RALEIGH, N.C. — Marriage is supposed to last forever, which makes the subject of a pre-nuptial agreement unavoidably awkward for couples preparing to head down the aisle. A prenup may not be romantic, but it’s certainly practical. If you’ve been struggling with broaching this subject with your special someone, researchers from North Carolina State University suggest not even mentioning the actual document, use a metaphor instead.
“Many people view prenups as being negative, and argue that they indicate a lack of faith in the marriage from the outset,” says corresponding author Lynsey Romo, an associate professor of communication at NC State, in a university release. “By the same token, we know from other research that open communication about financial issues contributes to successful relationships.”
“And yet there is virtually no academic research on prenups. So how do people talk about prenups? How do they make sense of them? That’s what we wanted to explore here.”
Originally, researchers planned on conducting in-person interviews with various couples about their prenups, but it proved difficult to find people willing to discuss the topic. So, study authors turned to the social media platform Reddit instead.
“We found that the semi-anonymous nature of Reddit lends itself to people talking freely about anything, including prenups,” Romo explains.
An ‘exit plan’ or ‘insurance’?
In all, the team analyzed 586 Reddit threads containing 26,450 comments pertaining to prenups. Generally, most commenters fell into one of two categories: people who think prenups are good and people who aren’t fans.
Reddit users opposed to the notion of a prenup argued that they contradict the purpose of marriage as a lifelong endeavor, often serve as an “exit plan,” and are a dead giveaway that at least one person in a relationship is already having doubts about their partner.
“You’re not even married yet and you’re thinking about what happens when you get divorced,” one comment reads.
Despite some opposition, researchers discovered most Reddit users actually have a more positive opinion of prenups. Many used metaphors to convey their thoughts. For instance, many called a prenup “insurance,” or simply preparing for the worst but hoping and planning for the best.
“Nobody plans on crashing their car, getting cancer, or having their house burn down but they still get car, health, and home insurance,” one commenter says.
Others likened a prenup — or the document which must not be named — to a car’s airbags.
“Getting a car with airbags does not mean you don’t also make sure you have good brakes and tires. Smart people do all the above; only crazy people say if you get airbags you’re jinxing it or are not committed to making things work,” one Redditor explains.
Is marriage in the 21st century more like a business?
Another metaphor that came up frequently focused on marriage as a “contract,” with a prenup just being another clause. After all, two companies would never merge without clearly defined expectations set from the start.
“It was clear from following these online dialogues that metaphors served as a powerful tool for helping people not only understand what prenuptial agreements are, but what purposes they serve,” Romo concludes. “Metaphors helped many people reframe and understand other perspectives on prenups, including whether they are inherently problematic.
“From a practical standpoint, this work outlines ways that financial and legal advisors can help their clients understand prenups. And maybe it will encourage people to talk about their finances and what they can do to protect each other.”
The study appears in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues.