What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Turns out, what doesn’t kill you could ultimately end your marriage, at least if you’re a woman. A new study from Iowa State University reports that marriages are more likely to end in divorce when wives get sick. Perhaps “in sickness and in health” is a tougher vow for people to uphold than they ever anticipated.
The Iowa State study, published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior of the American Sociological Association, analyzed divorce rates for pairs in which either spouse was diagnosed with a serious illness. The probability for divorce was 6 percent higher for couples in which the wife got sick than marriages where the wife remained healthy. A husband’s illness did not increase the divorce risk.
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The Marriage of Sickness and… Marriage
So what does this research mean? That men aren’t good caregivers and that they ultimately give up when life gets too hard? That women are better caregivers and intend to stick it out through the best of times and the worst of times? Amelia Karraker, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State, points out that quality of care is a factor and states that wives are generally less satisfied with the care from their husbands because men haven’t been socialized to be caregivers like women and are less comfortable in that role.
But the study doesn’t indicate whether it’s the man or woman initiating the divorce. Karraker’s interest in the subject matter of illness and divorce was spurred on by the criticism of politicians like John Edwards who divorced his sick wife. It’s easy to put the blame on the healthy half a couple if a marriage ends in divorce in the midst of a serious illness. But life and death experiences cause people to reevaluate their lives, and that includes their marriage. (And, in the state of Michigan, every divorce is a no-fault divorce.)
Maybe a person hasn’t been happy for a long time and this illness puts into perspective just how little they’re invested in the relationship. Or maybe the woman with the sickness isn’t satisfied in her marriage and would rather spend her time alone or seeking a more fulfilling life than staying in a marriage where she isn’t completely happy, even if she’s incredibly sick.
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What Really Causes a Marriage’s Decline?
Naturally, serious illness adds stress to a marriage. It can be difficult enough running the household alone when one half of a couple is laid up temporarily with the flu or recovering from a minor operation. Childcare, grocery shopping, meals, bills, cleaning, the list goes on – it all falls on one person. But there’s a big difference between feeling too sick to do the laundry and needing someone to actually dress and undress you every day. This level of caregiving changes the dynamics in a marriage – a person can go from confidant and lover to nurse and nanny.
There is a financial aspect to illness as well. If a spouse is too sick to work and isn’t collecting at least disability or unemployment, that financial strain by itself is a predictor of divorce.
Are Couples Doomed to Divorce?
People are living longer, which means the chances of developing a serious illness are greater. And, if the study’s findings hold, means the chances for divorce are higher too. The researchers for this study focused on four illnesses: cancer, lung disease, heart disease, and stroke. But the type and severity of the illness didn’t make a difference in divorce rates.
What is of note is that more couples are getting divorced later in life. Maybe it’s because one-half of the couple is sick. Maybe they’ve raised their kids, finally have an empty nest, and feel comfortable parting ways. Maybe they see retirement differently and would rather spend it separately. Wherever you are in your decision to divorce, contact Femminineo Attorneys in Mt. Clemens, MI, to schedule your initial interview.