Former Archbishop warns that “fantasy” weddings are threatening marriage

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Rowan Williams, has warned that the growing pressure put upon couples to have the “perfect” wedding is in danger of becoming a major threat to marriage.

Lord Williams was speaking at a debate in London which had been organised by legal firm Winckworth Sherwood. His audience included a group of divorce lawyers and in his speech, Lord Williams said that young couples were being bombarded by intensive marketing campaigns by the wedding industry to have a fairy tale and often very costly wedding, often leading to the detriment of the marriage itself.

Lord Williams said that getting married had become an “experience” that could be marketed, instead of a simple declaration of one person’s commitment to another. He added that weddings had been transformed into “massively fantastical “events which were in danger of leaving the routine and reality of married life looking very dull in comparison.

He also used his speech to hit out against the rising trend for pre-nuptial agreements which, he suggested, were in danger of eroding the trust which should form the cornerstone of a happy, stable marriage.

Since his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams has taken over as the master of Magdalene College Cambridge and had joined a panel of experts to debate the roles that “love or law” take in marriage. He acknowledged that although rapid social changes have taken place, marriage is still very highly regarded as a “public affirmation of commitment.” However, he warned that marriage faces a number of threats, including the “marketisation of marriage.”

Lord Williams said: “That is the perfect relationship crystallised in the perfect wedding day – the immense economic, advertising investment in this massively fantastical experience which you go through on your wedding day, after which, of course, nothing is ever quite so good again.

“That is an aspect I think of the short term, unimaginative, emotionally unintelligent climate that sometimes we seem forced to inhabit.”

Although he was speaking to an audience of divorce lawyers, Lord Williams also took the opportunity to criticise pre-nups: “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.”

Emily Brand, one of the partners at Winckworth Sherwood, said: “The outside pressures and influences that couples face are greater than ever and it is at times difficult for them to take a step back and look at what the values of a marriage should be, that help make it successful.”

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