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A different kind of pre-nuptial agreement

A different kind of pre-nuptial agreementThe early stage of a marriage can be fraught with difficulties. Perhaps, David Gaffney suggests, a pre-nuptial agreement to keep commitments under review and to be open to counselling might help.


The term “pre-nuptial agreement” is heard more often, as couples today – particularly celebrities – break up with bitterness, and with recourse to lawyers. Then we hear warnings that all the terms of any marital arrangement should have been copper-fastened at the beginning.

But the idea of “pre-nuptial agreement” should not inevitably conjure up formal ‘heads of agreement’ and sealed contract-documents. For, already in the normal course, the ‘communication’ module at a pre-marriage programme aims to elicit discussion within the couple – and agreement – about practical issues such as: whose income will pay for which regular expense? (etc., etc.). So I’ve often begun to wonder if such informal contract-planks of a future share-out of responsibilities couldn’t become the subject of periodic review over the first few years of a marriage – review even by some third party: such as a counsellor from the pre-marriage course.

After all, people are now turning to a ‘life coach’ at a critical juncture in careers, facing retirement, etc. Surely the beginning of a marriage could also benefit from this kind of outside perspective? And how better to supply such perspective than by ongoing reference to the course plotted and the issues agreed by the couple at the outset?

I wrote already about the emotional turn-around that happens when each partner stops thinking about what she or he can get out of the relationship, and starts thinking about what he or she can put into it. And I believe that in a relationship most couples are aware (however unconsciously) that they must just “stick with it” until such a maturing turn-around happens. Many will rely on a sense of being held firmly together by some containment-frame, until the new maturity kicks in. “Commitment” (understood in different ways) is the term most often used to cover this willingness to “fly blind” for a period; to “give the relationship a chance”; to submerge inessential differences so that, out of the two personalities, there will be born a relationship with a life of its own.

Interesting in this regard are two discoveries about the first five years of a relationship. Discovery No.1 is that most break-ups occur during this time. Discovery No.2 is the number of couples making an admission like the following: “During the difficulties of those years, we would have broken up if we had not felt a sense of commitment obliging us to keep struggling. But we did manage to struggle through. And now we’re so glad. To have broken up would have been a tragedy”.

Once again, behind this sentiment is the idea of a sort of holding-framework or containment-mould into which the different elements could be poured, until the relationship settled and “set”. And don’t we find, right here, the perfect insertion point for the informal pre-nuptial agreement (and periodic review)? This would be just the process to supply a framework holding the couple together long enough to give their love a breathing space – the breathing space needed for the relationship to reach full growth.