What happens when partnership is about how to create a kinder world? This question arose in me as I watched Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, take their marriage vows. The couple provided a perfect venue for considering what a wedding can teach us about kindness and the power of partnership.
1. Kindness involves celebrating partner differences
To me, the royal wedding was a pageantry of kindness. I watched in awe, not because of the beauty of the dresses, uniforms or morning coats, but I was stunned by the beauty of two very different cultures blending together in music, words, and wedding vows. This blending of cultures through marriage is not unique to the royal couple. In fact, in the United States, multicultural marriages make up about 17% of unions (according to U.S. Census Bureau data reviewed by the Pew Research Center in 2015). While cultural differences can be a source of friction, with respectful understanding, the melding of diverse cultures is a source of great creativity, innovation, and even technological advancements in our society. For example, Hewlett et al. (2013) found that organizational groups with inherent and acquired diversity out-innovate and outperform others. Similarly, there can be gifts in diverse romantic partnerships. Kindly celebrating the beauty of what each partner brings to the union means that something new is possible.
2. There is power in being transparent about shared purpose
A small marriage before family and friends, or an ornate nuptial pageant before two billion viewers can reflect what can be most powerful about coupleness – the decision to jointly stand for something positive in this challenged, but potentially thriving world. The royal couple chose the Reverend Michael Curry to speak to what they value jointly, and it is clear that they had a message. He preached, “There is power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There is power, power in love.” With this sermon, I heard that this couple stood for doing work in the world that comes from love. And they are encouraging everyone listening to do the same. It is a simple statement of purpose.
There is evidence that clarifying purpose can be a powerful way to increase motivation and persistence in tasks, particularly when the goal is challenging, specific, and concrete (Locke & Latham, 2006). Stating goals publicly, creating external accountability around an action and having a companion in the journey creates power that can increases the chances that people will persist towards their stated intentions.
3. Respectfulness is a powerful expression of kindness
The royal wedding was full of family dramas that could have completely derailed the very public event — ex-sister-in-laws who embarrassed the family with topless pictures, fathers who sold access to tabloids and then didn’t show up, ex-girlfriends in the audience, estranged family members who were not invited. The lone representative of the bride’s family, the regal Ms. Dorian Ragland, the bride’s mother, stood with great poise and dignity. I watched as she was treated with great respect and kindness by the British Royal Family, modeling what kindness and acceptance look like. The gesture of Prince Charles taking Ms. Ragland’s hand to escort her to sign the wedding documents, sent a strong message of equality that transcended culture, race, nationality, socioeconomic status and history. While I know that these inequities persist, to me that gesture was powerful and needed at this time. Not only the couple, but their families reached out and demonstrated kindness to each other. The power of those large and small gestures set an example of how we can be with each other, even in all our personal and familial imperfection.
4. There are many benefits when partners are generous with others.
A last and beautiful demonstrations of kindness came after all the guests had left and the pageantry was over. The many, many flowers that decorated the church during the ceremony were taken to local hospice patients to be enjoyed and shared. There is the direct kindness in providing something beautiful to people in the final stages of life, but beyond this, the gesture sent a message about the couples’ values and what they want to represent in the world going forward. They conveyed how they want their partnership to be a gift to the world, not just to each other. Generosity and sharing, of course, has numerous co-benefits such as lower blood sugar, less stress, and boosts in mood. For example, one study described in Science even found that the same pleasure-related centers in the brain that lit up in those who received $100 also went off in those who donated the money (Harbaugh, Mayr & Burghart, 2007). When partners choose to be generous with their community, they may also be nurturing the relationship and each other.
Personally, I can not say I have even begun to understand how to make partnerships last or flourish. I am definitely a student of that discipline, even as I experience joy, love and meaning in my romantic relationship. And yet, I can not help but think that there is power in making kindness a central feature of partnership – not just to each other, but to support each other bringing more kindness into the world.