Photo/IllutrationLiu Xiaobo talks with his wife Liu Xia in their Beijing home in this photo taken in about 2000. (Provided by a supporter of Liu Xiaobo)

Liu Xiaobo, the late Nobel Peace laureate, clung to the belief that remaining in China was his best option for continuing with his pro-democracy activities.

But, those close to Liu said he finally decided to leave his homeland after realizing the mental toll that house arrest had on his wife, Liu Xia, 56.

However, by the time Liu Xiaobo reached that critical decision his health had deteriorated to a point where he was facing the final stages of liver cancer. He died on July 13 at age 61.

The couple married in 1996, but spent only about a decade together. No sooner had he married than Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to serve three years in a labor education camp.

He was again detained from 2008 and was still in prison in 2010 when he learned he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Despite their short time together, the marriage fundamentally changed Liu Xiaobo, according to Hao Jian, 63, a long-time friend and former university professor.

"He changed after their marriage," Hao said. "He began to possess a tougher mental state and milder manner. He held both passion and rationality."

After Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Prize, Chinese authorities placed his wife under house arrest, only allowing a small circle of relatives and friends to visit her.

She was allowed to visit her imprisoned husband in Liaoning province only once a month.

Even though Liu Xia became increasingly unstable due to stress, she never let on about her mental health during her visits with her husband as she didn't want him to worry. When friends suggested that she leave China by herself, Liu Xia rejected the idea, saying her husband needed her support.

Things progressively went downhill for Liu Xia from last year. Her parents died in quick succession, causing her psychological state to deteriorate further.

She learned from Liao Yiwu, a writer who fled into exile in Germany, that the German government could be lobbied to grant the couple political asylum. Liu Xia began thinking about the possibility of leaving China, but only on the condition that her husband accompanied her.

According to Liao, Liu Xia finally told her husband about her precarious mental state when she visited him in prison in late March. Liu Xiaobo was shocked by the revelation and agreed to leave China.

"I believe he loved his wife from the bottom of his heart," Liao said. Liao lobbied the German government, which began negotiating with the Chinese government through the German Embassy in Beijing.

But in June, doctors diagnosed Liu Xiaobo with terminal cancer.

According to Hong Kong media, on July 5, Liu Xiaobo wrote his feelings for his wife from his hospital bed. He reflected on their married life for a book of photographs that Liu Xia was planning to publish.

Liu Xiaobo wrote that his wife asked "for a poem to be written within 360 seconds that would praise me in a way that would surprise the world."

Liu Xiaobo also wrote that he felt the most regret at "not being able to prepare for his wife's photography exhibition."

In December 2009, when Liu Xiaobo gave final testimony before he was sentenced to prison, he

said, "The most fortunate thing that has happened to me over the past 20 years has been the unselfish love of my wife Liu Xia."

He continued with a message to his wife, "Even if I should be crushed to pieces, I will continue to embrace you even if I am turned to ashes."

(This article was written by Mitsusada Enyo in Beijing and Daisuke Nishimura in Berlin.)