Can Illness Lead To Divorce?

Sick woman in bed
Severe and lasting illnesses can drain a bank account and put major stress on a relationship.

When we recite our wedding vows most of us are so focused on our beloved’s smile right in front of us, and daydreams of a wonderful life ahead of us, that we tend to breeze right through some of those heftier commitments. Things like, “in sickness and in health“, which sounds like a kind and loving thing to say at the time, but doesn’t sound all that ominous….

Until cancer. Or lupus. Or diabetes, heart disease, cancer … the list goes on and on. Illnesses can devastate a marriage and destroy a relationship that was supposed to ride off into the sunset and last forever. Caring for your spouse when they are sick is hard, especially when that sickness interferes with a family’s ability to live a normal life, and racks up a mountain of debt in medical bills.

However, while many people have seen for themselves how quickly a marriage can crumble in the face of chronic and even terminal illness, not many stop to wonder if the reaction to illness is the same for men and women. Do men hang in there longer in the face of devastating illness? Or is it women who tend to stick it out longer? Or does gender truly not make any difference?

According to a recent study conducted at Iowa State University, the breakdown of marriages in the face of illness isn’t uniform across the board. Apparently gender plays a role in how likely a marriage is to survive a chronic illness, with women allegedly hanging in there more often than men in the face of divorce. The family law attorneys here at The Kronzek Firm agree. Our attorneys in both of our Michigan offices have had this experience with clients.

Studies have revealed that gender does indeed affect whether a relationship survives illness.

Amelia Karraker is an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State. There, she authored the study on whether or not gender plays a role in marriage surviving illness. Karraker and her team of researchers analyzed two full decades of data, reviewing a total of 2,700 marriages where at least one person in each marriage was over the age of 51 at the start of the study.

What was fascinating about the results was this: in instances where the male marital partner got sick, there was no visible increase in the number of divorces. But when when it was the female spouse that became ill, there was a 6 % increase in divorces. So if this study is accurate, then there is a higher instance of divorce among couples when it is the woman who is severely ill.

The researchers noted that in instances of severe illness, the healthy spouse must take on the role of both caregiver to their sick partner, and manager of the household, in addition to whatever job they may already have. What the study did not address, however, is the reason for this. Why is this the case, and what factors lead to more marriages ending in divorce when the woman gets sick as opposed to the man?

Some people have speculated that it is because women are usually more nurturing, and therefore slip more easily into the role of caregiver than men do. Other proposed ideas for why this may be, include the fact that women are possibly more reluctant to give up their role as primary caregiver in the family. But one widely accepted theory is that illness is stressful, and that many couples simply cannot survive the added financial burden, emotional strain, and physical hardship than a chronic illness creates on a marriage.

Ultimately, we have no idea what the reasons were, because they were not included in the area of study. But it is an interesting piece of information to consider, when addressing the issue of debilitating illness in a family, and the effects it may have on a marriage.

If you or a loved one have decided that it’s time to end your marriage here in Michigan, whether as a result of severe illness, or some other unrelated reason, we are here to help you plan for the future. The skilled divorce attorneys in our Farmington Hills office serve all Oakland County clients. They can help you assess what your best options are, make plans for your family, and ensure that you are well prepared for whatever lies ahead. Call us at any time, night or day, at 866 766 5245. We know that emergencies do not contain themselves to business hours, and we are here to help.