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Articles from March 2010

March 8, 2010

Better Protection than a Prenup

USA Today's Personal Finance section has an article today about the importance of prenups. Reporter Laura Petrecca cites Suze Orman, Elizabeth Gilbert, and matrimonial lawyers in support of the notion that prenuptial agreements protect a person entering a marriage from financial harm.

I can definitely see some instances where a prenuptial agreement makes sense, especially to protect children or other dependents who are not related to the new spouse. A prenup can also protect control of a business a spouse won't be contributing to, especially one closely tied to a person's reputation.

However, all prenups are predicated on a risk of a marital breakup. Most people with assets to protect very likely have a much smaller risk of divorce than the 40-50% across-the-board divorce rate so often cited. And this risk can be reduced even more.

For a lot less money than that prenup lawyer will demand, anyone can significantly reduce the probability of ever needing that agreement. Marriage education is available at every stage of a marriage -- from dating (How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk) through the engagement (PREP) and the wedding (The First Dance).

If problems arise after marriage, this blog has plenty of answers. There is also marriage education for those hit by infidelity (the Beyond Affairs Network), those whose spouse wants out (Divorce Busting®), and those whose marriage has become violent or threatening (Love without Hurt).

Marriages can be fortified before they reach the problem stage. There is marriage education for those who have forgotten to make time to date (10 Great Dates) and those in Empty Nests (Second Half). And there is the annual Smart Marriages Conference, where you can experience these programs and many, many more.

Most of these programs cost a good deal less than an hour of a lawyer's time. Participating sends a much more positive message of commitment than a request for a prenup (which, in itself, can reduce your risk of divorce). And it protects a lot more than assets, as preventing a divorce may also protect health, mental health, job performance, and the children's sense of security.

So here's my challenge to matrimonial lawyers: don't just protect your client after the divorce; protect him or her from divorce. Make a coupon for a local marriage education program part of your prenup package. And suggest the couple include include marriage education every 5 or 10 years right in their agreement.

March 2, 2010

What Else Seinfeld's The Marriage Ref Gets Wrong

Tom Papa, "The Marriage Ref" on Jerry Seinfeld's show by this name, is definitely no marriage educator. He's a comedian, and a lot funnier than I will ever be. So he's going to make jokes about marriage issues. And I am going to ask, "How could these people enjoy being married a bit more?"

Earlier, I talked about the folks on the teaser episode who argued over a stripper pole. Today, let's consider the other couple. She hated his dog, who predated her in his life. He had the dog stuffed after it died and wanted to put it right in the middle of their home. She was creeped out.

She won the prize for meanest blow of the night, saying the day the dog died was the happiest day of her life. He adored the dog, but it had destroyed eight sofas and even peed on their guests.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say the day he showed her the stuffed dog at the taxidermist's studio wasn't the first time they disagreed about this dog. What if he heard (or saw in her face) her pleasure in his beloved pet's death?

He probably felt the sting of her dismissal of his pain, her failure to appreciate what he had lost. What if he had, right then, tried the Assume Love technique? What if he had made a genuine effort to imagine what might drive a good woman who loved him to take pleasure in what caused him so much pain?

This is the right time to use the technique, when you're in pain or angry over something your spouse does or fails to do. The goal is stop your pain or anger from narrowing your thinking so you recall what else you already know that would help you understand the situation more clearly.

I don't know these people or live inside their heads. This is why only he could do this. But I expect he would realize pretty quickly that a loving person doesn't mock a loved one's tragedy just for sport. Her lack of compassion had to come from some deep wound of her own. He might then have remembered he loved the dog before he loved her and he defended the dog even when she expressed outrage over the furniture and the guest-spraying.

Now, maybe she no longer loves her. Maybe she has no morals or manners. But if you assume she's a woman of character who loves him, the most likely explanation for her behavior is jealousy, the fear that she did not matter to him as much as the dog did.

He might have thought her silly to feel such jealousy, but if he assumed love when she failed him in his moment of grief, he could have seen the jealousy. And then, if he really wanted to keep his stuffed dog, he might have recognized the best way to do so would be to first make it very clear she has no reason to be jealous.

This means making a bigger fuss over her than the dog. It means involving her in the decision about the role the dog plays in their home. It means not blindsiding her with his choice to stuff the dog. It means acknowledging her importance to him, so she can feel free to support him in his grief without feeling like she's being asked to keep his mistress's funeral urn in her home.

He probably could have kept his stuffed dog where he could see the dog daily, and gotten her empathy for his loss. Instead, he got an unresolved disagreement that drives a wedge between them.

She could have assumed love, too, whenever she was angry at the dog while it was alive or when she was angry at him for stuffing it. She could have stopped her jealousy on her own long ago and felt a lot better. I chose him for today's episode because, in addition to wanting to feel great about his marriage, he also wanted her approval for his dog memorial plan.

I don't imagine it would make great TV, but I think stopping the pain and anger and disagreements in a marriage is a lot more worthwhile than letting people know whether they are right or wrong when they disagree with their mates.

What's your take on this?

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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