Happily ever after: A guide for the princess who picked the wrong prince

So you’ve picked the wrong prince.

I told you so, says Mom. Being married to the wrong prince is a predicament she knows all too well. She was hoping to protect you from similar misery. But you were blind. Until the blinkers fell off and there, at your dinner table, sat a frog. Now you have time-share, a bond, a few children, property jointly owned with in-laws, and a school reunion coming up. What to do?

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, your prince did not change into a frog. The bad news is, your prince has always been a frog. 

THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM

Now it gets tricky. To guide you towards eternal love with your frog, we need to drill down into your beliefs about love. You’ve heard this before: Love is not a feeling, it’s an act of your will. Love is a decision. Making a relationship last takes a lot of work. The truth is, we all agree with these wise words…superficially. But when it boils down to it, we want to wake up next to our soulmate. 

BANG! 

Right there is your problem. 

You believe that someone can be right for you. You believe that your partner should understand you. You believe that you should be passionate about the same things; chill out in the same way; enjoy the same books; want sex at the same times; have the same destinations on your bucket lists. 09 soulmates

Many of us hold the belief that these soulmates exist - that true love is a thing. Those deeply held beliefs are not something we consciously chose. In fact, we often don’t realise what our beliefs about love are. Researchers say that these beliefs are more or less fixed by age 25. Renae Franiuk (Illinois University) found that people approach love with one of two mindsets – the soulmate approach, or the work-it-out approach. You won’t notice the difference much during the first few years of your relationship. But when the going gets tough, these beliefs determine to a large extent how you go about negotiating the tough parts. 

PRINCE CHARMING IS ALWAYS WITH SOMEONE ELSE

09 PRINCE CHARMINGAs your relationship matures, and the prince resembles royalty less by the day, you start noticing how ridiculously bad you did, in fact, choose. Is it just me, or are there perfect husband specimens everywhere I look - except in my own house? There's my one friend's sensitive therapist husband who meditates with her and shares a bottle of red wine over late-night emotional mining. (Not us. Anytime after 8 pm, my husband would literally fall asleep to the drone of emotional sharing.) And then there’s my other friend’s on-the-go husband, carpe-dieming from Monday to Sunday, every day an adventure to be grabbed by the horns. (Deep sigh when I picture the potato on our couch.) Oh, and of course the gorgeous Ralph Lauren husband, who looks like a magazine ad even while mowing the lawn - and smells good too. (I've been focusing on tucked-in golf shirts for almost five years now. No, no progress yet.)

SOULMATES DON’T HAVE PROBLEMS

The fascinating thing about believing in true love, is the way in which you handle relationship problems. If your deepest conviction is that a soulmate out there will complete you, you don’t acknowledge problems. Can’t be real. Soulmates don’t disagree, and they don’t argue. They certainly don’t disappoint each other. So you deny, smile and wave, refusing to greet the snake in your paradise.  

Because soulmates aren’t supposed to have problems, you have only one explanation when the relationship runs into its inevitable difficulties: Your mother was right. You should never have married this man. It was a mistake. And off you go to find true love – either just in your head, or literally. And you will find Mr Right, if you look hard enough. He’ll be at work, or on Facebook, or married to your friend. He’ll look like the prince you were searching for. But trust me - he’s a frog, too.

In contrast to the soulmate-approach, there’s the unromantic approach of work-at-it. Living with an expert, I can tell you first-hand what one version of it looks like: As long as I seem reasonably happy (judging only by the fact that my bags aren’t packed), we have a good marriage. If there is a catastrophic difference in opinion, choice or expectation, we might or might not fight about it and then we continue with our good marriage. The problems we experience have no bearing on the fact that we are together. It never seems to cross my husband’s mind that marrying me was a mistake, just because I don’t understand his spreadsheets. He must notice how incompatible we are, yet it doesn’t seem to be a deal-breaker. There is an implicit belief that the very real relationship flaws are simply part of our life together.

WORKING IT OUT

Don’t read into my plea for realism an acceptance of a miserable relationship. The fact that your prince turned out to be frog, does not mean you have to eat flies for the rest of your life. But the frog-prince is not responsible for figuring out and fulfilling all your desires. It’s each princess’s own job to figure out what she really wants in life, where her boundaries are, what gives her joy, and what she’ll sacrifice for love. 

09 Princess likes frogSome partners support each other’s journeys better than others. For most of us, just growing up is hard; doing that alongside another is even harder. (And of course there’s the frightening possibility that there are true soulmates out there who feel deeply in love, all the time. May I never cross their path.) Back to growing up: if you can talk about your path of growth gently and with empathy for each other’s wellbeing and struggles, you’re likely to grow together. Some partners have to work very hard to chisel out their own place in the sun; some eventually cut their losses and move on. But whatever the end result is, the work is our own. Our partners need guidance, but fair and proper guidance can only come from a place of peace and understanding of ourselves. We can only guide with love if we can acknowledge our own brokenness and the big part we play, too, in our relationships challenges. 

So, as you might've gathered by now, my husband and I don’t march hand-in-hand for world peace; he’d rather stay on the couch and check out the French Open rankings. The upside is, our destiny together doesn’t fluctuate with my emotions.  If I keep depending on him to march with me, my heart will break, over and over again. I’ll believe that I chose the wrong prince, and I'll affirm that belief with every new march. But if I can figure out that, perhaps, I need to march for my own sake, and I can find the courage to do so without him – without any resentment or blame – then there is a chance that we can both be happy, together. At least sometimes. 

The get-on-with-it approach doesn’t guarantee happiness. But when these couples ignore problems, it’s not because of denial. It’s more a matter of laziness. If you know you’re in it for the long haul, it might just feel like wasting a lot of energy wrestling about issues you can’t seem to solve. Even seemingly unsolvable problems need to be brought to the light, though, otherwise they’ll end up ruining things just as properly as if you’ve believed in finding Mr Right.

So here’s to all princesses (and their mothers): It’s true: he’s not right for you. Neither will the next prince be. The perfect match doesn’t exist. All you’ve got is one flawed human being, with hopefully enough good intention to want to make it work. That should do it. As long as both of you are willing to keep on trying, the relationship will have enough moments of satisfaction and even beauty to make it worth working at. Of course, there are the princesses who move on, and make a worthwhile and beautiful life anyway. I have a strong suspicion, though, that moving on towards a beautiful life is only possible with the same amount of hard work at figuring out who you really are and what you need from life, than those who stay and make it work. Just moving on because your prince is disappointing, without understanding your own brokenness, is unlikely to lead to anything better.

PS You do realise, Fiona, that he picked the wrong princess, too… 

09 princess fiona

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