, steer clear of the demands and dictatorship. Steer more towards open conversations and democracy.
Listen genuinely, and don’t interrupt
When you’re having an important conversation such as ‘the prenup talk,’ it’s important to let your partner finish speaking and truly consider their words before jumping in. Unfortunately, the high-stakes encounters in which this crucial capacity is most important to exercise are exactly the conversations in which we’re most likely to interrupt and forget to listen.
If you’re having trouble listening and/or frequently feeling the urge to interrupt, it might be time to take a break. Take a 20-30 minute time out from the conversation in order to do a self-soothing activity. Go for a walk, meditate, listen to music, draw, write, or do anything else that calms you down. The one thing NOT to do during this time is thinking about the conversation in a way that escalates and fuels your indignance or frustration. This time is about de-escalating, not internally escalating further, by getting yourself even more riled up.
If you’re able to listen genuinely, you might unearth empathy you didn’t know you had or tolerance for things you might have found intolerable had you listened less openly. Remember, don’t listen in order to react and respond; listen in order to understand.
One major part of listening to understand involves asking questions. We humans often don’t truly understand one another immediately. Don’t be afraid to ask questions–especially if your partner seems unsure when you ask for a prenup. In fact, asking questions is encouraged. Instead of being accusatory about things you don’t understand, be curious. For example, refrain from saying things like “you should be more open-minded” and step into a curious mindset and instead ask something like “what is it that’s making you pause and hesitate?” In this case, you might find that you simply misinterpreted something or were missing some crucial information. Sometimes you might even find that asking questions leads your partner to reconsider something; they’re going to be more receptive to a question than to an accusation. Additionally, asking well-thought-out questions shows that you’re really listening and truly engaging with the content of what your partner is trying to convey, which fosters trust and safety in the conversation.
Pay attention to your nonverbals
A huge part of human communication is nonverbal. Your facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, posture, and body position all play a huge role in what message your partner hears beyond just the words that you speak. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re coming across nonverbally when you ask your partner for a prenup. Take stock of your nonverbals and ask yourself what your partner could interpret from them. Noting your body language may also clue you into aspects of your own internal state that might otherwise fly under your radar. Becoming aware of them enables you to make subtle shifts or respond accordingly (for example, by taking a break or taking a few deep breaths if you notice that you’re tensing up).
A prenup is not solely about protecting your interests and assets; it’s about coming to an agreement that provides a sense of financial safety for both parties. It’s important to open the conversation with this mindset. Therefore, you should approach the prenup discussion as something the two of you need to work through together. Frame the prenup as something you’re interested in considering because you think it might help both of you get needs met and therefore make your relationship even more solid, rather than as something you are foisting upon them and which they are expected to accept. Make sure to see and treat your partner as a teammate rather than an adversary, especially if you encounter conflict. This simple mindset shift can help you tackle differences in opinion together rather than letting them divide you.
Put it all together by practicing in the mirror
If this sounds totally nerdy, that’s because it is. However, practicing important conversations in the mirror first is a great way to ensure that you feel prepared. It can also help you to spot and transcend some of your blind spots. Now that you know about the importance of things like body language, tone of voice, asking questions, framing the discussion as a collaboration rather than a demand, and imagining your partner’s point of view, they can inform the way you practice. For example, when you say something aloud to yourself in the mirror, you might notice that your tone sounds a little strained. You can start over and try a more measured tone. This is something you can’t do so easily when you’re having the conversation for real, which is why it can be helpful to ‘rehearse’ beforehand and gain perspective on how you may be coming across and what can be improved.
The Bottom Line
While some of the tips on this list may seem simple, they’re easier said than done. Make sure you prepare carefully before you broach this important topic, and internalize the tips above so that you can keep them in mind throughout the discussion. If you adhere to these simple but important pieces of advice when you ask your partner for a prenup, there’s a good chance they’ll react favorably, and you’ll start the prenup process out on the right foot.
After you’ve opened the conversation, you and your partner might be interested in taking a look at HelloPrenup together, where you can draft your prenup online from the comfort of your home. Here’s how it works.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]