Caught in a bizarre love triangle

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When the body fails, the heart can still live on. But when two becomes three, true feelings are tested.

For years, 45-year-old Zhou Xuanhuai, who has been paralyzed from the neck down since 2003, was looking for the answer to his prayers. He found it last year watching television.

Chen Shuizhen takes care of her paralyzed ex-husband Zhou Xuanhuai, while her current husband Guan Zhifu looks on.

Chen Shuizhen takes care of her paralyzed ex-husband Zhou Xuanhuai, while her current husband Guan Zhifu looks on.

In a true case of life imitating art (or in this case, TV), Zhou watched the Chinese drama Keep the Former Husband, Marry Another Man and saw a future of happiness for his 42-year-old wife Chen Shuizhen, who had been taking care of him in their home in Miyun county, Beijing, since he fell into a deep trench near a construction site seven years ago and became paralyzed.

"I can't move," Zhou said with a long sigh, "not to mention, I can't meet her sexual needs. She is still young."

Zhou became inspired by the TV drama last year in which a wife marries another man but remains with the new husband in the house she shares with her first husband, who is paralyzed.

"We needed someone to help us," said Zhou, who has a 20-year-old son with Chen.

Zhou soon reached an agreement with Chen to marry another man. Together they would all live under the same roof.

The Miyun County Court, whose judges were moved by Zhou's pleas, announced their divorce on April 7.

"She is a good woman," said Fu Tiejun, the judge who handled the divorce case. "A traditional Chinese wife will not dump their life partners no matter what happened. We would love to help Chen find a new husband who can support the family. Luckily, we helped the family find the right person."

Fu contacted the local media to cover the couple's unusual divorce and a week after the story came out in May, a call came into Fu's office.

It was from Guan Zhifu from Northeast China, who used to be a long-distance haulage driver in Dalian. His ex-wife had an affair with another man when he was working on the road.

"I was making money for my wife and my son. But she slept with someone else," said Guan, who filed for divorce five years ago. He said he was utterly touched by Chen's story. "She is a woman who deserves to be loved," he said.

Within a week after calling Fu, Guan moved into Chen and Zhou's house. They registered to be married last week in Miyun county. Their bed is right outside of Zhou's room.

"I haven't thought much about our future yet," said Guan, who is still looking for a job. "For now, the most important thing is to find a job to become the breadwinner."

Chen still cares for Zhou, who said he has never gotten bedsores, a common affliction for bed-ridden patients. Every day, Chen cooks and feeds him. She helps him move his body to exercise, which can help keep his muscles from atrophying. Chen said she even uses her bare hands to remove Zhou's excrement.

And although Guan has been welcomed in the family, Chen is the only person who carries her ex-husband around. The new husband explained that Zhou's body is too thin for him to carry. If he did, he said, he could easily break Zhou's bones.

The tension between the two husbands is visible. They are of the same age - Guan is only a month younger than Zhou. They call each other brother, but they rarely make eye contact when addressing each other.

A round-faced woman with a loud voice, Chen has the look of a newly married young woman when she speaks to her new husband. She grows very serious, however, when she is asked to recall the previous 20 years of marriage to Zhou.

"She was my wife for 20 years. Now she is with someone else. Honestly, I am not so comfortable with it," Zhou admitted.

"I studied with her elder brother, played with her since we were kids," Zhou said, taking a glance at Chen and laughing for a brief moment.

Currently, the three are living with the 600,000 yuan compensation that Zhou received from the construction company. Zhou was to receive a rehabilitation program before 2005 and the doctor said he would likely recover if he continued the program. But Zhou gave it up for the costly medical expenses - more than 10,000 yuan every month.

"I need to save money for my son," Zhou said. He also used the money to reconstruct his nearly 30-year-old courtyard in 2008. "It is more worthy to spend on the courtyard than on me."

Xia Xueluan, a sociology professor with Peking University, said the unique relationships are not recommended because "each of them is in an embarrassing situation".

"A healthy relationship between husband and wife should be one-on-one," Xia said. "The family has their difficulties, but it should never be an excuse to break the balance. It's hard for the wife to keep complete loyalty to either of her husbands. Some things in a relationship should not be shared."

Xia also said the economic difficulties is likely to generate potential conflicts between the two husbands. The professor recommended that the local community take care of residents with physical disabilities rather than adding a family member to a marital relationship.

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