Bonnie Johnson, Pat Freeman, and Joanne Kaufman
August 01, 1988 12:00 PM

There’s no arguing that marital strains can be a royal pain, but they are equally common among commoners. On the following pages, five average American couples—all wed on the same day or within a few days of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ ceremony—tell of the toll that seven years of marriage has taken on their relationships. For some the price has been very high, while others find themselves still crazy about each other after all these years.

The Lanes: Their families said the marriage wouldn’t last

To make his intentions clear toward Carla Meyer, Bill Lane bought her a ring—a diamond surrounded by sapphires—that was a tiny reverse-duplicate of Princess Diana’s sapphire-with-diamonds engagement bauble. This was perfectly fitting, as Carla was a longtime royal watcher, and especially appropriate since the Pittsburgh couple was married on the same day as the better-known London twosome. The Lanes, however, were married at 6:30 p.m., in part so that Carla could get up by 5:30 a.m., watch Di’s nuptials and still have time to prepare for her own.

The connections don’t end there. Like Diana, Carla, 27, a department store clerk, is tall—she tops her husband, a maintenance worker at a local bank, by a few inches. Like the Waleses, the Lanes have two sons, Dennis, 4, and Douglas, 2. Like the Waleses, the Lanes have conflicting work schedules (Bill works during the day, Carla at night), giving them little time together. Besides that, Bill’s mother-in-law, Eva Meyer, strongly identifies with Diana’s mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth.

What sets the two couples apart? For one thing, the Windsors and the Spencers were seemingly delighted that their respective offspring would be tying the knot. The Lanes and the Meyers were considerably less ecstatic, believing their kids were just too immature to take such a big step. “Our families didn’t think it would last,” confides Carla, admitting that she and Bill, 35, have gone through some tough times. When the Lanes were first married, Bill was staying out too late too often, with the guys. Matters came to a head one night when he was more than an hour late getting home from work. “I had cooked liver, and it was cold in the pan, which was good Revere Ware,” she remembers. The lid stuck to the pan, and when Bill tried to pry it free, he scratched the surface. Thus began the first major spleen-venting of the marriage.

The Lanes have successfully worked through their difficulties and say they’re closer than ever now. “I had to get serious,” says Bill. “I even thought to myself, ‘You know, you could ruin this marriage.’ Carla wants me to be neater. Now I make sure to try to please her. Our marriage is going to last because we know how to work out our differences.”

The Lanes’ plans for their seventh anniversary are hardly lavish. The celebration will probably take place at a local Mexican restaurant where “we’ll talk about the kids all night, knowing us,” laughs Carla.

“Charles and Di have lots of money and no financial worries,” says Bill, “but we are happy. Happy with each other, happy with our kids, happy with what we have.”

The Hortons: A lasting bond that was born of hardship

Kandece and Michael Horton nearly forgot that their seventh anniversary was coming up this year. They often forget their anniversary. It’s not that they’ve grown indifferent. On the contrary, as Michael explains, “We don’t go all out on anniversaries because it’s sort of great with us all the time.” So boundless is the Hortons’ devotion to one another that they can hardly bear to be separated. Mike, 32, dreads the occasional out-of-town trips he must take as a corporate photographer for a Miami insurance company. Kandy, a 31-year-old artist, feels “funny” going out without Mike. And both claim that they never argue. “Life is too short to waste time on petty differences,” says Kandy. “We try to spend our time saying loving things to each other.”

Syrupy as such pronouncements may sound, the Hortons’ feelings about their relationship are not based on Harlequin-romance daydreams but were forged by hardships they suffered and survived together. They met on a blind date in Miami in 1974. She was an independent 17-year-old whose parents had just moved to Singapore. He was an 18-year-old college student, still living at home. The first time she invited him to the apartment she had rented “with the sole purpose of being alone with him,” he didn’t leave until 6 a.m. Three months later he proposed marriage. The bride-to-be moved into the Hortons’ house, where she was welcome on the condition that she sleep in a separate bedroom. She ended up staying for five years.

In 1975 Michael was discovered to have testicular cancer and rushed into surgery, where one testicle was removed. A few weeks later doctors excised several lymph nodes, leaving him sterile when a nerve was accidentally cut. In retrospect Michael says, “There is no doubt that the cancer bonded us.” But by 1980, though Michael had been pronounced healthy, Kandece was having second thoughts about marriage. “Our relationship had become his cancer, She broke off the engagement.

The breakup was temporary, and it was the last time the Hortons considered splitting up. They married July 25, 1981, the weekend before the Prince and Princess of Wales were wed. Since then, reports of pregnancy and childbirth in the royal family have represented to Kandece “a very giant reminder” that she and Michael will never have children of their own.

But the Hortons seem happy in their three-bedroom suburban Miami home, laughing at the suggestion they might fall prey to the seven-year itch. Both admit that they’ve been attracted to others but say they wouldn’t dream of acting out their fantasies. “As time goes by, the fabric of our relationship gets woven more tightly,” says Kandece. “There’s too much to lose.”

The Beckwiths: Learning to fight

Like the marriage of Charles and Diana, the union of Harry Beck-with III and Janet Meek was a storybook romance. But theirs was more a page from Isaac Asimov than from Hans Christian Andersen. Both sci-fi addicts, Harry and Janet met at a convention of Trekkies and fantasy fans in June 1980. They were introduced while he was in the middle of playing Dungeons and Dragons, and soon they were talking about their own very real future together. The two tied the knot on Aug. 1, 1981, just three days after Prince Charles made Lady Diana Spencer a legal regal.

Both of English ancestry, the Beckwiths consider having common interests—theirs also include horses, shooting and things medieval—a requirement for a good marriage. And they think that’s where the Waleses have missed the mark. “He likes to play polo, and she seems to like to watch,” says Jan, 31. “Maybe they both enjoy Balmoral, but that’s not a lot to go on.” During their own seven-year hitch, says Harry, 28, “I haven’t ever suffered from a seven-year itch. Like any male, I see a nice-looking lady and I think, ‘Well, that’s interesting.’ But then I think about what I have.”

That includes a thriving career as a vice-president of a company that builds waterfalls, fountains, ponds and lakes, a one-story brick ranch home on 1.6 acres in Richmond, Texas, a precocious 2-year-old daughter, Jennah, and a wife whom he considers not only a mate but a friend. Jan, an elementary school teacher, concurs. “I’ve got my home, I’ve got my child, I’ve got a good husband. I’m happy.”

Not that there hasn’t been stress. For Harry, the low point was the first year of marriage. A month after the wedding, he quit his job as a draftsman and returned to school to complete his civil engineering degree. “I was no longer self-sufficient,” he says. “I was dependent on someone else again.” Making matters worse, Harry and Jan tried to save money by sharing a house with her best friend. “It’s difficult to have a marriage with somebody else in the house,” says Harry. “You come back from the honeymoon and it’s like Three’s Company.”

For Jan, the hard times hit three years into the marriage, when they finally moved into their own home. “We were living alone together for the first time,” she says. “There are certain things you won’t say [to your spouse] with another person in the house. You just let more things blow over. I think we had our most violent arguments that year.”

Learning to dispel their anger in a way that didn’t destroy the relationship was another hurdle. “I want to thrash things out,” says Jan, who has worked to curb her tendency, as Harry puts it, “to beat a dead horse.” For his part, Harry now only occasionally flees after a fight. “He wanted to walk around the block or drive the car and that would scare me,” says Jan. “I’d think, ‘He’s not coming back.’ ”

There is a precedent. While Jan’s parents have been married 47 years, Harry’s folks split when he was 6. His father is now on his fourth marriage, his mother on her third. His parents’ experience, says Harry, “caused me to review who I wanted to get married to much more closely. I never considered marriage to be a revolving door.”

Diebolt and Snyder: It’s over

The romance surrounding the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales became too much to resist for Leslie Snyder, an administrative assistant, and Rick Diebolt, a supervisor of an exterminating company. And so it was that just five days before the royal event, while enjoying a French dinner and a bottle of wine, they decided that they would legalize their union on July 29, 1981. Although some couples would have been overwhelmed by such a sudden decision, says Snyder, “the real shock was when we got the bill for the wine—$50!” More surprises followed. When they arrived at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Rockville, Md., at 9:15 a.m., Snyder and Diebolt were met by a reporter for the Washington Post. The following day they found themselves as one of the paper’s feature stories, celebrated for being the first couple at the courthouse to be married on the same day as Charles and Di.

Like their royal counterparts, the couple, both 41, have sometimes had trouble living out the fairy tale. Seven, in fact, has turned out to be the unluckiest number of all. Polar opposites temperamentally—she’s a self-described “recovering workaholic,” he’s laid back and low-key—they had different reactions to matrimony. Diebolt, whose first marriage had ended in divorce, says he “just went with the flow.” But Snyder, despite living with Diebolt for more than two years before the marriage, suddenly felt confined. “The first six months were kind of tough for me,” she says. “Something about being married made me feel like I couldn’t do things independently anymore. I was resentful.”

Two years later they decided to have a baby, and in 1984 their daughter, Maggie, was born two-and-a-half months prematurely, suffering from intestinal and respiratory problems. After nine weeks in the hospital, Maggie was taken home and enrolled in a county-sponsored physical therapy program. Quitting her job at a Washington law firm to be with her daughter, Snyder worked out of the house, word processing and transcribing during Maggie’s naps and at night after Rick came home.

The schedule took a tremendous toll on the relationship. “We had no time for just the two of us,” says Snyder. In 1985 the couple bought a three-bedroom house in the Maryland suburb of Kensington. To help defray mortgage costs, Snyder and Diebolt turned one room into an efficiency apartment. Eighteen months later, Snyder returned to work, putting Maggie, who by then was fully recovered, into day care. “I had serious misgivings about it,” Snyder admits, “but I thought by going back to the office I would help stabilize our home life.”

That worked until last fall, when Diebolt quit his $40,000-a-year branch manager’s job and fulfilled a longtime dream by starting his own business. The new enterprise—a restaurant-cleaning company—not only required him to work 12-hour days, it also sent the couple into financial limbo; he hasn’t taken a salary since the business began. His relaxed approach to work has also been a source of marital conflict. “I’m willing to let phone calls slide a little bit in the interest of not looking too eager,” says Diebolt. “Leslie would prefer that as soon as I get a message I jump right on it.”

The couple’s increasingly divergent interests have compounded their problems. Snyder, an amateur photographer, is interested in the arts. Diebolt spends his free time attending meetings of the Institute for Spiritual Development. While he describes it as “kind of a free-form church,” Snyder finds it “a religion I can’t relate to. You can’t expect God to provide just because you believe. You have to cover your bases, return your calls.”

In January, realizing their marriage was in jeopardy, the couple began seeing a family counselor. “What we found out is that we’re growing—and not in a common direction,” says Snyder. “Our common interest is Maggie.” On June 24, five weeks before their seventh anniversary, they decided to end their marriage.

Neither Snyder nor Diebolt believes the seven-year itch was a factor in their breakup. “It’s got nothing to do with developing other relationships,” says Snyder. “It just took us seven years to get here.” Until they get their finances in order, Diebolt and Snyder plan to continue living together. As easy-going as ever, Diebolt doesn’t see that as a problem. “I think we’ll always be excellent friends,” he says.

The Walkers: Share your values and take no solo vacations

Ronnie and Greta Walker are the type of couple who might inspire just a touch of envy as they walk together down an L.A. street. They’re tall. They’re good-looking. They’re accomplished: Greta, 30, is a lawyer in the L.A. district attorney’s office; Ronnie, 32, works in the narcotics division of the police department. They have a terrific house. They have two attractive children, Charles, 4, and Camaryn, 16 months. And after seven years of marriage, they’re dizzyingly happy with each other and with their life.

“The most important thing is that we have the same values and goals and like the same things—traveling and picnics and shopping,” says Ronnie, who met Greta at a fraternity dance 13 years ago when she was, in her words, “on the lookout for tall boys.” From the start, adds Greta, “we were very much in love and never really went out with other people after that.”

The pair were married on July 25th, 1981, four days before the royal to-do. The timing, however, was strictly coincidental, since the Walkers had picked their wedding date a year in advance. “There’s not much we have in common with the royal couple,” Greta says with gentle irony. For the Walkers, the seven-year itch is simply not part of their marital lexicon. But Ronnie has a theory about why the Prince and Princess of Wales are afflicted. “Maybe they do too many things alone,” he says. “They take vacations alone—I wouldn’t dream of taking a vacation without Greta. That weakens the bond.” Indeed, the Walkers are planning a little trip, to the beaches near San Diego, to celebrate their seventh anniversary.

And they have every expectation of celebrating many more, thanks to their time-tested formula for avoiding conflict. “Talk it out,” says Greta. “Whatever it is, you’ve got to talk about it. It helps to be friends first. There’s got to be more than a physical attraction.”

Any advice for Charles and Di? “They have to do something to keep their marriage going,” counsels Ronnie. “They’ve got the money. They’ve just got to figure out ways to do more things together.”

—By Bonnie Johnson, Pat Freeman and Joanne Kaufman, with bureau reports

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