Seven years later, anticipation builds as the younger of Princess Diana’s two sons prepares to wed. The royal wedding between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry is just weeks away, and new dynamics have piqued public interest. To start, Markle is a biracial American actress. She has a history of advocating for women’s rights. Her very presence in the royal family seems to signal changing times.
In addition to all of that, Markle has to contend with something that wasn’t an issue for Middleton as she prepared for life as a royal: the sister-in-law narrative.
People love to speculate about the relationship between the two women. Are they destined to become best friends and allies in a rigid royal family? Or are they competitive, always trying to one-up the other? If Markle wears blue, a fashion blog might comment about her “stealing” Middleton’s signature color. Cosmopolitan magazine had a body language expert analyze photos of them to hypothesize about their developing relationship. Vogue asks if Middleton will be in Markle’s bridal party, while Elle goes one step further and drops the “maid of honor” title.
Family psychologist B. Janet Hibbs said it’s natural for people to speculate about the women’s relationship because bonds with in-laws can often be dramatic in real life.
“The public likes to project a lot of things in this age of reality TV, which is kind of a projection of their own experiences or their own curiosity,” she explained. “How are these public figures handling their in-law relationships? … Plus, they unfairly think women are more conniving or competitive than the brothers or the sons are.”
Hibbs — who authored “Try to See It My Way: Being Fair in Love and Marriage” — said relationships with in-laws can be tricky because they’re inherited, rather than chosen. Along with that comes a sense of obligation to someone you didn’t decide to commit to but who was nevertheless part of the package deal.
With a sister-in-law, Hibbs said, there can be competitive feelings, as both women wonder who is the preferred daughter-in-law. In Markle’s case, she’s marrying into the family seven years later, plus Middleton is mother of three heirs to the throne. Hibbs said it would be silly for Markle to try to model herself after Middleton when their situations are so different.
“Everyone has a niche, and you don’t compete on things that are clearly not your niche area,” she said. “Just be who you are, and hope that that’s valued.”
So what does an ideal sister-in-law relationship look like? Is it better to be best friends or sociable family members who simply get along?
“Ideally? You’d want people to match each other’s efforts, as you would in any relationship,” Hibbs said. “You don’t want one person to be the overgiver or overtaker. Hopefully, both parties express equal interest with calls and visits. You want it to have a feeling of easy reciprocity.”
For women who are tempted to try to become besties, Hibbs warned of situations that might be difficult to navigate. You might become closer to the in-law than the spouse and thus feel more comfortable making familial requests to that person, which Hibbs said is unwise.
“You end up in a triangulated relationship with their spouse,” she said.
But whatever approach the two young, royal sisters-in-law decide upon, Hibbs suspects we’ll never be privy to it, no matter what the body experts say.
“People project because they want to see drama. And the royal family doesn’t want to project drama,” she said. “So I’d be surprised if it’s anything other than a manufactured interest.”
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