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By Dr. Donald J. Jonovic
PROBLEM SUBMITTED BY S.S. , VIA EMAIL
Your November 2011 column discussed a father’s unexpected demand that his son’s fiancée sign a prenup agreement. While I totally agree with your answer and I know space is limited, I also noticed that you didn’t touch on the wider issue that will be a problem for this couple down the road.
The red flag went up for me as soon as I read that the father had not discussed the prenuptial requirement with his son prior to that young man having to hear it from their lawyer. Failure to discuss with a son and farm partner something this important and with such huge potential negative impact is a BIG issue.
If father and son are not communicating over something of this magnitude, what else are they not communicating? Do they talk about how responsibilities will be divided, about who makes the final decisions about finances? Not likely. Less likely is any possibility they have discussed even more charged issues like inheritance, the farm buyout, and retirement.
The parents’ desire to have the fiancée sign a prenuptial agreement is something so serious that it should have been put on the table and discussed with the father, mother, brothers, spouses, and hashed it out before it was ever raised with the fiancée.
This is no oversight. In my opinion, the father simply failed to man up on a difficult issue. To me, this means he clearly will do the same on other, equally important issues. I know whereof I speak. I married into a farm family. Can a successor really partner with a father who acts like a coward?
DR. JONOVIC’S SOLUTION
I don’t think S.S. is accusing the father of being a coward – only of acting like one. Still, the act of hiding behind a lawyer does look a lot like cowering in a foxhole to avoid a looming battle.
Nothing unusual in this, as every reader of this column knows as well as S.S. The very human desire to run away from confrontation is so natural and common that we have to wonder how so many farm partnerships manage to survive and succeed in spite of it.
When trying to gather the courage to face a tough issue, it’s worth remembering that cowards die a thousand deaths, while heroes die but once. We know from experience that avoiding a battle doesn’t end a war – it just makes it that much tougher to fight, let alone win.
Fear can paralyze. It can keep a soldier from fighting for survival. It also can prevent people who love each other from confronting dangerous issues and solving them while that’s still possible.
Armies learned centuries ago that even though fear can’t be eliminated, training and experience can instill habits that sidestep paralysis and enable action. It can be the same in families. The straightforward commitment to face and resolve day-to-day disagreements and misunderstandings, particularly the smaller, easier ones, develops the habit of reacting appropriately to issues as they arise.
It’s not so complicated. Sweat the small stuff first, day after day. It won’t make the big stuff any smaller, but it will make it that much easier to muster the courage for the scary face-to-face discussions S.S. reminds us are so critical.