Royal wedding fever is making us feel all gushy and googly-eyed at any mention of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, as we get ever closer to the day tie they the knot. (Lifetime, you're no help here!) But one story getting play across the tabloids this week made some marriage experts, at least, take their heads out of the clouds for a minute. Word is Harry refuses the idea of a prenup, just like Princes Charles and William before him.
“Isn't that sweet?” you might say. "Prince Harry and Meghan Markle don't even want to imagine the possibility of breaking up!" Err, maybe. There is no denying the body language and interviews that shows just how hard they've fallen for each other. There is also the fact that the Brits, even those oft-scandalized royals, don't have a big tradition of around making prenuptial contracts. But if you're contemplating your own marriage, you might not want to follow their example. As romantic as we want to be while planning a wedding, marriage is a much more complicated legal contract that requires some serious worst-case-scenario contemplation.
"Both of them are being blinded by love — and that's not a criticism, I just wince a little bit," marriage therapist Susan Pease Gadoua, coauthor of The New I Do, tells Refinery29 via phone. "Of course, everybody hopes it works out, but we've just seen too many cases where it doesn't, and then women are really sorry."
Although prenups are growing in popularity, they are about more than protecting the assets each individual earned before they came together as one, Gadoua says. The contract can help you discuss — as a couple — children, career goals, and other aspects of what you want your future to hold together. This might not be pleasant exactly, especially when it comes to discussing something like a social media clause that would prevent you from trashing each other online or to your friends.
“It helps couples identify the areas where they are never going to compromise,” attorney Ann-Margaret Carrozza told ABC News, explaining the social media prenups she draws up for clients. “You want to establish boundaries, what will be off-limits, what will be private ... what are the acceptable areas of your private lives that you want to post online.”
All of this is the opposite of romance, which is kind of Gadoua’s point.
"The problem is, even if you did a prenup from this starry-eyed, romantic place, you're not being realistic about the fact that life throws these things at you that you have no way of anticipating," she says. "Of course you're marrying because you love each other, but love is a really fragile emotion. Building a marriage, which is a very heavy institution, on a very fragile foundation, is always tricky. Love just doesn't carry you through some really difficult situations, including divorce."
While right now Meghan Markle is in the midst of the very rare and exciting process of becoming royalty, she's also about to do something many women before her have done. It looks like she will give up her acting career (she sees it as "starting a new chapter") to marry into the royal family. Though she will have plenty of duties to perform, if this marriage ends in divorce, would she be able to pick up where she left off as an actress?
Hollywood, we all know, is unforgiving to women who take a break and (how dare they) get older away from the cameras. Other careers aren't much better. If you leave jobs in technology, law, media, or just about any business that counts on being innovative to have children or follow a spouse to another country or town, coming back is a challenge and might involve a significant loss of income and status.
"Lots of women I work with have given up their careers [and then get divorced]," Gadoua says. "One was a newscaster, and she couldn't go back to being in front of the camera because she had been away for so long."
A prenup can offer both spouses a safety net to adjust to a new life after divorce.
The specter of divorce always hangs there and deciding on a contract like this might be a good way to align your expectations. As an engaged couple discuss the potential distribution of their wealth, it's probably going to bring up a lot of issues they haven't discussed in the heady first flush of love. It might even make them fight, just a little.
"I don't think anybody should get married without having at least one big fight, so that you know how to handle that conflict," Gadoua says. "If all they're talking about is feelings, then they're still in the romantic realm. They're not thinking about the practical aspect of being with someone for the rest of your life. There's so much more to what a marriage is."
For anyone reading who is already married and never took this step, it's not too late. Lawyers and therapists like Gadoua often suggest something called a "postnup." It's also possible to revise the contract as the marriage goes on and situations evolve. Love changes, and some married couples these days decide to do things like open up to extramarital sexual relationships or to live in separate homes without getting divorced. Come to think of it, those arrangements sound both modern and a lot like some other royal marriages of ages past.