Rowan Williams: fairytale wedding pressures putting 'tragic' strain on marriages

(Photo: Caetano Lacerda)

Rowan Williams has spoken out against the trend of expensive "fantastical" weddings which he claims is threatening the future of marriages.

Speaking at a debate entitled "Marriage: Love or Law" in London, the former Archbishop of Canterbury said that the "marketisation of marriage" must be curtailed.

He labelled the idea of "the perfect relationship crystallised in the perfect wedding day" as a farce, suggesting that it was nothing more than the product of "immense economic advertising investment in this massively fantastical experience ... after which, of course, nothing is ever quite so good again".

"This is an aspect I think of the short-term, unimaginative, emotionally unintelligent climate that sometimes we seem forced to inhabit," he said.

According to Lord Williams, who is now master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge, the way in which weddings have become hugely aspirational "experiences" as opposed to a simple public declaration of commitment is having a detrimental effect on the stability and longevity of marriages.

He suggested that it is symbolic of our fast-paced society that favours "rapid gratification" over long-term commitments, and seeks to emulate the excessive weddings of celebrities and the rich and famous, which, incidentally, rarely seem to stand the test of time.

Another issue highlighted by Lord Williams was a crisis of identity occurring among young men, which he referred to as "the real challenge posed in some sections of society".

"In many parts of our society young men particularly have dysfunctional networks; small chances of employment, insecurity internal and external.

"That very tragic very challenging fact is part of the social and economic map that we are looking at," he warned, indicating that the poor economic climate in the UK has kept many couples from making a formal commitment in the past few years.

The former Archbishop also criticised the increasing use of pre-nuptial agreements among those getting married.

"If we begin with a sense of relationships needing to be governed by contract because we need to establish precisely what our claims are, then we may find we have problems in a relational and ethical register arriving from that," he told his audience, which included several lawyers.

"As a society there is much yet to resolve around male roles, and we need to take a long hard look at the marketisation of marriage. This, I believe, poses the greatest threat to long-term successful marriages."