On the Rocks: Marriage Counseling in China

On the Rocks: Marriage Counseling in China
Sep 26, 2009 By Thomas Ackerman , eChinacities.com

China's once strong tradition of marriage has been on the rocks for some time now, with divorce rates increasing every year since 2002, and reaching 2.3 million in 2008. Where once divorce was extraordinarily rare and required an employer's permission, now there are quickie divorces available for a small fee. Such a sudden and drastic break from the marriage bonds has been attributed to countless factors: most commentators bring up increased economic prosperity, greater access to privacy and even the little emperor syndrome.

On the rocks Marriage counseling in china
Image by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons license.

An influx of ideals of romantic love may also be helping along the rise in breakups; once upon a time the marriage bond in China was seen as largely a practical matter and a job to do; today a growing number of young people expect something closer to a western experience of love, and can naturally become disillusioned when it disappears quickly or never appears at all. A modern lack of tolerance to the affairs and the lovers of the husband is also helping to end marriages in a country where concubines were once widely tolerated.

China has not failed to notice this sudden spike in divorces. February, 2006 saw China initiate its “Save the Marriage” project, a program started by All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) with an aim of training, literally, millions of marriage counselors. Individual government bureaus play the largest role locally, offering professional counseling from the divorce offices, with the aim of keeping the marriage together. Shanghai's Civil Affairs Bureau, also on the spurring of the ACWF, saw more than 3,000 trainees sign up to their program to become counselors in one year alone.

Many Chinese couples will get their first glimpse of marriage counseling from these local offices, often from young trainees, and possibly from older, untrained members. According to the Civil Affairs Office in Guangzhou, their counselors work to advise the husband and wife in better understanding each other and in communicating well. To younger couples, if given the opportunity to counsel them before marriage, they advise taking time in knowing each other first rather than making a hasty decision.

Another route that Chinese have towards getting help is through the neighborhood committees, or Ju Wei Hui. If the couple fights a lot at home, the Ju Wei Hui may in fact show up at their door and offer help uninvited. Though many of the matters that they deal with are trivial, they are dedicated to their goal and will even send a member to search out a husband or wife who does not wish to participate in the counseling.

Issues like poor communication and extramarital affairs are generally dealt with through psychological counseling. In cases of domestic violence, the Ju Wei Hui will investigate; if they consider the risk minor, they will continue with counseling, but if serious injury is inflicted, they will take the victim to the hospital and possibly bring in the law. These committees also get involved when the strains on the relationship are financial, offering job search help to the unemployed spouse.

Foreigners living in China suffer from marital difficulties and divorce at least as often as locals, but unless they are conversant in Chinese, their options are fewer. This is not without its consequences; temptation for foreigners in China to stray outside of marriage is great, whether due to strain from a heavy workload or the attractiveness they hold to their many potential Chinese flings. Nor is it the first thought of foreigners to show up at a government office for counseling, as most are used to going to private counselors and would consider a government employee an odd person to open up to. Several more cosmopolitan cities do offer help in English so it is worth searching out; for example, Community Center Shanghai has a counselor who specializes in counseling the city's foreign residents. Private counselors who speak English are extremely rare in mainland China, though many English-language churches offer such services for free.

Whether China can stem the flow from bleeding marriages is an open question. With city offices across the country filling up with counselors, they are certainly putting their minds to it. However, it is doubtful that a culture with little emphasis on heart-to-hearts between husbands and wives will suddenly open up to the strategy of personal understanding. Furthermore, with marriage carrying more expectations of happiness and less of hard work, it is questionable how well it will hold up to domestic discord or to temptations outside of the home, even with a million counselors or more.


Related Links

Ten Cities with the Highest Divorce Rates in China
The Divorce Act: Understanding Chinese Women
Is it Alright to Engage in Extramarital Sex?

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Apr 29, 2016 12:23 Report Abuse



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Sep 09, 2014 15:56 Report Abuse



Very well said, Married into Chinese i also found the same thing.Fortunately its getting better. But fot Chinese it looks like its a duty instead of expressing feeling and love. Sex i bonding..... how can a relationship work if BOTH parties dont get the joy of what sex should give?
There is no reason why woman cant discuss and decide how to enjoy sex... I recently saw the most open sex between 2 sexes.. have a look at the Japanese... they live it out to the full..

Jun 11, 2011 23:22 Report Abuse