Don’t Sign That Contract, Marriage is All about Love

Emily Yoffe, Slate’s bad relationships columnist, advises a reader not to sign a postnup. The questioner’s husband had seen to many of their neighbors getting screwed in divorce court, and did not want to live out his marriage being exposed to that threat. He asked his wife to sign a postnup giving her only 20% of the joint property, reflecting her expected contribution, instead of the 50% she was legally entitled to. He also wanted to keep the house in case of divorce, since he had fully bought it on his own before they married. He threatened to cut his risks and divorce her if she would not agree to sign it.

Yoffe explains to her that she should not sign it, since it promises her less than she is legally entitled to, and people should not consider the risks of marriage:

…your husband’s demands are ludicrous, especially given the fact that if you refuse the postnuptial and your husband becomes your ex, you will get a much larger chunk of his assets.

I hope your husband can wake up and stop treating his wife and child as depreciating assets he wants to get off the books. Maybe with help, he will realize that the damage he is about to do to the two people he should love most in the world is going to be incalculable.

So on the one hand her husband is wrong for paying attention to the risks involved in the relationship, and on the other hand, she should never give up anything of her promised cash and prizes in case of divorce. That would make marriage not profitable enough for her.

A realistic response would recognize that her husband should not have to expose himself to undue risk in exchange for investing in their relationship, and that given the unfairness of the legally mandated 50% split, and assuming she is committed to the marriage, there is no good reason not sign. Her refusal to sign actually confirms her husbands fear of exposing himself to the risk of being married to her, since she refuses to limit her options to divorce later. Yoffe says that this is a psychological problem, and probably her husband is already getting involved with someone else (it seems to be her habit to invent bad behavior to explain away men’s rational behavior). She oddly rejects his expressed rational explanation – the way he saw his friends getting screwed in court – and invents a silly explanation why he might otherwise want this marriage contract. More sane advice would encourage the woman to sign, as a way to ensure her husband that he can trust here. A reasonable response to the question would be along these lines:

Your husband is simply responding rationally to modern divorce law. You would not want to put yourself in a situation where you risk to much in case of divorce, so why do you expect your husband to take that risk? You should also need to realize that when your husband sees what his friends wives are doing to them, he asks himself how he can trust you. Signing the contract is the best way you can reassure your husband that he can trust you. If you do not sign, and especially if you do not sign for financial considerations, you are only signalling to your husband that you are a high-risk investment for him. Even though he loves you and has a child with you, it would be irrational to expect him to continue investing in you, when you cannot give him this basic reassurance, and instead you tell him that you need to keep open you option to profitably divorce him. Marriage is not about how much you take when you divorce, its about giving everything for the two people you should love most in the world. Let them know they can trust you, otherwise the damage you do to them, and to yourself, will be incalculable.

(Of course from a purely pragmatic standpoint Emily Yoffe’s advice is also wrong. Leaving all romantic consideration aside, she is probably better off going for 100% of assets during marriage+20% on divorce, rather than 50% of holding now., when they are relatively young and do not have significant assets. She will go for the 50% anyway, rather than risk getting only 20% in the future. This is all about the principle, not gross financial considerations.)

I hope this woman has many, many years as a single mother to consider the implications of her principled stand against acknowledging the financial risks and considerations of marriage. After all, marriage is only about the people you love.

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Help! My Husband Fixed What I Complained About

Slate’s Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. dear Prudence, regularly dispenses bad relationship advice. Recently she had a question from a woman who didn’t know what to do after catching her husband reading her online rants about him.
(Bold added.)

Lately my husband has also been really good at changing some of the behaviors that have always driven me up the wall, and now I know why. While using his laptop, I happened to notice him logged in as one of the members of my group! He created a fake persona and has seen every gripe I ever typed about him! I haven’t confronted him on this, and to be honest it has been a convenient way to indirectly communicate my frustrations to him. So should I tell him I know who he is, quit the group, or just let this be?

Now, he had not challenged her for ranting about him, and he wasn’t trying to use her rants against her in divorce proceedings. He was just trying to fix the things she had been complaining about, and she had even noticed the positive changes. But now she discovered he was a member of this group where she ranted, and now she really didn’t know what to do. So far, at least, she has not even confronted him for listening to her.

It is really unclear what her problem was. From the tone of the letter it sounds like she somehow felt cheated, as if she caught him looking for other women online, or snooping on her emails. I guess she felt like her public online forum was a place to vent privately, and felt betrayed that her husband was invading her private space. More likely, she just wanted to complain, and

Many of the commenters pointed out that this woman is married to a saint. Instead of taking umbrage at her online ranting about him, he quietly goes about fixing what she was complaining about. Emily Yoffe has hard time seeing the positive:

I’d find your version more believable if it turned out your husband was remaking himself to please you in order to divert you from exploring the fact that most of his time online is spent looking for kinky sex partners. It’s also possible that you haven’t paid enough attention to the male poster on this site who complains that his hypercontrolling witch of a wife doesn’t even appreciate when he makes the changes she wants.

So she invents some bad behavior as an excuse to ignore his good behavior.

She then suggests that this women lets her forum friends know that her husband has undergone a remarkable transformation, and then she should move to face-to-face communication with her husband. She has found a way to successfully communicate with her husband, so she gets advice to blow that up and have “real” communication instead. I have often thought the meme of “its all about communication” was somehow an escape from real responsibility. This advice takes it to a new level, suggesting face-to-face communication as a way to solve the problem that they have managed to successfully communicate.

Both the woman’s question and the answer she received seem to see ranting and complaining as relationships basics. This woman seems to have never wanted her husband to change. She just wanted to complain about him publicly, Emily Yoffe is surprisingly attuned to the problem, and advises her on how to re-assert her right to complain and reintroduce conflict to her marriage. It would have been a lot nicer to see a response reminding her that her problems with her husband should never be the focus of her relationship or regular material for discussion. At this point she does not need to move to face-to-face communications. She needs to realize that she has worked out some major problems and now it is time for her to contribute positively to the relationship.