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Happily ever after until the divorce

By Cui Jia, He Na and Wu Wencong in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-16 08:20

Happily ever after until the divorce

The divorce of Faye Wong and Li Yapeng has prompted many people to take a searching look at their own marriages. Provided to China Daily

Broken marriages rise in China over last decade, report Cui Jia, He Na and Wu Wencong in Beijing.

'Sometimes, I believe everything comes with an expiration date and no relationship can be immortal" is a lyric from a love song by Faye Wong, the Chinese pop diva, who announced the end of her second marriage on Friday.

Wong, 44, and former actor turned business mogul Li Yapeng, 41, who had been married for eight years, signed a divorce agreement on Friday in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, where Li was born. Li has been awarded custody of the couple's 6-year-old daughter.

The high-profile divorce of this "perfect" celebrity couple has prompted many people to take a searching look at their own marriages.

China's divorce rate has risen at an annual rate of around 8 percent in the past 10 years, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

In 2012, more than 3.1 million couples divorced and experts are concerned that a high divorce rate may result in a host of social problems.

"I am not joking that our society will disintegrate if the family dissolves. Problems within the family are the fundamental cause of many social problems. Divorce not only affects the lives, work and families of the people concerned, it also affects their children's upbringing," Shu Xin, head of the China Marriage and Family Counseling Center, said on Sunday.

He said the number of crimes committed by children from single-parent families is far higher than those by children from traditional two-parent households. Moreover, the rising incidence of extramarital affairs and domestic violence also poses a growing threat to social stability and is ramping up the pressure on the government to safeguard it.

"Although no nationwide data is available about cases where divorce has resulted in criminal activity, our research in recent years in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Security and the People's Public Security University indicates that a high divorce rate results in a rise in crimes such as murder and serious physical injury," said Wu Changzhen, a professor who specializes in civil, marital and family law at China University of Political Science and Law, on Sunday.

"Furthermore, more than 50 percent of convicted killers who are sentenced to death claim that an unhappy marriage was the motive for the murder," she said.

It seems that behind Wong and Li's perfect smiles and public composure, they faced the same problems as any other couple. Following the divorce announcement, Li commented on his micro blog that Wong is set to be a legend, while he just wants a family. However, the reasons for their parting are, as yet, unclear.

'Perfect' couples

Zhao Junyan, a psychological counselor at the counseling center at Capital Normal University, admitted that she didn't know the details behind the divorce, but felt that certain factors could have been absent from the relationship - including caring for and being supportive of each other, and the sense of belonging to a family.

"People who question the viability of marriage when they see celebrities break up usually lack faith in themselves. In many people's minds, celebrities are their idols; they are perfect and so are their lives. The fans have high expectations and assume the celebrities are perfect in every respect, including their marriages," said Wang Jun, manager of Beijing Weiqing Marriage Consultant Co. "But celebrities are just people who have achieved a lot in a certain field. People are equal in marriage and even celebrities have to deal with the same problems other people have. It's inevitable."

Shu said he was recently consulted by a couple facing a tough decision. The couple, both well-known professors at a prestigious university in Shanghai, told him it had taken them years to make the decision to divorce because they didn't want to damage their social standing or their children's welfare. They felt their freedom to choose to end their marriage had been hijacked by social convention.

Wong and Li confirmed their split on separate micro blogs once the divorce became official. The posts generated heated public discussion. Some posters and bloggers said they would now devote more time to their own families to avoid the same fate. Others felt that divorce can be a civilized act and is sometimes the best option.

Wong wrote: "Our fate as husband and wife in this life is over. I'm well. Please take care of yourself". Opinion is divided over whether the post was a message to her fans or if she was addressing Li directly, but it attracted more than 100,000 replies in the hour after it appeared. As of 3 pm Sunday, the post had been forwarded more than 760,000 times and the divorce was front-page news across China on Saturday.

Experts said a prime factor in the high divorce rate among Chinese couples is a lack of communication or simply invalid communication, when couples feel they can't get the type of love they need from each other.

Wang Jun said a marriage is just like the human body - to keep it running normally, it needs to see the doctor every so often. Couples should talk to each other if small conflicts occur, and also seek help from relatives, friends and marriage counselors to prevent minor problems from getting out of hand and leading to an irreversible breakdown in communications.

'Family Harmony'

The Ministry of Civil Affairs is currently promoting the "Family Harmony" project, which seeks to improve the quality of marriages and help couples solve their marital crises, in the hope of lowering the divorce rate.

The nonprofit program, which was launched in Shanghai in March, aims to provide a greater number of highly skilled professional counselors and psychologists to work as "marriage doctors and nurses" and help to improve relationships and maintain social stability.

Zhao said most marital problems occur around seven or eight years after the wedding, a phenomenon known as the "seven-year itch".

"It's the time when the couple's economic status has become relatively stable but they have to take care of both the elderly and young in their family, which leaves little time for themselves," she said, adding that dedication to the children can't make up for or replace a lack of affection or the time partners can devote to each other.

The past few years have seen a rise in the number of couples filing for divorce within a year of getting married. In the most extreme cases, couples have even married and divorced on the same day. People marry with too much haste and lack a sense of responsibility to both their families and society, said Wu.

The problems may appear long before married life begins, according to Zhao, who said around one-fifth of her clients, mainly college students, come for counseling about relationship issues.

"The problem is that they all want to receive, rather than give. They are always thinking about what their boyfriend or girlfriend should do for them, instead of devoting their own time and emotions willingly," she said.

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