As Valentine’s Day gets closer, no love story has the world’s attention right now more than the one between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Of course, the Sussexes have been a magnet for headlines ever since they were dating. But the fascination with them jumped up to a new level after the two announced they would “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family” and divide their time between England and North America.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about “Sussexit.” Some are critical; some are supportive. As a psychologist who’s worked with countless clients on their marriage issues, I see two people that are making choices to protect their relationship. Although it might not seem like Harry and Meghan have much in common with the rest of us, they’re actually experiencing the same things, in their own way, that many other couples do.
They’re Under Pressure — But So Are You
As Meghan and Harry know all too well, outside factors can have a huge effect on your marriage.
Those factors can include societal pressures. Meghan and Harry have broken tradition for how they are “supposed” to behave as royals. For that, they’ve faced a lot of criticism.
You and I don’t know what that’s like, of course. But I bet you and your husband have defied expectations in other ways and caught flak — in ways large or small — from others. For example, maybe you make more money than he does, and your friends and family make passive-aggressive remarks.
Some pressures that Harry and Meghan have faced will feel more familiar to other couples. They’re still new parents: Baby Archie was born last May. They have had (or are rumored to have had) difficult times with both sides of their family. And talk about work pressures! How would you like media attention on every aspect of how you did your job?
There’s also a compelling case to be made that scrutiny of Meghan has a racist element. And, as anyone who’s experienced racism knows, it’s a profound source of stress that damages our physical and emotional health.
How Stress Hurts Your Marriage
Meghan and Harry move in a different world than we do. But stress is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter how wealthy or famous you are. Constant, intense stress will take a toll on your relationship. That’s just how our brains are wired.
When you are under great stress, your brain goes into fight-or-flight mode. You are definitely not in “let me connect with my partner” mode! Under stress, you might …
- Have trouble processing information.
- Not really hear what your husband is saying.
- Lack empathy.
- Become defensive and have difficulty being open
- Get “stuck in your story” and keep repeating your position.
- Experience tunnel vision.
- Have trouble solving problems.
When you and your husband are constantly stressed, you will regularly behave in these destructive ways. And that will alienate you from each other. Your relationship will get stuck in a negativity spiral.
What If You Stepped Back, Too?
Based on Harry and Meghan’s public statements, it’s clear that their stress has been building and that they felt their unprecedented move was necessary to protect themselves and their son.
I believe that we can all learn something from that. If outside pressures are causing extreme stress in your marriage, you have to make easing those pressures a top priority. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it feels like you’re breaking a norm. Even if other people don’t like what you’re doing.
So what would create the space for less stress and more connection in your own marriage?
- Can you take some things off of your jam-packed schedule so that you have more breathing room and time for each other?
- What if you stopped trying to match your friends’ lavish lifestyles so that you could finally pay off that debt that’s been stressing you out?
- Do you need to start limiting time around people who don’t support your marriage (even if they’re family) and find a new community that will validate and celebrate you?
Meghan and Harry show us that real love is very different from what we learned from fairy tales, even for a prince and a duchess. But they also show us we must take a stand for our own happily ever after.
If you’re ready to prioritize your relationship, I invite you to pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. It has lots of practical advice for busy couples who want to maintain their bond amid all of today’s stresses and outside pressures.