Couples say dedication, not time, determines the strength of a marriage

By Zhang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/18 18:28:00

Lightning marriages, where people get married shortly after they meet, are gaining popularity in China. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Zhang Ning (pseudonym), an orthodontist in Beijing, still remembers the night she met Wang Hai (pseudonym). She had just broken up with her boyfriend of three years and was ready to get back on the dating scene, so when her colleague offered to play matchmaker, she decided to give it a try.

When she walked into the restaurant to meet Wang, she was not sure what to think.

"My first impression of him was that he was good looking, and he talked a lot," Zhang recalled.

The date went well, and they went on to see each other almost five times a week.

One night they were talking about what would make a strong marriage.

"He told me that he believed the length of time two people know each other does not improve the chances of having a successful marriage," she said.

"Then he looked at me and asked if I would marry him. I said yes, I would, and four days later, we obtained a marriage license," she laughed.

Zhang's marriage to Wang is called shanhun, or "lightning marriage." It refers to a quick marriage between couples who only know each other for a very short time.

Recently, news of domestic and foreign celebrities getting lightning marriages have caused a stir in the media. Rumors of possible nuptials between American singer Taylor Swift and British actor Tom Hiddleston has further kindled public discussion of lightning marriages.

According to a July Us Weekly report, even though the couple have just been dating for a month, Hiddleston is already planning to propose, and a source from Swift's camp said that she would definitely say yes.

Whether Swift will become Mrs. Hiddleston is still uncertain, but what's sure is that lightning marriages are gaining popularity in China.

Research from the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau on a pool of 922 married people born between 1980 and 1992, found that 45.2 percent of the respondents got married after dating for a year or less, an report in April 2015 said.

Chen Zhilin, a relationship counselor who got his PhD in Psychology at the University College London, said the main reason many people are getting married shortly after meeting each other is job-related stress.

According to Chen, pressures at work makes people hyper-focused on their job until they get to a particular age when the desire to get married kicks in. This, he said, is what leads to lightning marriages.

He said another reason is that more Chinese people are becoming practical about marriage. They see it more as a pooling of resources, with each bringing their own advantages to the relationship, rather than as a match based purely on emotional attachment.

"So, once they find a suitable match, they would tie the knot even if they have only known each other for a short time," Chen said.

The stigma of being leftover has made some Chinese more practical and less willing to wait extended periods between dating and marriage, experts say. Photo: Li Hao/GT

China's marriage culture

Zhang was not only charmed by Wang's good looks and verbal skills, but also thought about practical matters that would make their life easier in the future.

"He is paid well and has the ability to grow in his company," Zhang said. "He is also stable enough financially to purchase an apartment for us."

A lightning marriage has unique characteristics in China compared to other countries in terms of how the couple meet, their social background, and their goals, Chen said.

"Lightning marriages in China usually start with a blind date. They meet, see each other as a good match, and get married soon afterward," he said.

He added that in China, majority of the people who tend to enter into a lightning marriage are those so-called leftover men and women. Labeled "leftover" because they have reached an age-based threshold without getting married, these men and women are usually under tremendous social and family pressure to marry and have children. So, when they find someone who they can build a family with, with or without deep-rooted affection for each other, they tend to take the plunge.

Yuan Zhi (pseudonym), a 34-year-old engineer in Beijing, got married at 31. His wife was the same age. They dated for 10 weeks before getting married.

"I was under a lot of family pressure back then. My mother nagged me about getting married every day. She even cried on the phone because she was afraid she would never have a grandchild," Yuan said.

When Yuan met his wife, she, too, was also under tremendous pressure to marry. After concluding that she had a good temperament and seemed to be a good match for him, he popped the question.

More popular in China?

According to a survey conducted by the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the average amount of time spent getting to know a person before marriage is about a year, and the expectation varies according to gender, said a December 2012 Chinese Business news report.

The commission found that of 77,045 Chinese respondents, male respondents, who accounted for 58 percent, believe the dating should last about 11 months before marriage, while female expect to date for at about 13 months.

However, according to a BrideBox report in February 2015, a survey of random sample of 2,072 women aged 18 to 45 in the US, the average length of a relationship before engagement is 44 months or about three and half years. It does not show how long they expect to wait in between the engagement and the actual wedding day.

"They don't share a strong desire for a quick marriage like the Chinese do. Many of the couples in Western countries would live together for years and even have a child together, and still wouldn't get married," said Chen,  who had studied in the UK for 10 years.

He explained that that's partly caused by different laws and social norms.

"In China, if a couple has a child outside of wedlock, the child wouldn't have a birth certificate and hukou (household registration), which means that he or she wouldn't have access to things like hospital services and schooling.

The downside of lightning marriages

The divorce rate is rapidly increasing in China. In 2010, about 2.68 million couples across the country got a divorce. That number increased by 36 percent to about 3.64 million in 2014, a China Women's News report said. In the report, experts attributed the climbing divorce rate to lightning marriages.

In March, two famous Chinese artists who go by the name of Jianguoxiongdi staged a performance art show, where two strangers got married and divorced within 48 hours. The performance aimed to show the relationship between the increasing divorce rate and lightning marriage, reported in March.

Yuan's marriage proves this theory. Just one year after having a lightning wedding, he and his wife divorced.

The key reason that led to dissolution of their marriage was an incompatible temperament - neither of them could control their temper and compromise.

"When we were dating, she was gentle, considerate, and loving, but after we married, she became bad-tempered, and nitpicky," Yuan said. "I cannot remember what we fought about, but we fought over every little thing."

After a while the situation became intolerable and the two decided to divorce. "In the beginning, I tried to tolerate it, but [after 12 months,] I knew I could not take it anymore," he said.

Chen said the risk with lightning marriages is that couples do not fully know each other, and people tend to present only the good parts of themselves when they start dating.

But Chen said it is not only time that determines a healthy marriage. Even if couples tie the knot after extended dating and courtship periods, it still does not guarantee wedded bliss.

"Love and marriage are different; marriage takes work to maintain. To have a successful marriage, the couple must learn to understand each other and communicate efficiently," Chen said.

"As long as couples are willing to work on their marriage, and compromise with each other, lightning marriages can still have good results."

Still married, Zhang and her husband had a few bumps in the road too. They are both short-tempered and don't like to do housework, and Zhang sometimes feels neglected because of her husband's long work hours.

They fought for a while until Zhang decided to change her approach. Rather than feel neglected, she picked up hobbies to improve herself and their home.

She also focuses more on her husband's advantages, such as being a hardworking diligent man, and she shows her appreciation when he does something nice for her. Also, instead of fighting, the couple try to calmly talk about family roles and reach a consensus together.

The couple's effort has paid dividends. Now, they are happy in the marriage and have a two-year-old daughter.

"The way I see it, marriage is like a dance. We have to cooperate and follow each other's steps to make it work," Zhang said.

Newspaper headline: The one

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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