[Opinion] Perfect Marriage = Compromise

Now Shenzhen   |   September 25, 2023

DESPITE the fact that many people suspected successful comedian Fu Shouer and her husband of 15 years appeared on iQIYI divorce show “See You Again” just because the gig pays well and is easy, their marriage problems have given fodder to heated discussions about power and balance in the complex bonds of matrimony.

As Fu has progressed from a regular white-collar worker into a successful entertainer with a huge following and earning power, the family moved their home from Anhui Province to the “magic metropolis” of Shanghai, and husband Liu Yi became a leisurely househusband.

Liu wants a divorce because, in his own words, he finds himself “no longer needed and a burden to his wife,” as she has everything taken good care of with her power and money. With a nanny to do housework, Liu’s daily routine chiefly includes driving his son to and back from school and other destinations when required. “Such a life is boring,” he confessed, saying he hopes the planned divorce may give him a new start and return him to society.

Perhaps it never occurred to the husband that millions of housewives in China are living a not only “boring” but also a tiring life, taking care of the family and shouldering almost all the housework, including cooking, cleaning and other chores. The only difference might be that the happy housewives serve their family readily because they do it out of love and find a sense of fulfillment in the success of their children and husbands. Then again, there may be not-so-happy housewives who choose not to complain because they accept their roles as a practical choice or as a part of mainstream thought. If the husband can pay all the bills, and the wife cannot find a well-paying job, it’s quite sensible that she stays at home taking good care of everyone else.

Despite the benefits of not having to commute and punch his card at the office every work day, and having a lot of leisure time to himself after the kid goes to school, Liu suffers in his current life because he has to swallow his pride and be an unconventional househusband, instead of shouldering the traditional role of the bread earner and head of the family.

We have witnessed women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and ’70s that sought equal rights and opportunities and greater personal freedom for women; perhaps it’s now time to champion a men’s liberation movement that will leave their conscience and pride at ease when they have to take secondary responsibility for family finance and assume the traditional “womanly” role of a caretaker.

Talking about househusbands, we have a very successful example in the great filmmaker Ang Lee. After graduating from New York University in 1984, Lee spent six unsuccessful years pitching ideas to Hollywood studio executives, during which time he took care of his son while his medical doctor wife earned a living for the family. Making good use of his spare time, Lee wrote his own scripts that won awards in a screenplay contest in Taiwan and helped launch his successful career.

Liu’s feeling of being “no longer needed” by his wife is another way of expressing “not feeling respect and gratitude” from Fu, which is key to the problem in an unbalanced marriage. Many couples seeking a divorce give the reason that they can no longer feel the sensation of love, which is an illusion and excuse. As the Russian proverb goes, love and eggs are best when they are fresh. Studies that have looked at the brains of people who are newly in love have found that this state of intense passion mimics that of drug addiction, which will wane after a few months as the intensity evolves to a steady, albeit more reliable slow burn. No one can retain that feel as if they can’t seem to get enough of one another even after one year of marriage.

For a marriage to thrive, it has to be like a charity instead of an efficient company. Similar to Liu’s experience, many housewives are unhappy because their selfless contribution to the family is taken for granted by their husbands, who no longer see them or show gratitude to them. The bread earner needs to understand that their role in a marriage is a partner in a charitable cause for the benefit of every member, not as a corporation’s large shareholder who has the final say on everything and takes credit for all its success.