You may not think that Prince William and I have anything in common -- he is, after all, a prince, while I am merely a common American woman whose only royal connection is a lifelong adoration of Disney princesses. However, I've recently realized that, relationship-wise, we're not so different, Wills and I.
Okay, I admit that when I was in high school, I totally fantasized that Prince William might come to the U.S., see me on the street and declare his love for me -- so, yes, I will take any excuse to create some kind of connection between us. But, given that he and Kate Middleton are coming up on their first wedding anniversary, I thought I might take this opportunity to explore the one thing that we actually have in common.
We both come from divorced families and we both are in relationships (he, married; me, cohabitating with marriage somewhere on the horizon) with people whose parents are still married. And that dynamic could create some big problems for us, if it hasn't already, according to Nicolas Wolfinger, associate professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah.
"Growing up in a divorced family greatly increases the chances of ending one's own marriage, a phenomenon called the divorce cycle or the intergenerational transmission of divorce," Wolfinger said in a press release put out by the university in 2005. According to his research, a couple is twice as likely to divorce if one spouse is from a divorced family. While the divorce rate has been decreasing over the past decade, this finding is rather sobering considering the often-quoted 50 percent statistic.
I spoke to Wolfinger to find out how exactly people like me -- and Prince William -- could screw up our relationships.
He says that "people who have experienced multiple changes in their family of origin" are more likely to end their own marriages, especially those whose parents remarried or divorced again. (I've got the edge on Wills here. His father may have remarried, but both of my parents did -- and my dad and my stepmom divorced, then remarried each other.)
"People who grew up in divorced families just don't learn commitment," he explained. "Every marriage encounters conflict at some point and (people whose parents stay married) learn that the solution to conflict is to work through it. It's not that divorce is more attractive to people from divorced families, it's just that there's less of a sense that conflicts can be worked out."
He also referenced another scholar, Paul Amato at Penn State, who has performed additional research about the effect of divorce on children's future marriages. "People from divorced families just manifest more behaviors that are not conducive to working relationships," Wolfinger said, citing Amato's findings. "They are more likely to think of their marriages as being in trouble, even when they're not. "
It's not often that I interview an expert and hear my own issues and fears echoed on the other line. Of course, I don't know if my bad relationship habits stem directly from my parents' divorce (perhaps I need more therapy?), but I do know that I fit the profile that Wolfinger described.
Not too long ago, my boyfriend and I had a tense week of on-and-off fighting. My mood had been gravitating between slightly irritated and pissed off about everything from the still-dirty dishes to how much time he was spending on his computer, and my mind had been shocked into sudden amnesia after every thoughtful thing he did. In short, I'd become an ungrateful nag. And he was getting a little frustrated with my inability to perform what my mother would call "an attitude adjustment."
I can't stand the thought of anyone -- particularly him -- being unhappy with me, a quality I attribute to the fact that I come from a long, distinguished line of people-pleasers. I remember lying in bed, hating myself, as he got ready to leave for a scheduled golf outing with the guys, our conflict still unresolved.
As I watched him put on his socks and unearth his golf shoes from the closest, a heavy cloak of dread suddenly came over me. I worried -- completely irrationally -- that maybe he would decide not to come back. He approached to kiss me goodbye and I asked him if we were going to be okay. He looked at me like I was crazy (I mean, I probably am).
A fact that was so apparent to him -- that we were just going through a rough patch -- was completely lost on me. Of course we were going to be okay, he said. (Cue the relief tears!)
While I do find comfort in knowing that I can blame my parents' divorce for my concern that my boyfriend might leave me at the first sign of trouble (instead of, say, low self-esteem), it's a little scary to think that my parents' relationships -- which I have long accepted -- can still affect my life in a very real way.
However, according to Wolfinger, I actually have an advantage that many children of divorce do not -- and so does Prince William. People from divorced families usually pair off and marry each other, he says, and their marriages are three-times as likely to end in divorce (good thing William didn't fall in love with me as a teenager -- we would have been doomed from the start!)
Will and I have fortunately each found partners from eerily normal families whose parents have stayed married, which Wolfinger says could be critical to our marriages' success. "If there is one person from an intact family, that person has learned to be patient and hang in there when there's conflict," he says. "There's not that glue holding partners together when both are from divorced families."
Lucky for me, my ever-patient, untouched-by-divorce-boyfriend is willing to talk me down from the maybe-we-should-just break-up ledge when things get rocky. These assurances have, little by little, convinced me that maybe I am worth fighting for -- literally. While I can't imagine Prince William tearfully wondering if Kate still loves him after they have a spat, I hope that she is as compassionate to his tortured, broken-family soul as my boyfriend is to mine.