Dear Prince Harry and Duchess-to-be Meghan,
As you exchange your vows on Saturday, please know that people across the globe are celebrating with you. We hope that the two of you will be as happy in 20 or 40 years as you are this week. My husband and I marked our 27th anniversary last week. Since we have spent the last 324 months learning how to love each other well, I’d like to share what we believe are the seven most important components for a successful marriage.
- Be truth tellers. Culture recommends keeping secrets. We disagree. When you speak the truth—and that includes owning mistakes in real time—you become trustworthy. Trust fosters deep intimacy in all aspects of your marriage. And in the long run, telling the truth takes a lot less effort than lying.
- Lean into your disappointments and learn from them. Though it might be hard to imagine, at various junctures you will feel disappointed with each other. This is completely normal – and to be expected, even. Perhaps His Royal Highness won’t share the keys for the custom-made Aston Martin. Perhaps the Duchess will prefer green smoothies to afternoon tea. When you experience disappointment, there are multiple ways to respond and most of them are unhelpful. My go-to has typically been sulking and manipulation. My husband’s has been cynicism. Rather than reacting, if you trace the disappointment back to the unmet expectation, you’ll get the best payoff. Which leads us to number three…
- Own your expectations. We all enter into marriage with suitcases full of expectations. This includes everything from who gets up in the night with a sick child, to what kind of artwork will go up on the walls, to how many times a week you’ll be intimate. Most of the time, we actually don’t know we’re carrying an expectation until we feel the disappointment washing over us. In those moments, if you refrain from defending yourself or moralising your preferences, and have honest conversations, you’ll begin to understand which expectations are reasonable and healthy and which ones are unrealistic. (Additional tip: the sooner you drop the unrealistic ones, the better off you both will be.)
- Don’t fight about the ice cubes. Years ago, my husband visited his elderly aunt and uncle who had a terrible row when she removed the ice cube tray from the freezer and discovered it was empty. This seemingly incidental event led to a lengthy and ugly fight. Of course, it wasn’t the empty ice cube tray she was angry about. The lack of ice cubes represented years of relational neglect and selfish behaviour. By telling each other the truth, paying attention to your disappointments, and owning your expectations, you can actually fight about what you need to fight about.
- When you do fight or hurt each other (both of which are inevitable), forgive each other quickly and thoroughly. You may not always be able to follow the biblical mandate to not go to bed angry, but please don’t delay moving towards each other. In this regard, words matter. A lot. Brits tend to apologise frequently for anything from failing to hold open a door to stepping on someone’s toes on a crowded train. Far too often, when someone apologises, we tend to discount or downplay it by saying something along the lines of, “No big deal.” But no big deals can quickly become big deals if we fail to forgive.
- Find trustworthy friends who won’t defer to you, and develop deep, mutual friendships. This might be one of the most difficult pieces of advice to follow as we know you don’t have the option of spontaneously popping in without your cadre of security guards and the approval of your private secretary. The pressures and expectations on both of you to be perfect and to represent the crown are intense. You will need friends who care about you apart from your status, and who will bravely call you out on your stuff.
- Love each other sacrificially. Most likely, neither of you will be asked to actually lay down your life for each other. However, from May 19th until you draw your final breath, you will have infinite opportunities to love sacrificially. Sacrificial love is tangible and practical. It might look like apologising for your harshness rather than pretending it didn’t happen. It might look like pressing past your fatigue to listen or extend grace, particularly when your spouse has done nothing to deserve it. Sacrificial love doesn’t happen incidentally. It’s a countercultural choice that requires intentionality and humility. Make no mistake: it’s work. But when we reach across the divide and love like this, it’s one of the sweetest, most rewarding things that marriage can provide.
Dorothy Littell Greco is a writer, photographer, and the author of Making Marriage Beautiful. She and her husband live outside Boston, MA, and would happily accept an invitation to be the Prince and Duchess’ personal marriage counsellor should the need ever arise. You can find out more about Dorothy’s work by visiting http://www.dorothygreco.com/my-book/