‘That married couples can live together day after day,’ quipped Bill Cosby, ‘is a miracle that the Vatican has overlooked.’
Considering the pressures on the modern marriage – two partners working to pay the bills, competition for places in the better schools, the threat of rising prices and falling living standards – it is indeed a wonder that more marriages don’t fall apart.
For most of us who are married, there is one pressure we will never experience. We don’t have to concern ourselves with how we appear in the public eye.
Most married couples are conscious of how our friends and colleagues may see their relationship - we are social creatures at heart. But the wider world is neither interested nor impacted by the strength of our ties.
Prince William and Catherine Middleton are not so fortunate in that regard. Many millions of people who’ve never met them - and never will – are going to be watching their wedding this week.
Carried by the emotion and spectacle of the occasion, many of us will feel that we’re in some way invited to the wedding – albeit on the end of a TV link. Yet we have not been invited into the marriage that follows and neither should we be.
If we learned little else from the break up of the marriage between William’s parents, we should learn this: interest in a royal wedding can quickly morph into an almost obsessive preoccupation with the minute details of the marriage itself.
In the case of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, every argument, silently witnessed at the time by household servants, later found its way onto the printed page of newspapers and biographies – sometimes with the connivance of the parties themselves.
Press reports indicate that Kate, as she is still affectionately known, is proving to be potentially as big a draw for public interest as was Diana. Understandably right now, there is great interest in how Kate performs her public duties and even how she fills some of her private time before the wedding.
The challenge will come after the wedding, when some who feel they’ve invested time and emotion in following the wedding on TV may also feel entitled to know the state of the marriage.
The good intentions born out of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, to allow her sons a greater measure of privacy than she had not enjoyed, may prove to be short-lived if the latest royal marriage proves to be in any way ‘interesting’ – that is, if it can be packaged as a form of reality TV.
Of course, reality TV is nothing of the sort. If reality TV is your concept of reality, you need to get out of the house more often. This ‘reality’ is almost totally contrived for the cameras and the audience knows it and applauds the sleight of hand.
Even as news of their engagement broke, broadcasters were plugging ‘specials’ on the William and Kate, some of which went to air within hours of the announcement. Most of them, particularly the dramas, contained huge amounts of fantasy, created to ‘fill out’ the story.
Many of the same people who will watch the wedding this week will, even with the best intentions, watch closely for news – real or contrived – about what’s happening inside the marriage.
Normally after the first few months of marriage, even the luckiest of couples will start looking to reaffirm their relationships and roles outside of their partnership.
At that point, the presence of family and friends can either greatly help or hinder a marriage, providing support or sowing division.
Yet in most cases there is just one set of in-laws to worry about. However, if we’re not careful with royal marriages, the entire nation takes on the role of a third set of in-laws.
Some in-laws – like my own, thankfully – are brilliant. But there’s another brand of in-law, the type who constantly offer unsought advice and proffer constant criticism, usually without having the benefit of accurate intelligence.
In the end, the hapless couple struggle to find the space to build the lines of communication and the shared memories that make a marriage last.
Imagine how much more difficult this might be if the in-law factor was multiplied millions of times, with everyone in your world knowing – or thinking they know –about your challenges.
Prince William has, apparently, expressed a desire that he and his bride be allowed a relatively normal in the early stages of their marriage. The Queen and Prince Philip had this opportunity in Malta and it may be one of the reasons they have made it thus far.
If weddings were merely about signing a legal contract, or a romantic day out, even royal weddings would hold less attraction for us. Even in these often cynical times, marriage is still seen as a covenant and a wedding involves the exchanging of vows and the intertwining of two lives into a common cause.
A royal wedding carries the extra sparkle of uniting a nation – and reminding us of the core values that shape our shared cultural worldview.
Yet while we look forward to a huge festive occasion we must remember that a marriage is at hand and not just a party.
While we may all share in the joy of a royal wedding, we shouldn’t expect a share in the ups and downs of the marriage itself.
Hear Mal on ABC Radio (Australia) on this issue