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TODAY contributor
updated 6/24/2009 4:28:15 PM ET 2009-06-24T20:28:15

Q. My boyfriend and I are starting to talk about marriage. We are trying to be smart about this and talk about all the issues professionals suggest: children, religion, division of chores, money, savings, etc. These discussions, as well as attending the wedding of friends over the last few months, have led to the topic of prenuptial agreements.

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I am a lawyer, so I am trained to plan for all potential risks and outcomes. Plus, I would be going into the marriage with substantially more assets than my boyfriend. For these two reasons, I think that not only does a prenup make sense, but it would also be foolish on my part not to have one.

This prenup would essentially say that, in the event of divorce, we would each retain the assets we took into the marriage. All income earned during the marriage would be shared.

I look at prenups from the perspective that, if you expect the marriage to last forever, it should not matter that you have signed a prenup because it will never come into effect. People on the other side say you wouldn’t need to sign one if you expect the marriage to last forever. How do you recommend broaching this issue so that my boyfriend doesn’t assume I think the marriage won’t last or that I don’t trust him?

A. I have no position on whether couples should have a prenuptial agreement. That is an individual choice and a legal matter.

But in a healthy relationship, there must be an openness of communication on all topics. Failure to discuss something important to you will likely breed resentment later.

You are already talking about other elements of a future marriage; you should incorporate this topic into those discussions.

If the relationship is too fragile to tolerate discussions about difficult subjects, then I suggest you think twice about the relationship. The inability to communicate openly is the real problem, not whether a prenup signals you are already planning a divorce.

These days, the divorce rate is so high that people are very aware of the possibility a marriage won’t last forever. Even though they enter marriage with optimism, statistics show they could be wrong.

What’s more, people are marrying later, and therefore accumulating more wealth before marriage. Sometimes there are children from a previous marriage. Maybe there is a great economic imbalance, with one spouse giving up a lucrative career to rear children.

If something should happen to derail the marriage, it’s natural that the wealthier partner, or the person with more to lose, wouldn’t want to relinquish half of those assets.

On the other hand, as you know, there is also the feeling that desiring a prenup — especially if one spouse does and one does not — indicates the marriage may not work. So it is fair to ask yourself whether you would be so eager to sign if your spouse were the wealthy one. What if you lost your job and your husband got rich? What if it were his money at stake, not yours?

Whatever you conclude, no relationship is perfect. And nobody can predict the future. It is not unreasonable to want to protect your assets in case of disaster.

Here’s a good analogy. When you go for a drive, don’t you always buckle your seatbelt? You don’t plan to get into a collision, but you take precautions just in case. The idea is to have a protective measure in place because of circumstances beyond your control.

It is good that you are talking about the future, and I commend you on having the foresight to do so. So bring up the prenup when you are talking about things like kids, religion and chores. All of these issues are important to settle before marriage.

I think you are best off being honest. Tell your boyfriend you wouldn’t marry him if you didn’t believe it would last forever, and you want it to.

You might also be thinking you would like two children, a boy and a girl. Maybe that won’t happen. Life enters; things happen or they don’t. The point is that you need to be able to talk about these things with your future spouse.

Of course, once you do, that doesn’t mean your boyfriend will agree either to a prenup or to your terms. But it is something more you have to discuss and work through. Find out his motives and feelings.

If he doesn’t want a prenup and you do, that doesn’t mean the relationship is over. But you must negotiate in a way that works for both of you. You can’t have half a prenup, just like you can’t have half a child, but you can negotiate terms.

There should not be taboo topics that you fear talking about. If you feel so much hesitation and discomfort that you are unable to bring up uncomfortable subjects, then you might have a fragile relationship that is in danger. You must fix this, and not enter into a marriage with someone you cannot talk about everything with.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: People considering marriage must be able to broach and talk about difficult and uncomfortable subjects.

Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.

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