The younger of the British princes and his accomplished American bride-to-be have publicly announced their official engagement today, after being secretly betrothed earlier this month.
That’s right, royal wedding bells are to ring this upcoming spring!
If you’ve been following these two like we have, chances are you’re not totally surprised. And chances are, when Prince Harry asked the question—however romantically—Meghan Markle wasn’t all too surprised either.
But this is actually a good thing.
Marriage proposals are no longer the big shock they once were. More and more couples discuss engagement long before the question is popped. Yet many couples don’t ask the right kinds of questions to make sure they’re really a good fit. Some might not know what to ask, while others are afraid to be honest for fear of losing their partner. Others think they will just figure it out after marriage—and the love they have for each other will sustain their bond forever. But as a licensed marriage and family therapist, I strongly advise: Please. Don’t. Wait.
If you’re looking to get engaged soon (after all, ’tis the season), the following questions, although perhaps difficult and awkward, will help you both be transparent about your expectations. They will either bring you closer together—or save you a lot of pain if you come to the conclusion that you’re not a good fit.
Here are the questions we hope—given their own experiences with marriage and divorce—Prince Harry and Markle have already discussed.
01. What are your deal breakers?
You need to be clear about your non-negotiables. Do you want children? Are you flexible about where you want to live? How important is it to be with someone who always pays off his or her monthly credit card balance? Do you need a partner who believes in God, or is someone who supports you in your own faith journey enough? When talking about what’s really important to you, you want to be clear so that there are no surprises later—so you must be utterly honest. If you say one thing now and then do another after marriage, you will chip away at trust, and your partner will have hurt and resentment. If you don’t talk about these things ahead of time, you also risk giving up your dream for the sake of an unhappy marriage.
02. How do you prefer to handle conflict?
Lack of effective communication is a top concern that brings my clients to therapy, and oftentimes a key reason for their differences is how both partners prefer to handle conflict. Some people prefer to talk things out, others are passionate and comfortable expressing intense emotions, and others would rather not address problems or their needs at all. Knowing your partner’s conflict style can encourage conversation about the best way to communicate with each other so that you avoid unhealthy patterns, such as escalating or shutting down.
03. Where do we have differences, and are we willing to compromise?
I’m sorry to say, but you will never see eye-to-eye with your partner on everything. You’re two different people with two different backgrounds, preferences, dislikes, etc. Not all differences are problematic, though. Couples get stuck because sometimes they think there’s a solution to these problems, when in reality there are some issues that don’t go away and need to be managed instead of solved. Identify the areas where you differ and the kinds of compromises you are willing to make for the long term. Topics to include here are sex, money, time together versus time apart, closeness to extended family, religion, approach to chores and organization, preferred activity level, alcohol consumption, and the importance of independence, to name a few.
Much of a marriage’s success depends on how differences are handled. If there’s one area where I see my couples harm their marriages, it’s their inability or unwillingness to accept their partner wholly and to compromise. So make sure you convey respect and acceptance of your partner. Use humor, affection, and a “team” mentality to these issues that won’t go away. If you don’t do these things, you will send the message to your partner that they are not good enough or there is something wrong with them—no one wants to feel this way, especially in a marriage. When you’re able to honor each other’s differences, your marriage will always win.
04. Are you hiding anything from me?
Some people will lie or hide the truth, not because they’re corrupt or malevolent but because they don’t want to lose their partner. But, when the truth comes out (when, not if), trust is broken—and will do more harm than if there had been honesty from the start. Consequently, the betrayed partner then questions everything and often has a hard time deciphering what’s true and what’s not. They wonder if they can trust again and will often harbor feelings of resentment in their bewildered state. Whether you’ve lied about how many people you’ve slept with, how often you drink, whether you have an addiction, or how much debt you really have, make sure you come clean before you become engaged. Your partner deserves transparency to decide if you can work through it together.
05. Are there ever any grounds for divorce or separation? If so, what?
Marriage comes with expectations, some clearly stated, others not. No one wants to consider the possibility of divorce when they’re discussing marriage, but it is an important thing to consider. Some common topics people talk about are things such as cheating and abuse, but what if your partner stops wanting to have sex, cleans out your bank account, or doesn’t put in as much effort into the marriage? Do both of you believe that marriage means, “We will stay together no matter what”? Or do you or your significant other believe that your marriage is conditional on certain things? Being clear with one another about what “for better or for worse” means will help divorce-proof your marriage.
Although ignorance can be bliss, it’s not the case when it comes to making a marriage work. Just look at Prince Harry’s parents. Their engagement was certainly a joyous surprise for a nation—but unfortunately for them it meant they were ill-prepared (amongst other issues).
Having these honest conversations can prevent unnecessary negativity, establish a strong foundation of trust, and set you up for a lifetime of happiness. So congratulations, Prince Harry and Meghan! We’re thrilled for the wedding, but more importantly, we’re hopeful that this union will become an example of another thriving, happy marriage.