Arthur Brooks’ Advice to Take a Risk May Be the Worst Marital Advice Ever

Why all couples, wealthy or not, need a prenup

Vicki Larson

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Arthur C. Brooks is a presumably a smart man. He’s a Harvard professor, PhD social scientist, a best-selling author and a columnist at the Atlantic who has just co-written a book with Oprah Winfrey, Build the Life You Want. And he’s been married to his wife, Ester — presumably happily — for 32 years.

His latest Atlantic column, “Why the Most Successful Marriages Are Start-Ups, Not Mergers,” offers a few good thoughts on how to have a “durable romantic partnership” (although whenever someone quotes W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist who believes marriage is always the answer — the name of the project he founded, the National Marriage Project, should give you a clue — I take it with a huge grain of salt).

But here’s where Brooks offers possibly the worst marital advice ever— take a risk, as in don’t have a prenuptial agreement, a contract in which a couple agrees to what will happen to their assets in case they divorce. He notes that the percentage of couples who have a prenup nowadays has hugely increased, driven mostly by millennials who want to avoid the “messy disentanglements” of their boomer parents.

He does not approve. As he writes:

“A prenup might sound like simple prudence, but it is worth considering the asymmetric economic power dynamic that it can wire into the marriage. As one divorce attorney noted in a 2012 interview, ‘a prenup is an important thing for the ‘monied’ future spouse if a marriage dissolves.’ Some scholars have argued that this bodes ill for the partnership’s success, much as asymmetric economic power between two companies makes a merger difficult.”

What Brooks fails to realize is that the state already has a prenup for couples— it gets to decide who gets what. If you don’t want the state to dictate what happens to your money, you’d be very wise to have a contract in which you and your beloved get to decide.

As one man on Reddit says about his fear of getting married,

“It creates a contractual agreement between two parties that either party can withdraw from the contract at any time. However, the less well-off party can…

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Vicki Larson

Award-winning journalist, author of “Not Too Old For That" & "LATitude: How to Make a Live Apart Together Relationship Work (2024) coauthor of “The New I Do,”