The Mouse That Roared (October, 1985)
Diana Brought to Heel? (September, 1988)
Di’s Palace Coup (February, 1993)
These are the titles accompanying three Vanity Fair cover stories featuring Princess Diana. Taking a look, it would appear that power was a major theme of Diana’s marriage to Charles. Their power struggle may have been due to differences in title, age, or life experience, and these differences may have contributed to their eventual divorce, but a question many people seem to be wondering is: how will the marriage of their son, William, to Kate be different?
Well, Maryhope, Royal Wedding Enthusiast and Relationship Psychologist (yes, that’s an official title), is here to make observations about the new newlyweds, all based in science of course!
According to psychological theory, in most marriages, imbalances in power come from differences in levels of commitment to the relationship. The person who is less committed and less dependent on the relationship is considered the “weak link”– this is person who has more power and a greater influence on the future of the relationship. Think about it this way, if one person feels like they could leave the marriage at any time, the marriage is less stable.1 When it comes to power (and many other things like private jets and ladies in waiting) Kate and William are playing on a different field. For starters, Kate is a commoner, and William is second in line for the throne– you don’t have to be scientist to detect that power difference. And if you’ve watched as many Youtube clips of the couple as I have, you might have noticed that, in accordance with royal custom, Kate walks a couple of steps behind William in all of their public appearances. Note: That this isn’t a gender thing– Prince Phillip also has to walk behind the Queen too.
But there are also signs of equality in their relationship. Unlike Diana and Charles, Kate and William are very close in age to one another and have shared many of their adult life experiences including college, first jobs, homes and vacations. Also, Kate may not be an aristocrat, but she has become a celebrity in her own right, which may earn her some power. And, like Diana she has said she won’t promise to “obey” William during their wedding vows. It’s also possible that while William has more public official power, Kate may have great influence over more private decisions—for instance, women are more likely to be the ones who determine if a couple has sex on any given night.2 Talk about power! We also might expect that this public official kind of power would have a very different impact on a relationship than more private couple equality.
If Kate and William are like most couples, having an egalitarian relationship is important to them, and if they achieve a greater balance in power, they can expect to have fewer problems in their relationship and to be more satisfied.3 We can’t know exactly how Kate and William will negotiate power in their marriage, or how these unique structural power differences will effect them. But as they approach their wedding day, they’re off to a good start. They are both equally and publically committing their lives to one another. As all married couples do, they’re sure to face challenges. But I for one think they have a pretty good shot. So congratulations to the happy couple!
For our complete coverage of the Royal Family, see here.
1Attridge, M., Berscheid, E., Simpson, J. A. (1995). Predicting relationship stability from both partners versus one. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 254-268.
2Clark, R. D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 2, 39-55.
3Sprecher, S., Smeeckle, M., & Felmlee, D. (2006). The principal of least interest: Inequality in emotional involvement in romantic relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 32, 1255-1280.