Recently, we’ve been reflecting on prenuptial agreements and we think there’s some merit to them. Gasp! Surely, they can’t be serious you think. Can they really be suggesting something that so conspicuously undermines the sacred meaning of Catholic marriage?
Actually we are, but not the stereotypical kind of prenuptial agreement between a wealthy aging male and his third or fourth young bride which aims to minimise financial loss when the expected divorce arrives. We’re talking about the kind of prenuptial agreement that is really more of a marital fitness and recovery plan; the kind of prenup that is designed to protect the marriage and ensure its longevity rather than plan for its destruction.
And it’s actually not that original. For over a decade, the states of Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana in USA have been offering couples the choice between a regular marriage and a ‘covenant’ one. Covenant marriage is legally distinct from the regular kind of state marriage, in which the couple agree to obtain pre-marital education and accept more limited grounds should they ever seek divorce. Generally, covenant marriage statutes prohibit no-fault divorce (which in practice usually means unilateral divorce) and encourage a struggling couple to slow the process of divorce down, allowing them to more thoughtfully seek assistance in repairing the relationship.
While a regular prenup plans for a divorce, a covenant marriage is prenuptial plan to avoid divorce.
There’s some wisdom in this approach, even if we don’t use the words ‘covenant marriage’. A couple who makes a prenuptial ‘Marital Fitness Plan’ (as we recommend in the SmartLoving Engaged course) is planning for the success of the marriage rather than its failure. They’re also more likely to succeed because they are taking an intentional mindset to their relationship, a mindset that doesn’t just assume that a successful marriage happens by accident or luck.
When a couple promises on their wedding day to love “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” it’s really only theoretical for most of them because they’ve only really known the ‘for better’ times. It’s impossible to grasp the reality of what those ‘for worse’ times might be like. In fact, most couples don’t really believe that they will happen to them.
A prenuptial Marital Fitness Plan is a practical way for couples to plan for the inevitable ‘for worse’ times in their future. It facilitates an important discussion about their promise to weather the storms of life together and helps them articulate how they will support each other. It motivates them to avoid complacency and to instead be proactive in seeking to learn better ways of doing things as a couple. And when things get really curly, like a good boy scout, this couple will ‘be prepared’ with people and resources they can call on to help them recover from a hurting situation.
Too many marriages come unstuck simply because the couple lived on the assumption that the relationship would spontaneously sustain itself. A Marital Fitness Plan made before or after the nuptials is one practical way that couples can plan for success.