The Queen and Prince Philip wedding photo via Getty
The Queen and Prince Philip wedding photo via Getty

Peter Williams: What's the secret to longevity in marriage?

Peter Williams 12/04/2021

OPINION: The big story of the weekend was the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh. It was inevitable, he was 99 years old, and he’d been in hospital recently. 

There have of course been many kinds and deservedly fulsome tributes - although I cannot believe the callousness and the coldness of the tribute that came in from Harry and Meaghan in California, and many compilations of his so-called gaffes over the years. Some of them were absolute classics. 

My favourite was the one about his daughter Princess Anne, who when the Duke was asked about her interests and friends said; “well if it doesn’t fart or eat hay she’s not interested”. 

He was always magnificently honest. He told a group of businessmen 60 years ago; “I have never been noticeably reticent about talking on subjects about which I know nothing.” My god, the man had the perfect skills to be a talkback host on the radio. 

But there is an aspect of his life I want to concentrate on and that is the fact that he and the Queen were married for 73 years. That is a life together that has seldom been replicated anywhere, and considering the marriage and separation statistics of the 21st century, the chances of a couple who get married today being together in 73 years' time is quite, quite remote. 

And maybe the most extraordinary thing about this enduring relationship is that so many marriages in their immediate family ended in divorce - the Queen’s sister, and then three of the Queen and the Duke’s four children all had failed marriages. Yet they endured a love story which began 80 years ago, when the Queen was just 13, so the historians say.

Mind you, if you’ve ever watched or believed The Crown on Netflix there were times when they were far from happy with each other. But isn’t that the case in every marriage? 

So in the light of this extraordinary and long-standing marriage, is there a lesson for us all in the way this couple lived their life as a couple? The stats say that these days in New Zealand there are just a bit more than twice as many marriages as there are divorces. The most recent figures are for 2019. There were 19,071 marriages and civil unions and 8,388 divorces. 

Based on that, the chances of you being married to the same person until death does you part are not very high. So just how important is it to actually get married? It seems countless couples live together happily for years and raise children without actually going through the legal process of getting a marriage certificate. And with the Relationship Property Act the way it is, a relationship that ends after three years or more is not supposed to financially disadvantage either party. 

So why do people get married? And then if there are children how important is it for the marriage to stay intact? Is the old saying “for the sake of the children” still relevant?