Rose (who does not want to disclose her full name), 45, broke up with her husband and ended their seven-year marriage after discovering he had been unfaithful. Yet their relationship began to deteriorate as early as their honeymoon in the US, when Rose had serious conflicts with her husband due to their different personalities and habits. In the second or third year of marriage, Rose began to bring up divorce during quarrels. “Every time I returned home after work, I had to take a deep breath before going in. That home was not a place where I could comfortably rest,” she says.
“If both of us had joined marriage counselling in the early years, we may have had the opportunity to compromise, instead of pushing the other half to fit your style,” says Rose. She did try to seek help from marriage counselling services through the church, but her husband gave her the cold shoulder, refusing to acknowledge the problem and the need for a remedy. Rose gave up her hope for marriage counselling.
Five years later, when she finally filed for a divorce, the court suggested she attend a counselling session with a mediator before processing her application. “At that time I turned a deaf ear to everything the counsellor said. I was already determined to file the document for divorce, nothing could change me,” she says.
After the heady, blissful days of dating, weddings and honeymoons, some people may find their partners hard to tolerate as tension builds up in intimate daily interactions. Sam (who does not wish to disclose his full name), aged 36, started quarrelling with his wife over differences in personal habits shortly after they got married three years ago. Sam hates what he sees as his wife’s untidiness. “My wife will put her pyjamas aside without tidying it up or taking it to the laundry. I will scold her; why she can’t do the simple thing right?” he says, while his wife complains that she had little private space living with Sam’s parents in a small apartment.
During the unhappy days when the marriage troubled him a lot, Sam considered divorce an easy way out. However, hi
s love for his wife motivated him to look for solutions to save their marriage. In the Grace and Joy Integrated Family Service Centre, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that offers marriage counselling and workshops, Sam learnt to control his manner of expression and tone when talking to his wife. Later, he invited her to join marriage counselling sessions.
“We should positively handle the small conflicts before things get worse. Otherwise, it will be harder to tackle,” Sam says. The couple enhanced their mutual understanding and learnt to recognise their differences in the programme. After moving to a new home close to Sam’s parents, their relationship has improved gradually and they have continued to attend regular marriage counselling sessions.
Despite the importance of marriage counselling, Angela Chui Yuen-fun, the executive director of the Hong Kong Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (CMAC), thinks the development of marital counselling in Hong Kong still leaves a lot to be desired.
In 2004, the Social Welfare Department restructured the family service system by putting NGOs operating under the system into the government-run Integrated Family Service Centre – CMAC is one of its cooperating branches. Before the restructuring, CMAC put most of its resources into marriage education and dealing with distressed couples. But now the organisation is responsible for the general counselling service of a district, instead of its area of specialisation.
“The government thinks an Integrated Family Service Centre can deal with all social problems … The impact on us is we need to put aside our specialty. We feel the approach is not very right, instead we should have a marriage counselling centre for the whole city,” she says.
“I have been working in this field [marriage counselling] for a long time. I know the service must be provided by well-trained counsellors as we understand what these divorced couples have gone through,” Chiu says.