Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Kate Middleton

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It's been five years since the world witnessed the wedding of the century, when Prince William finally made Kate Middleton his royal bride.

Today, the couple is expected to mark the occasion privately with their children at their sprawling estate in the English countryside. It sounds like a welcome respite for the pair, who just returned from an exhausting seven-day tour of India and Bhutan.

Meanwhile, it's increasingly clear that marriage suits them. Over the past five years Kate has seamlessly adapted to William's unusual world, without any public mishaps. She's banished her shyness and her confidence has grown. They are evidently more in love than ever; two weeks ago, as they hiked Tiger's Nest in Bhutan, they couldn't help but hold hands as they walked in unison.

Kate Middleton, Prince William, Prince George, Princess Charlotte

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Their PDA is a far cry from the stilted royal couples of days gone by, this match evidently based on connection rather than duty.

But there was a time when we didn't think William and Kate would make it to their wedding day, let alone their fifth anniversary. Even for blue-blooded royals, the path to true love doesn't always run smoothly.

In 2007, William and Kate called it quits, buckling from the intense media pressure of being in the spotlight. Growing up, the palace had struck a deal with the press to give William and his younger brother, Prince Harry, privacy. But while the future king was given a wide berth as he attempted to live life as a normal student at St. Andrews University, after graduation things changed. So when William and Kate's platonic friendship developed into something deeper, all bets were off as the public's fascination about the ordinary girl who might one day be queen consort reached fever pitch.

Duchess Catherine, Kate Middleton, Prince William

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Four years of dating a prince had made Kate one of the most photographed women in the world, and she wasn't even a member of the royal family yet! Every morning, paparazzi would wait for her to exit her central London flat as the hunger for a royal engagement grew (spurred on by the belief that William's marriage would somehow erase the calamity of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's tortured union).

But the reality of what commitment would really mean was starting to sink in and William was having doubts. Was he too young to make this kind of promise? And could Kate, at just 25, handle the pressure? Being together would sentence her to a life of relentless public scrutiny.

Prince William, Kate Middleton, Christmas

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William ended it and so began a huge culture shock for a couple that was used to living in the same house together at college. But William needed time. As he admitted in an interview with the U.K. Press Association in 2010, "We both were very young…we were sort of both finding ourselves as such and being different characters and stuff, it was very much trying to find our way and we were growing up, and so it was just sort of a bit of space and a bit of things like that and it worked out for the better."

He could've been any young man, recalling the need for "space" and time to mature.

Prince William, Prince Harry

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"Waity Katie," as Kate was cruelly labeled back then, was devastated. She later revealed in the joint interview with William (of course it was conducted side-by-side), "I think at the time I wasn't very happy about it, but actually it made me a stronger person. You find out things about yourself that maybe you hadn't realized...You can get quite consumed by a relationship when you are younger and I really valued that time for me as well—although I didn't think it at the time."

Anyone would have been hard-pressed to tell—but that was the point!

Rather than spend her days moping under the bed covers, Kate became determined to show William just what he was giving up. She immediately went with her mother on a trip to Ireland to visit an art exhibition, and then she flew to Ibiza and spent time with her brother, James. Back in London, she filled up her social diary and planned fun nights out with sister Pippa.

Kate Middleton, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

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"Operation Win William Back" meant proving her independence. And when she wasn't partying with her friends, she was devoting herself to rigorous 6:30 a.m. rowing training—anything to take her mind off the breakup.

But though they were physically apart, they remained as emotionally connected as ever. William continued to call Kate; she was his rock. He found it hard to get close to new people without questioning their true intentions and his long friendship with Kate proved her loyalty. She understood the complexities of his world. She had been a shoulder to cry on through university, the inquest into his mother's death, and his dad's marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles. (He only needed to look at his own father's marital history to be reminded of what happens when you deny yourself from being with the right person.)

Princess Diana, Prince William

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Happily, Kate's plan worked. After eight weeks apart, William and Kate were back in one another's arms. Giving the relationship space had managed to save it and now both of them had come to terms with their destiny. During the split, Kate had shown herself to be level-headed and discreet, never speaking to the press about her heartbreak.

Four years later, they were pronounced husband and wife.

 Prince William, Kate Middleton, Duchess Catherine, Wedding, Iconic Celeb Photos

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Their road to the altar is one of a deep friendship transformed into enduring romance. Of a commoner winning back her handsome prince. And, of course, now there are Prince George and Princess Charlotte to help carry their legacy into the future.

Over the past five years, Kate has been allowed to gradually grow into her role as Duchess and future Queen; and as a result, William and Kate have created a stronger royal family.

Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William

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Kate's middle-class roots have taught him the importance of life away from the palace. He's the first direct heir with a civilian job (as an air ambulance pilot), they have very ordinary dinner parties with their friends and make sure to spend Christmas with her family as well as his. The Middleton bond keeps both of them grounded. Together they protect one another from the glare of living in the royal fishbowl, all too aware of what can happen without the security of a partner to experience it with.

Ultimately, William and Kate are not just symbols of a modern monarchy; they are also emblems of marriage in 2016.

Duchess Catherine, Kate Middleton, Prince William

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Their wedding may have resembled a Disney movie, but behind the palace gates is a hectic young family with two kids under 3. They are realistic in their expectations, have ups and downs, and possess a desire to balance privacy with duty. In all likelihood, they will have a long wait before they are eventually made King and Queen and so are making the most of their time together. William and Kate have drafted a formula that should keep them happily married for a very long time to come.

Or dare we say, ever after.

Kate Middleton, Prince William

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