Dear Prince Harry and Meghan,
We don’t know each other, but we have important things in common – and it’s not just that we are both Harrys and both former military helicopter pilots who have seen action.
The biggest thing we have in common is marriage. You’re about to get married, which is marvelous. And I’ve been married to my Kate for thirty two years. We have six children who are now teenagers and young adults.
Our married life started off brilliantly and it’s utterly brilliant now. But after our first two children were born, we found ourselves on the brink of divorce. Like all too many couples, we had drifted apart and barely noticed. Getting back onto a new and better track was no easy task. As a result, I dedicated my life to helping all those other Harrys and Kates – or Harrys and Meghans – avoid getting into the mess in the first place.
So what do I know now that I wish I’d known then?
1. I wish I’d known that great marriage is intentional
If you let married life just kind of happen, then you’ll lose it. You’ve got to be bought in fully, to ‘decide’ rather than ‘slide’. You’ll have heard people say that you have to work at a marriage. I don’t think that’s quite right. You have to be deliberate, not just committed to each other, but committed to making your marriage work.
I’ve just run my first ever full marathon. I decided to do it, got advice, made a training plan, stuck to it, vowed not to quit whatever, and then ran the race.
OK, the analogy doesn’t quite work in that marriage gets better and the marathon worse, but I succeeded because I was intentional. That’s how I approach my marriage.
2. I wish I’d known that a man’s first responsibility – above work, above children – is his marriage
Before having children, life as a couple is pretty straightforward.
We had a great social life together, but in retrospect lived fairly individual lives in pursuit of careers and fun. Nothing tests a marriage quite like children. When our first two children were born, Kate’s focus switched automatically from me to them. I stepped back, thinking my main role was to bring in the cash. Nobody looked out for our relationship. It was all very subtle. Without support, the neglected mother starts to micromanage her husband. I slowly retreated and we drifted apart.
Our road to recovery began when I finally realised I needed to put Kate first. I started to notice her, to pay attention when she said I rarely complimented her, to listen when she mentioned what she might like for Christmas, to hear that what she most wanted from me was a friend who would chat to her. I did something about all of these things.
We also made a point of spending regular time together away from the children. By taking responsibility for our marriage, Kate got her friend back and we got the marriage we’d always wanted - and four more children.
This isn’t just true for me. It’s true for all parents. Husband, love your wife and she’ll love you right back. In that order.
3. I wish I’d known that you can learn great marriage
Like me, both of you have been brought up in a home where your parents' marriage didn’t work out. My parents split when I was very young and I was sent off to boarding school. That’s another important thing we have in common. But although I knew what I didn’t want in my marriage, I was a lot less clear about what I needed.
The good news is that you can find out easily enough. There is a brilliant thing called the Marriage Course where ordinary couples talk about how to communicate well or handle differences well.
And there are wise friends. Were it not for wise friends, we would never have survived our crisis, let alone learned how to thrive. Wise friends didn’t judge us or take sides. Wise friends stepped in when we were at our low point, wise friends helped us find the next steps, and wise friends support us even to this day when we need a little encouragement.
4. I wish I’d known about kindness
For years, Kate used to say that what she wanted most from me was ‘gentleness’.
Although I have become gentler, I don’t think it ever really struck me as something I could do better. It was only when we did a survey for our book ‘What Mums Want’ that ‘kindness’ came out as the top characteristic, along with ‘friendship’ and ‘being interested’.
At long last, I hope, I recognise kindness as the secret of successful marriage. For me, kindness encapsulates how love is described in 1 Corinthians 13; the Bible chapter often read out at weddings. I can be all sorts of clever things. But without kindness, I am nothing, no more than a noisy gong or clanging bell. Kindness is patient; it is not conceited or proud; it’s not jealous, selfish or irritable; kindness keeps no record of wrongs; kindness never gives up.
I want to be that person. Isn’t that the person you want to be married to?
May you be blessed to have a wonderful wedding. Much more importantly, may you be blessed to have a wonderful marriage, suffused with kindness.