Conjugal bliss?

As divorce rate surges TV shows on celebrity couples’ marital advice are hits

Ying Caier w

Cherrie Ying: dishes out the marital advice on hit TV show

Back in May, some of China’s more overbearing local governments demanded that couples take a quiz before they could be granted divorces. It included questions about favourite foods and how the chores were divided. The higher the score, the less likely the couple were to have their divorce immediately approved.

The goal, said officials, was to discourage “impulse divorces” in a country with a separation rate that the government sees as a source of social instability. “Through the guidance of the questions, couples can reminisce on the moments of their relationship and reflect on their familial roles and responsibilities,” one quizmaster told the Yangtze Evening Post.

But if the exam doesn’t stop couples from divorcing, perhaps a new ‘cooling off’ period might change their minds instead?

A new proposal from the country’s Supreme People’s Court is that couples filing for divorce should also have to wait a month before their paperwork starts to get processed. The idea is to give husbands and wives more of a window to resolve their differences or receive counselling. The hope: they withdraw their application before the end of the period.

Nearly two million couples filed for divorce in the first six months of 2017 in China, an increase of 11% compared with the same period the year before. The statistics reveal that 70% of the divorces filed were initiated by women. In most cases incompatibility was cited as the major reason.

Perhaps couples who want to stay married should watch more television together, especially Happiness Trio, a reality show about marriage and relationships on Tencent Video, which offers lessons on maintaining a happy union.

The show transplants three (happily married) celebrity couples to the countryside outside of Beijing, and follows them around the clock. The aim is to explore marital interactions between two people without the distractions of children and everyday life.

Cynics might counter that 24-hour filming is hardly a representative of a real-life situation. But the series has been popular since it was first shown in July, accumulating over a billion views on Tencent’s on line video platform.

“The popularity of Happiness Trio, like all the other hit shows, is because of being in the right place at the right time. In the past few years, the most popular variety shows are mostly competition-based programmes. While the shows are fun to watch, viewers are getting tired of the concept,” says Melding Cloud, an entertainment blog. “Suddenly, audiences prefer slower-paced programmes: watching people looking at sunrises and sunsets, or cooking and talking about nothing, whichsuddenly becomes very appealing.”

Audiences have been captivated by the dynamics between the celebrity couples. Wang Xiaofei, for instance, took heat from netizens for putting up with what was termed as his wife Barbie Hsu’s “princess-like behaviour”. In one episode, she whines when Wang leaves the room and later she asks her husband to tell her a story, give her a massage and coax her to sleep.

Hsu’s reputation took another hit when she said that she won’t eat shrimp. Why? Not because she is averse to the crustacean but because her mother taught her “only eat shrimp if the man peels the shell for you”.

“Big S [Hsu’s nickname], you are really too demanding. This is the symptom of someone with severe princess sickness,” one netizen wrote.

Others came to the couple’s defence. “The best thing about Wang Xiaofei is that he doesn’t compare his wife to all the ‘other wives’ or judge her according to the standards of traditional Chinese women. This could be because his own mother [a famous female entrepreneur] is no ordinary woman. But in his heart, he doesn’t think there are rules and standards that apply for a woman to be a good wife,” one blogger wrote.

Wang also defended his wife from the criticism, revealing she had suffered a miscarriage shortly before filming and was feeling vulnerable. “The programme has allowed us to escape our grief as we spent time alone with each other and cherished every moment of it. It’s not easy to be a woman. But it’s even tougher to be a mother,” says Wang. “And what’s the big deal about a husband peeling shrimps for his wife?”

The other couples have also resonated with the audiences. Take Ai Fukuhara and Chiang Hung-Chieh, the newlyweds on Happiness Trio. Even when the two are doing something banal like house chores, they hold hands and occasionally smooch. She is a calming presence to Chiang, a professional table tennis player from Taiwan. And he never stops showing appreciation for the things she does around the house.

“What we can learn from Ai Fukuhara and Chiang Hung-Chieh is that he never takes her for granted. On the show, he mentioned several times that marrying Fukuhara is the best thing that’s ever happened in his life… In a marriage two people are never going to be completely compatible. They have to work hard on their relationship; they make concessions and trade-offs,” advised China Daily, in unlikely marriage counselling mode.

Meanwhile, a similar show Viva La Romance has also been getting a lot of attention on Hunan Satellite TV. This reality series follows four female stars, including Hong Kong actress Cherrie Ying and famous host Xie Na, as they leave behind their respective families to go on a holiday together. The husbands, meanwhile, are shown sitting in the studio giving their own commentaries on the trip and what their wives discuss.

The spouses also offer a few relationship tips for couples. When asked who apologises first in an argument, one of the men says, “Usually it’s me. I used not to do that, because I didn’t think I did anything wrong. But over time, I realised that just by apologising I don’t lose anything. So don’t get too hung up about who’s winning or losing an argument. That’s the only way to move forward. Otherwise, you will be both stuck in the same place, angry and bitter.”

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