'Til 10.3 Years Do Us Part

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Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Every little girl dreams of falling madly in love her “Mr Right,” getting married and living happily ever after. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics most are fulfilling this dream with close to 122, 000 marriages registered in 2011- an increase of 8000 from 2001.

The honeymoon period as we all know doesn’t last forever. ABS figures show one third of those 122, 000 marriages will end in divorce after an average of just 10.3 years.

The question is why is this a trend?

Researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland think they may have found the answer.

Professor Kim Halford and his team have analysed the survival of Chinese marriages in contemporary society. Their research suggests the values of traditional Chinese marriage are likely to make their lives happier, and at lower risk of divorce.

Marriage in the Western world, on the other hand, has become very fixated on romance, passion and expression of feelings between the spouses.

Professor Halford says in his findings, that while these Western ideals are good qualities to have in a marriage, it is important for couples to have a sense of belonging to their wider family and to commit to the work of making the marriage last.

Current figures show Chinese divorce rates are only one third of that in Australia, which Professor Halford’s results suggest, could be due to the Chinese emphasizing the importance of the family unit rather than the individual’s desires.

Co-researcher Danika Hiew spoke to ABC radio about the study, saying Westerners place more value on having a close and personal marital relationship, as opposed to their Chinese counterparts.

“[Chinese couples] really saw commitment as being an extremely important thing, riding out the rough as well as the smooth. They also have the belief that your own personal fulfillment is not the most important thing, nor physical or emotional fulfillment from the relationship, but rather the welfare of the family unit more so than the romance or the passion,” Hiew told the ABC.

“Western people are a lot more likely to see the absence or reduction in physical pleasure in a relationship as a reason to end the relationship and also the presence or absence of love as being a reason for entering or for leaving a relationship, as opposed to Chinese people are a lot more likely to see other factors as important” Hiew said.

The purpose of the study is to improve current relationship education programs in Australia. “Most programs emphasize the Western ideal of romance but not the Chinese ideal of responsibility to family,” says Hiew. However, it is proving beneficial to identify the traits of Eastern relationships which are obviously working.

Recently separated mother of two Sharon Boyce says she agrees with the findings, blaming a lot of her marriage breakdown on material values.

“My husband and I were married for twelve years before we decided to build our own house. We already had a great home, but we wanted to upgrade. That’s when things started to fall apart.”

Sharon and the family moved in with her in-laws whilst the house was being built, but the financial pressures proved to be an overbearing problem.

“We were constantly fighting over money and time and work. I think the stress of our finances got to both of us, and even after the house was finished and we’d moved in, the damage had been done,” she said. “Our marriage was over.”

When asked whether she thinks the house is to blame for the pending divorce, Sharon says it definitely caused most of the problems.

“We should have been happy with what we had; a beautiful home, two beautiful children and each other. But instead, we valued material things,” said Sharon. “The passion in our marriage just disappeared, we were both unhappy.”

“I think the Chinese have got the right idea in putting family first. In Australia, we definitely do put a lot of emphasis on passion and romance and materialistic desires. I think we get it from the media and from the movies.”

In Western culture, materialism might just be a contributing factor to the growing number of divorces. Generations of Westerners are engaging with media that highlights the ideals of the perfect marriage; with female teenage magazines suggesting the significance of material things, such as a boy that buys a girl flowers.

Not to say that chivalry should be underrated, but the reality is modern Australians are priding themselves more and more on the size of their houses and the models of their cars, rather than the success of their family.

Sydney Morning Herald journalist Katherine Feeney, suggests that the decline in successful marriages in Australia is not a result of only materialistic values, but also feminist movements.

She writes, “In Australia, as in China it seems, women entering the workforce and expecting equal returns eroded the conventional link between the couple and their families; the wife.”

This is a valid point that works in conjunction with the traditional values in Eastern countries, where there is still a divide in genders within the household.

Traditionally men were the owners of the home and if divorced, the woman would be left on their own. Men were the main income earners with women having little or no skills to acquire a job. Nowadays, most assets are divided evenly in a divorce.

Now with gender equity on the rise, women are earning just as much as men, if not more. This means being an independent woman is not frowned upon in Australian society, but rather celebrated.

Another finding by the ABS is that couples are waiting to get married later in life. In 1991 women were marrying at an average age of 24, and men at an average age of 27. Fast-forward 10 years, and in 2001 women are marrying at around 27 and men at around 30.

The growing emphasis on having a career before marriage could be a reason for this change. Australians value their job and making money over the concept of settling down and having a family, despite some women still continuing the search for “Mr Right”.

The Chinese, in an attempt to lower their divorce rates, will encourage their bride and groom to write a love letter to one another on their wedding day, describing their love and hopes for the future. However, instead of reading it they seal it, and seven years later the postal service will deliver it to the couple. This letter reminds the couple after 7 years why they fell in love in the first place, and is intended to reignite the spark which may have begun to disappear.

Despite Professor Halford’s study which reveals how the Chinese place emphasis on family life and remaining together, the practice of letter writing shows love and passion are still major influences in their relationships.

So when it comes time for you to say your ‘I dos’, or even if you already have, remember there’s more to marriage than money and material possessions.

Your promise is to ‘love and cherish’, ‘for richer or for poorer’, ‘in sickness and in health’, until death do you part- not 10.3 years.

Leilani Vakaahi