Just a few hours from now nearly two billion pairs of eyes around the world will be glued to the television broadcast of the nuptials between Kate Middleton and HRH Prince William. No doubt this will be the wedding of the century. Thousands of work hours have been allocated to the planning of this ceremony, from the dresses, the flowers, the cake, the distinguished guest list, the horse-drawn carriages, that first kiss as a married couple on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. All this pomp and circumstance makes me wonder: are Wills and Kate spending as much time planning for a successful marriage as they are for a spectacular wedding? There's a big difference, you know.
Let's face it: most of us spend more time preparing for a wedding than planning for a successful marriage. After all, the wedding (and the honeymoon) is the fun part. The rest takes real work. I believe that this lack of marriage planning has a direct impact on our ability or inability to get off to a strong start as newlyweds and prepare us to better handle marital discord. Wills and Kate must deal with this challenge just like the rest of us. Yes, their wedding will be telecast live in more than 50 countries, but their marriage, like any marriage, will flourish as a result of growth and the quality of the time they spend together.
I'm not a marriage expert, but I am a husband and a father who nearly lost my family because I had no clue about what it really took to build, nurture and sustain a rewarding marriage. Fortunately, my wife and I were able to save our union, but it took sacrifice, compromise and a willingness to take a hard look within.
Too few of us decide it's worth the effort these days. For all the fascination we have with celebrity weddings, the state of marriage is in crisis in this country. According to the latest statistics, half of all marriages end in divorce. It's endemic throughout all communities in the U.S., and no single culture or race has escaped the breakdown of the institution of marriage. But, sadly, the statistics are particularly depressing among African-American households, where more than 60 percent of children are raised in single-parent homes. As a black man who comes from a single-parent home myself, I've seen what this disregard for the sanctity of our marriage vows can do to a family, and to the larger community. It's all too common to see children being raised by overly busy, stressed-out and/or struggling single moms, dads or grandparents. How can we expect our kids to go on to have fulfilling marriages when they have so little to base it on? They don't know what a stable, committed relationship looks like, because they didn't grow up with it in their own homes.
I didn't have that blueprint of a rewarding marriage from my own upbringing, but that made me all the more determined to work hard for it. It started with a deep self-examination that was, frankly, painful. I adjusted many unrealistic expectations I held about marriage and learned how to compromise without the traditional winner-or-loser outcome. I learned how to better handle emotionally charged subjects that often led to conflict. And, more importantly, I recognized that I needed to have patience and faith that my marriage was in fact worth saving, even when I had doubts. During this process I decided to write a book about what I learned during my journey that I would share with my three daughters ("Before You Wed... Read This!"). As it turns out, my book is a good resource for anyone who is considering marriage, newly married or struggling in their marriage. So I figured there couldn't be a better time than this week, when everyone is royal-wedding-obsessed, to launch it on my website, www.BeforeYouWed.com.
We don't talk about this enough. There rarely seems to be a focus on what makes a marriage work. All we hear about is the latest infidelities by famous people -- whether they are politicians like John Edwards or pro-athletes like Tiger Woods. Betrayals like these, such casual contempt for the institution of marriage, plays out in the media almost daily. Maybe that's why the prospect of a fairytale romance across the pond has us transfixed. Maybe it's a pleasant antidote to all that bad news.
But if I could humbly offer the royal couple and the rest of us some advice about how to plan for a rewarding marriage, I would say spend quality time defining the "behavior" of love you want in your marriage rather than just relying on the "feeling" of love. And use every resource you have to understand the role that chemistry, compatibility and commitment will play within the partnership.
So, what do these three Cs actually mean? Well, you can guess what chemistry is all about. That incredible chemical attraction is what brought you together in the first place. But here's the thing: it takes work to make it last. That attraction was so powerful in the beginning that it's what you lived for, but when the frustrations and stresses of daily life take over, it's all too easy to forget that the fireworks ever happened. The trick is to never take it for granted. You've got to remind yourselves on a regular basis what it was that drew you so close together that you chose this eternal bond of marriage.
Compatibility is the other piece. You can have chemistry, but without compatibility it will never last. My wife and I were madly in love, but in many ways we were opposites. I was the methodical, reserved type. I liked control and order in my life. She was the spontaneous, passionate and beautifully direct soul who brought me out of my shell. But often our styles would clash. The good news is that you can create and strengthen compatibility. We had to learn to accept each other for our differences as well as our likenesses. To protect and nurture our love, we had to adapt to each other. It was challenging work, and it almost led to the end of our marriage, but by working through it we grew into each other and became stronger and better people for refusing to cling to our familiar yet sometimes damaging patterns.
Of course, none of this could happen without commitment. The chemistry can fizzle and the compatibility can come unhinged if you don't fulfill the lifetime promise to care for and nurture your relationship. Staying married is a choice. You have the free will to make it work, or to allow it to self-destruct. When our relationship went through years of discord, there was a point when it seemed easier to walk away. But in the end we couldn't do it. We loved each other and our three daughters too much not to do the difficult work of staying together. Through prayer, counseling and a willingness to check our egos at the door, we figured out a way to make it work. Having come through the worst, the bonds of our marriage are stronger than ever. We make each other better human beings, and we set an example for our children that you don't just take the easy option. We live and breathe what it truly means to commit.
It's relatively easy to feel love for the person you're about to marry, particularly when you're surrounded by so many relatives and friends who are happy for you. At the time it's hard to believe that the euphoria of that honeymoon period won't last forever. But after the wedding festivities conclude and as time passes, that feeling of love often fades into something much less heady. I believe that's when the real marriage begins. Because it is at this point that you benefit most from continuing to behave in loving ways toward your spouse. That means supporting their dreams, truly listening to them in a manner where they know that they've been heard even if you don't agree with them, or giving them a hug and a kiss at moments when they aren't all that huggable or kissable. Do it anyway. This is what the behavior of love requires. Trust me, the feeling of love will follow.
It's what I wish for the young royal couple, and it's what I hope for the rest of us.