Love stories can end in divorce

Updated: 2013-03-27 07:14

By He Na (China Daily)

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Love stories can end in divorce

Increasing number of couples need guidance to keep spark alive, reports He Na in Shanghai.

Having been selected as a parents' representative at his son's primary school in Shanghai, Wang Huan was invited to make a speech at the opening ceremony for the new semester. As the owner of four companies, Wang, 40, is used to public speaking and handled his duties well. His performance won warm applause from the audience, including his 39-year-old wife and young son.

When he went back to his seat, 9-year-old Wang Xiaotian gave his father a close hug and a big kiss. "I am the happiest child in the world," said the little boy as he piled his parents' hands on top of his own.

Wang and his wife smiled at each other in a touching family scene that was observed with envy by many other parents.

In Xiaotian's eyes, his parents are a wonderful couple. Even after 10 years of marriage, they are always polite to each other and never quarrel, fight, or even raise their voices. However, the little boy has only observed a small part of his parents' relationship and is unaware of the stresses and strains on the relationship caused by an episode that almost led to divorce.

Wang's wife quit her job after giving birth, meaning that her husband had to provide for all the family's financial needs. He has given his family the best life he can afford, but his busy work schedule and the expansion of his businesses have inevitably led to him spending less and less time with the family, leading to an estrangement.

"I even found it hard to find topics that interested us both," said Wang Huan's wife. She applied to study abroad, hoping to rescue the situation by updating her knowledge and expanding her world view.

However, to her surprise, when she returned home full of hope 12 months later, she found a divorce application waiting for her.

Wang confessed that he had fallen in love with another woman, but his wife flatly refused to accept the divorce petition, despite the offer of a large sum of money as compensation.

Fearing that going to court would affect his son and his business, Wang turned to Shu Xin, a director of the online marriage guidance program Weiqing120 and head of the China Marriage and Family Counseling Center.

"Wang's case is very common nowadays," said Shu. "According to our research, more than 60 percent of marriages in China are in seriously 'poor health', a state of affairs indicated by the couples having nothing to say to each other, a lack of passion, extramarital affairs and frequent quarrels about trivial matters. Although people can maintain a troubled relationship, the trials and conflicts can accumulate to a toxic level and easily lead to the marriage collapsing."

Shu had long talks with the two women. He discovered that Wang's wife was a pleasant, elegant and knowledgeable woman, who still loved her husband. She was also deeply concerned about the possible impact on the boy if the divorce went through.

On the other hand, Wang's lover, in her early 30s, had no idea how to handle a small child or live with an extended family.

"I told Wang my thoughts on the two women. My words seemed to remind him of something and he murmured that he would think things over," said Shu. "To further help him make a decision, I asked the women to each write a letter containing the words they most wanted to say to him. Unsurprisingly, Wang was moved to tears after he'd read the letter his wife had written. He told me that they had been forced to overcome great difficulties to get married and had experienced many happy days in the past."

The story has a happy ending; Wang's lover agreed to end the affair, but only after he bought her a property.

"Thanks to Shu's help I made the right decision. Now I get on well with my wife, just like when we were first married. My son really enjoys the time we spend together," said Wang.

Shu said, "It's only when a marriage has descended to a level where there are no words to say and love and sex don't exist anymore, that I will pronounce a death sentence on it. After two decades of research, I realize that most divorces are avoidable, even if the marriage is deeply troubled."

Rising divorce rate

China's divorce rate has risen sharply in recent years, sounding alarm bells across a nation that attaches great importance to family harmony. Experts have warned that more measures are needed to save increasingly fragile families. If they fail, the consequences could be disastrous.

Thirteen million couples were married in 2011, an increase of 4.9 percent from 2010, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. However, the year also saw 2.87 million marriages end in divorce, a rise of 7.3 percent from 2010 and equal to more than 5,000 couples divorcing every day.

The reasons can seem trivial and sometimes even comical. Shu is working on a case in which a husband has filed for divorce because he and his wife are unable to agree on which set of parents they will stay with during Spring Festival next year. The husband insisted on the divorce after his wife muttered some vague, angry words about his parents.

Another seemingly trivial case Shu recalled was that of a businessman who wanted to divorce his wife after she inadvertently broke wind and embarrassed him in front of important business partners during a very formal meeting.

"Many cases have been reported where the couple divorced within a year of marriage. In the most extreme cases, couples have registered and divorced on the same day. People are too hasty in getting married and lack a sense of responsibility to both family and society," said Wu Changzhen, a professor who specializes in civil, marital and family law at China University of Political Science and Law.

"No nationwide data is available on cases where divorce has resulted in criminal activity, for example when a spurned spouse has arranged for his or her former partner to be beaten or worse. But our research during recent years indicates that the high divorce rate is actually proportionate to a rise in criminal cases. Most murders are the result of extramarital affairs. It's of the utmost importance that we take the necessary measures to intervene and save failing marriages," she said.

Chen Yiyun, a marriage researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said: "Many people will laugh when they hear some of the reasons for divorce, but for me it's not funny at all. Society will disintegrate if the family dissolves, and this is a fundamental cause of many social problems. It not only affects the lives, work and families of those who divorce, it also affects their children's upbringing.

"The rate of juvenile crime committed by children from single-parent families is three times higher than that of children from integrated families. The rising numbers of extramarital affairs and domestic violence also increasingly threaten social stability and greatly raise the cost of law enforcement."

'Marital medics'

"Running a marriage is just like running a business. Couples need to communicate and a 'cold war' is never recommended as a way of solving marital problems. On the contrary, the longer a failing marriage keeps limping along, the greater the likelihood of an irrevocable breakdown," said Chen.

"If a person is in poor health, they need to see a doctor, otherwise long-term neglect could eventually lead to a fatal disease. Failing marriages are very similar. When problems arise, the couple needs to see a 'doctor' to diagnose the problem and regain their marital health," she said.

Realizing the social hazards inherent in high rates of divorce, while seeking to improve the quality of marriage and help people solve their marital crises, the Ministry of Civil Affairs is promoting the Family Harmony Project.

The nonprofit program, carried out under the auspices of the ministry, was launched in Shanghai on March 6. It aims to provide a greater number of highly skilled professional councilors and psychologists to work as "marriage doctors and nurses" to enhance the work of improving relationships and maintaining social stability.

The first batch of 300 counselors will work in businesses and communities and with families in crisis, providing advice to 100,000 couples.

Two websites, jiahegongcheng and weiqing120, along with a 24-hour hotline (4008-120-089), are available to help those in need. If a marriage cannot be repaired, the "marital medics" will also provide services to protect the legal rights of the divorcing couple.

The hotline receives more than 1,000 calls a day, of which 70 percent concern extramarital affairs.

"Marriage doctors and nurses are psychologists and marriage counselors who are keen to help marriages on the brink of failure. They volunteer to teach people how to maintain their marriage and keep it healthy and happy," said Shu.

"No amount of career success can replace the success of a good marriage, because career success only accompanies you for a certain time but your marriage can be with you for your entire life. I have seen so many people who drive luxury cars and own large enterprises and property, but without a happy marriage, even their careers are affected negatively. The project is meaningful and practical in solving real problems. An old Chinese proverb says 'A harmonious family can lead to success in everything'. I hope the project can be promoted nationwide, because it can be one of the most effective ways of stabilizing society," said Chen.

"The reasons for marital breakdown are becoming increasingly complicated and that's leading to rising demand for the expertise of the marriage doctors and nurses. Although most of the counselors are highly qualified as psychologists and marriage counselors, more training should be available," said Wei Mingzhen, founder of the first marriage hospital in Hubei province and deputy director of the China Marriage and Family Counseling Center.

Some names in this article have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Contact the writer at

Jiang Xueqing and Peng Yining contributed to this story.

Love stories can end in divorce

(China Daily 03/27/2013 page6)