As the Queen and Prince Philip celebrate their platinum wedding anniversary, Rosa Silverman asks whether a modern marriage could last 70 years.
As she points out, the royal couple married in their twenties, while in 2014 the average age for men to marry was 33, and for women, 31. Unless more people live to more than 100, platinum anniversaries will be rare.
As she also notes, in the 1960s the advent of the Pill for unmarried women meant that marriage was delayed, and then seen as irrelevant for many. Birth-control campaigners maintained that ‘trying out’ partners would mean happier marriages, but the result of whole generations of people being ‘tried out’ and discarded was a breakdown in trust between the sexes and an increase in divorce. Divorced couples are unlikely to have notched up 70 years of marriage.
Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation remains optimistic about the potential for long-lasting marriages, insisting that people still want ‘reliable love’. Rosa Silverman comments: ‘It’s one thing to declare your union will endure “till death do us part”. It’s quite another to put that into practice, as the steady rise in “silver splitters” (those divorcing over 65) shows.’
The wedding vows are not a magic formula that will make a couple live happily ever after; rather they constitute a public declaration of the determination to stick at a marriage even when it is unhappy – not just to hang on until the anniversary presents roll in, but always seeking to make it better. A marriage that survives a bad patch emerges stronger than a marriage that makes the bad patch permanent by ending in divorce.
By seeing divorce as the answer to a failing marriage, couples set themselves up for that failure as soon as something goes wrong, seeing every row as heralding a break-up. In contrast marriage, holding two people together through the inevitable ups and downs of life, with their intense but passing emotions, is the answer to the problems encountered within marriage. The answer is not divorce, and not, as Left-wing campaigners have claimed for years, to promote cohabitation as a viable alternative. Not marrying simply condemns countless couples to serial break-ups, and has hit the poor hardest of all.
Campaigners believe that marriage is a social construct from which people need to be liberated so that they can freely love rather than being ‘forced’ to love – that once everyone has been liberated from marriage, no one will miss it. Yet children still need the security of permanence, and everyone still seeks commitment, although no one is willing to commit, believing that permanent marriage is an oxymoron. Some would encourage this pessimistic view, but marriages, like cars, do not just fail; if they go wrong it means they require maintenance, not smashing to bits. The Queen and Prince Philip are living proof of this age-old wisdom.