From quick vows to rapid separations: Surge of early divorces in Vietnam

By Thanh Nga, Quynh Nguyen   June 28, 2024 | 05:00 am PT
After two divorces in less than two years, Kieu Oanh has become wary of marriage and has vowed to avoid entanglements with men altogether from now on.

The 22-year-old from Thu Duc City began her turbulent journey four years ago when she fell in love with a wholesale marketplace porter from An Giang in the Mekong Delta, who was two years older. Facing her affluent family’s disapproval due to "significant social and educational disparities," Oanh and him decided to conceive to precipitate marriage. She subsequently left school to marry him and prepare for their child.

However, before their baby arrived, Oanh uncovered her husband’s affair with another woman. He vanished one day without explanation, evidently to be with his mistress, leaving Oanh to cope with profound loneliness and depression.

When her son was reaching his first birthday, Oanh remarried, this time to a colleague. She recounted that her new husband initially took good care of both her and her son, which softened her heart after her previous marital failure. However, three months into living together, he changed, according to Oanh.

Their fights turned into emotional abuse as he began to insult her and use her child against her. He would incessantly belittle her by saying that she was lucky to have married him – especially because of her young boy, whom he now treated more as a target and a burden than a son.

This toxicity led Oanh to file for divorce, returning to her parents’ home once more.

Kieu Oanh, 22, from Thu Duc City. Photo courtesy of Oanh

Kieu Oanh, 22, from Thu Duc City. Photo courtesy of Oanh

Oanh is among many Vietnamese young people who experience "green divorces" - a term referring to separations that occur within the first five years of marriage. According to the Institute for Family and Gender Studies, about 60% of young couples in Vietnam divorce within this timeframe.

The Supreme People’s Court reported over 500,000 divorces nationwide in 2022, with 70% of the cases involving young couples aged 18 - 30. In Ho Chi Minh City, for every 2.7 marriages, one ends in divorce, with each district in the city handling 80 - 100 cases monthly. Nearly 30% of divorces involve individuals under 35.

These separations often stem from lifestyle conflicts and differing viewpoints.

The Institute for Family and Gender Studies identifies various factors contributing to marital crises: lifestyle conflicts (account for 27.7% of the cases), infidelity (25.9%), financial issues (13%), domestic violence (6.7%), health problems (2.2%), and long-distance separations (1.3%). All these problems may ultimately lead to divorce when no solutions could be found.

Stories of short marriages and green divorces have been trending on Vietnamese media recently, sparking widespread debate. Opinions are divided: some support divorce as a way to resolve some forms of unhappiness, while others criticize the haste in which young people marry and divorce.

Explaining the increasing number of short marriages among young people, Dr. Nguyen Thi Minh, a lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, believes these individuals suffer from psychological trauma and a loss of faith in marriage that often stems from unhappy family backgrounds. They lack the skills needed to build a stable family and view divorce as the only solution when crises arise, according to the expert.

Additionally, today’s youth are often pampered by their parents, who support their decisions to divorce if they are unhappy, said Minh. The rise of social media has also contributed to normalizing divorce, making it seem less like an unhappy ending, and more like a popular trend, she argued.

"Of course, we cannot overlook the ‘conventional’ reason that many people rush into marriage without thoroughly understanding their partner," Dr. Minh noted. "They marry on a whim without careful consideration of potential risks."

From roses to thorns

Minh Nguyet, 24, from Hanoi, never imagined she would end up in divorce court a year after her fairytale wedding, where her husband had composed music for the event and arranged for a grand performance, with roses - her favorite flower - adorning the entire venue.

"He even cried while on stage, knelt down to place the ring on my finger, and vowed eternal love," Nguyet recounted.

However, five months into their marriage, Nguyet faced harsh criticism from her in-laws for not yet becoming pregnant. Every family meal turned into a mental health crisis for her as she faced criticism from every direction. Instead of being her source of comfort, her husband became physically abusive, especially when Nguyet cried in front of his mother, who wouldn’t listen when her daughter-in-law insisted that conception could not be forced.

"Before we got married, my husband and his family treated me very well," Nguyet said. "But living together brought out many issues."

Instead of enduring the situation, Nguyet chose to divorce. She now focuses on her career and caring for her parents instead.

The wedding bouquet Nguyet, 24, of Hanoi, made with her husband for their wedding in 2023. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

The wedding bouquet Nguyet, 24, of Hanoi, made with her husband for their wedding in 2023. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

Divorce is not simply a matter of "incompatibility" during a marriage, according to Minh. She said things can often get worse after the divorce as she believes individuals involved in a divorce often face psychological challenges, social stigma, and the aftereffects often impact their work life as well.

Families on both sides may suffer as well from the unhappiness of their children and have to deal with outrageous amounts of gossip from most other people around them. If the couple has children, a broken home and the lack of emotional support can lead to behavioral problems in the children.

Quynh Tram, a resident of Ho Chi Minh City who shaved her head after divorcing at 23, regrets her hasty marriage.

Her ex-husband was an ambitionless gaming addict who was enabled by relying on his family’s wealth. Adding to Tram’s burden was his parents’ constant scrutiny and disdain for her family’s lower economic status, leading to their separation just five months after marriage.

Although Tram believes that divorcing was a wise decision because she and her ex-husband had no children or shared assets, her parents urged her to keep it secret upon learning of the divorce. They wanted to protect themselves from criticism by relatives who might claim they had not raised her properly.

As a result, for her first Tet Lunar New Year holiday after the divorce, the young woman had to travel around as a solo tourist instead of going home to avoid uncomfortable questions.

Dr. Minh advises young people to value the institution of marriage and to prepare thoroughly before committing. This includes learning parenting skills and attending pre-marital counseling. Couples should agree on core principles and living arrangements to prevent conflicts.

"Young people should seek advice from those with long, happy marriages rather than peers with limited experience," she suggested. "Ideally, women should marry between 24 - 29 and men between 28 - 33, when they are more mature and financially stable."

As for Oanh, who sacrificed her education for marriage and motherhood only to face two divorces, she said that marrying too young was the biggest mistake of her life. It led to what she described as a "downward spiral" for many years afterwards.

"Marriage is not the rosy dream I imagined, especially when neither partner is mature enough for the responsibilities of being a spouse," she reflects.

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