Thirty years ago this July, I stayed up to watch the fairy-tale wedding between a shy young pre-school teacher and the prince of Wales. Fifteen years, two children, and considerable adultery later, the fairy tale had fractured beyond repair.
This Friday, Charles and Diana’s elder son, William, 28, will marry Catherine Middleton, 29 — and such is the cynicism about royal marriages these days that bookies are already taking bets on when the royal divorce will occur.
Can this marriage be saved?
I asked several marriage experts how rosy they thought William and Kate’s future would be, based on such factors as their age, religious beliefs, family background, educational level, life choices, and royal expectations.
Take virginity. As recently as three decades ago, purity was considered all-important in royal brides, combined with enough fertility for an heir and a spare. But the former requirement has gone the way of Queen Victoria’s pantalettes and tatted collars. William and Kate openly lived together on the Welsh Isle of Anglesey (though, ironically, they did so in Ozzie-and-Harriet fashion: William went off to work each day while Kate grocery-shopped, cooked dinner, and even had William’s bath drawn for him when he returned home each evening).
Bad decision. Michael McManus, founder of Marriage Savers, points to research by the National Survey of Family Growth demonstrating that “couples who are sexually active before marriage are about two-thirds more likely to divorce than those who marry as virgins.” Abstaining couples, McManus notes, tend to build strong emotional and intellectual relationships (as opposed to couples who marry simply because sex has created an emotional bond between them, when they may not be well suited for each other). Abstainers have also practiced the self-restraint that will be needed after the wedding, when (not if) someone new and exciting comes along.
Another ominous cloud on the royal horizon: Jennifer Roback Morse, author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World, observes, “No question about it: divorce is an inheritable condition.” And William’s “parental history of adultery is also a big red flag,” because research indicates that adultery too is inheritable.
Patrick Fagan, a marriage expert at the Family Research Council, agrees. William and Kate, he says, “will need to inoculate themselves against this example, which leaves deep imprinting, for the drier periods in marriage, which will definitely come.” The royal pair will “need to grapple with the meaning of fidelity, the suffering and sacrifice involved in that, the cost they are prepared to pay, talking all this through in advance.”
As a further means of protecting their marriage, William and Kate “should find some nice, sensible, down-to-earth people to hang around with and avoid the beautiful people,” advises Morse. “Of course, given the destruction of marriage among the lower and middle classes in the U.K., they may have to go a long way to find such people.”
Actually, all they’ll have to do is drive to Bucklebury, a stone’s thrown west of London, where Kate’s parents live. According to press reports, William enjoys being with his happily married future in-laws, Kate’s siblings, and the family dog. The younger couple “can rely on Kate’s parents’ marriage to provide them with a model of successful married life,” predicts Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. “I also suspect that William saw the downsides of divorce up close and personal and will work to avoid a similar marital fate,” Wilcox notes.
That William and Kate have known each other for eight years, both have a university education, suffer no financial worries, and are marrying in their late 20s are big pluses, my experts say. A big minus: the worldwide media frenzy over their romance. In order to cope successfully with this, says Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, “I hope and trust they build a private haven, based on an unshakeable vow and commitment of mutual fidelity — which will shield both them and their children.”
Just as importantly, says Morse, “They need to resist the urge to believe they are at the center of the universe. The key ingredient for lifelong married love is the ability to defer to the other person, the ability to give way in a disagreement without feeling that your sense of self is threatened. Their royal status (literally) is a liability. It generates a sense of entitlement and tempts one toward narcissism in a way that cannot be good for marriage. If they can overcome that, they have a chance.”
Seventy-five years ago, William’s great-great-uncle, King Edward VIII, lost his throne because he had lost his head over the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. Were he alive today, Edward would be amazed to find that divorce among the royals has become downright common, with not only the current prince of Wales, but also his brother Andrew and sister, Anne, shedding their spouses when the warm romantic glow cooled. Will Wills and Kate suffer the same unromantic fate?
Fagan — unlike those placing bets with their bookies — refuses to make a prediction. “Only God knows,” he says.
If they truly want to save their marriage, perhaps it’s time for William and Kate — not known for being enthusiastic churchgoers — to take more seriously the One who designed marriage in the first place. “Regular religious practice, at least in U.S. data, is a protective factor against divorce,” Morse notes.
And in the right church home, William and his bride would stand a good chance of finding some of those nice, sensible, down-to-earth people who will not hesitate to remind their majesties “that someone else is God,” as Morse puts it, and who will support the efforts of the future king and queen to live happily ever after.
— Anne Morse is a senior writer for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Her book Prisoner of Conscience (with Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia) will be in bookstores in October.