In Sickness And in Health…Or Maybe Not….

When you tell your partner that you’ll be there through sickness and health, do you mean it?


When a couple plans their wedding, one of the things they address (if they’re smart!) is their prenup. They sit down and discuss how they will deal with a divorce, should that ever come up, and how they will divide their assets. But ask the average couple in love why they think their marriage might end one day, and you’re likely to get the obvious ones – “If she cheats on me it’s over!” Or “Well, if he ever raises his hand to me I’ll walk out, no question!”


However, very few of them will list illness as a reason for their possible divorce. Yet severe and terminal illnesses are a very real reason for why marriages end. Perhaps this is because no one wants to admit that leaving a sick spouse is on their agenda (and in most cases it isn’t!) Most couples walk down the aisle with the full intention of growing old together. But growing old can include a few serious bumps in the road. Bumps like cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis and even mental illness.


Divorce as a result of illness is more common than you’d think!


The truth is, the idea of leaving someone because they got sick sounds heartless, and nobody wants to admit that they would do it. And yet, very few people realize how difficult it is to care for someone with a debilitating disease. Pain often makes people grumpy, short tempered and unkind. Because they’re unhappy, they often lash out and make the lives of their caregivers very miserable. It can be very difficult to deal with, day after day, month after month, year after year.


So whether or not we like to think about it, or envision ourselves as being the kind of people who would divorce a sick spouse, the fact is – it happens. Often! But one interesting question that few people ask, is whether or not the choice to leave an ailing spouse is uniform across the gender board, or if that difficult choice is made more often than not by one gender. One person asked that question – Amelia Karraker, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State. And her study result may surprise you!


Do more men leave sick women, or vice versa?


According to Karraker’s study, the breakdown of marriages in the face of illness isn’t uniform across the board. As it turns out, gender DOES play 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 health challenges. (As attorneys who’ve been at this a long time, we can actually agree – in our experience, more women tend to stay with ill spouses than men do!)


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. The results showed an uneven divide in who stayed and who left, from a gender perspective. Specifically, when a 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.


Why do fewer marriages survive chronic illnesses?


Given what the data reveals, we are left to ask the question; why? Why do more women stick it out than men? The answer: no one really knows. It has been speculated that 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. In reality, we don’t actually have an explanation.


In truth, regardless of gender the truth is that illness is stressful. Many couples simply can’t survive the added financial burden, emotional strain, and physical hardship than a chronic illness places on a marriage. Because regardless of the illness, it is extremely hard on the family members who are left to pick up the pieces, regardless of their gender.


Are you considering divorce in Michigan?


If you or a loved one have decided that it’s time to end your marriage, whether as a result of severe illness, or some other unrelated reason, we’re here to help you plan for the future. Our skilled divorce attorneys 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’re here to help.