A Royal-Sized Family Mess: What Can We Learn For Our Own Fractured Family Relationships?

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Source: MEGA

Mar. 19 2021, Updated 4:50 p.m. ET

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While few can fully relate to the lifestyle of a Royal, supporters and fans readily connect to the occasional web-crashing fashion choice and reassuring framework of family. Parents identify with the simple joys and exhaustion of raising babies and toddlers. And the occasional scandal? Most of us have a relative or two whose questionable choices raise eyebrows and lower voices to hushed whispers.

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Harry and Meghan’s ongoing press against the conventions of royal history, however, has elevated the familiar stress of family strain to something uncomfortable and even painful to witness. A family rift splits us from the comfort of enduring connection and makes us confront the sad truth that some relationships are unhealthy and not all of them will or should endure in the form they currently hold. 

What matters most about the public airing of the Sussex’s most private pain and the Palace’s response may be the steady assertions of continued fondness between the Queen and her grandson’s family. Set aside for a moment the dominating issues the couple has cited: racism and Meghan’s treatment in the British press

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Set aside also the assessments of blame, character, and veracity. Beneath it all is a broken family unit and feelings of being misunderstood and disconnected. How does one navigate and repair a family relationship where Grammy is also Head of the Commonwealth and Dad doubles as The Prince of Wales? What may we carry from this royal-sized dysfunction into our own fractured family relationships?

Go slowly, communicate caring, and create space as needed. For best hopes of reconciliation, aim to do no further harm in the heat of the moment. Emotional conflict triggers stress responses that can impair judgment and escalate matters to the point of no return. Instead, create space as needed. Communicate this intention as a means of facilitating a better future conversation between the parties.

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How did the Royals do? The Sussexes went big on space, using the Atlantic Ocean and length of North America as their buffer. Extreme? Not really. Moving across town was never a real option. Since Megxit, the Queen, Harry and Meghan have reportedly continued their private conversations while publicly communicating good will toward one another. They’re definitely utilizing a slow and spacious approach. Royal duties for the couple may be off the table, but there’s still room for relationship repair with the family matriarch, which sets the tone for other potential reconciliations.

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Set realistic goals, and redefine relationships if need be. Few of us get the picture-perfect families we want. We’re often faced with value decisions: Is it worth pursuing a degree of emotional intimacy within this relationship, or is it OK to simply “get along"? And sometimes, when a relationship adversely impacts emotional health and getting along isn’t a valid option, it must be pruned.

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How did the Royals do? Harry’s disappointment with Dad is tangible; their connection seems detached, cool; and Harry’s loyalty toward Mum may forever preclude more meaningful connection. Harry may well decide that simple civility is adequate. The acrimony with his brother is more recent and a break from what the relationship used to be; the brothers seem to have left room for future reconciliation of a sort. The couple’s assurance that the troubling question about their unborn child’s appearance did not come from the Queen demonstrates a desire to protect that bond as well. Harry and Meghan’s relationship goals are obviously private, but they do appear to be assessing which relationships are worthy of emotional investment. This is healthy, and any “pruned” relationships can often be regrafted if situations improve.

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Despite the differences, what is still shared? Sometimes you have to go backwards to find a path forward. Search out happy memories; identify the values still held in common. This is not a fix but simply a fair starting line from which to build a better relationship for the future.

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How did the Royals do? This is a work still in progress. Harry and William share a painful past, unusual upbringing, and memories of their beloved Mum. Both seem to understand that, despite their differences, this brotherly bond is unique and valuable. The Sussexes and Cambridges also have potty training, sleep deprivation, and all the other trials and joys of early parenthood in common, and there is community in parenting. While Harry shares DNA and family links with his Prince father, their differing regard for the late Princess of Wales may shift that commonality from a true bond to mere factual detail. With his Queen grandmother, however, one suspects, that as both sides continue to profess support for one another, royal titles aren’t essential to appreciating great-grandchildren who may serve as a continuing bond, whether royally titled or simply adorable. 

They carry weighty titles and wear crowns upon occasion, but at heart, royals and all public figures share our same susceptibilities to fear, depression, and loneliness. This humanness isn’t a liability; the ability to feel, care and connect is what elevates and inspires. Will the Royal Family’s exposure of humanity puncture the monarchy, allowing a leak of relevancy that ends the royal line? Or will it initiate dialogue on problems that matter to the masses? With these very human issues of mental health, racism, digital bullying, and family dysfunction in public view, Britain’s royal family has an opportunity to model some life-changing skills within this moment. The choices they make could shift a largely ceremonial notion of relevancy towards a more impactful connection via the day-to-day details that matter to all of us.

Heather Dugan is the award-winning author of The Friendship Upgrade: Trade Clickable Connections for Friendships that Matter and Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends, and the founder of Cabernet Coaches®, a social access group for women that fosters self-betterment through face-to-face friendships and social connection.

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