Getting the third party to walk away from a hopeless situation

Ms Ming Li (left) runs a Shanghai-based marriage counselling firm with 30 staff, including "xiaosan quantuishi" or "mistress dissuaders". This is a growing and lucrative trade in China, where divorce rates have risen for 12 years straight, with extra
Ms Ming Li (left) runs a Shanghai-based marriage counselling firm with 30 staff, including "xiaosan quantuishi" or "mistress dissuaders". This is a growing and lucrative trade in China, where divorce rates have risen for 12 years straight, with extramarital affairs playing a large part.PHOTO: COURTESY OF MING LI

For two years, her businessman husband had a mistress, and Shanghai housewife Zhu Ying (not her real name) never suspected a thing.

Then in May, she accidentally came across photos on his mobile phone of him and a young woman dressed in bathrobes in a hotel room.

The married couple - both in their 40s - got into a big fight. Her husband stormed out.

"He's always treated me well," Ms Zhu told The Sunday Times, in between sobs. "I trusted him. I never thought he would do this."

Distraught, she was looking for divorce lawyers online when she chanced upon Weiqing, a marriage counselling agency that offers xiaosan quantui or "mistress dissuading" services.

Deciding to give her marriage of 20 years one last try, she contacted Weiqing's founder Ming Li, who then got in touch with her husband.

He was initially defensive, but relented after Ms Ming told him how much his wife, who was his university sweetheart, hoped to save the marriage.

"He loves her but felt neglected because she spent all her energy on their son. I made them see that they both have to take responsibility," said Ms Ming. He agreed to break off contact with his mistress and gave Ms Ming her phone number - something Ms Zhu was never able to get.

Ms Ming then met the mistress over a meal, spelling out the high stakes for her lover: a 20-year marriage and the bond with his teenage son, who was still unaware of the affair.

Emphasising that she meant well, Ms Ming worked on the mistress for a month before she agreed to stop the relationship. The couple agreed to compensate her "a few hundred thousand yuan". Ms Ming even introduced her to a bachelor.

"We must make the mistress realise all the power is with the couple, if they choose to reconcile. A mistress has no legal redress," she said.

Ms Zhu's husband, who had stayed away from home since July, returned last month, and whispered "sorry" to her. He does not even put a password on his mobile phone these days, she said.

"We're still going for counselling," she said. "It's not easy to rebuild trust, but we have to start."

Teo Cheng Wee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'Getting the third party to walk away from a hopeless situation'. Print Edition | Subscribe