Divorce More Likely When Wives Get Sick

As unfortunate as it is, this fact is strikingly true: divorce is six percent more likely when the wife becomes seriously ill, compared to marriages in which the wife remains healthy, according to a new study by Iowa State University researchers.

The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, analyzed the divorce rate for couples when one of the spouses had been diagnosed with a serious illness. Findings showed when a husband becomes ill, however, there is no increase in divorce risk.

The researchers focused on four illnesses — cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and stroke — to see whether the type of illness or its severity made a difference in divorce rates. While they found slight variations, the results between each were not statistically significant.
According to the findings, 32 percent of the 2,701 marriages ended in divorce, compared to 24 percent which ended in widowhood. The marriage data spanned over the course of 20 years, and one spouse was required to be at least 51 years old at the beginning of that period.

The study found that divorce was more common among the younger participants, whereas death was more common as respondents got older. Researchers found the odds of widowhood increased by five percent when husbands got sick and four percent when wives got sick.

There are a few reasons why illness can add stress to a marriage. First, the healthy spouse is often the primary caregiver and may have to take sole responsibility of managing the household.

“There is a difference between feeling too sick to make dinner and needing someone to actually feed you. That’s something that can really change the dynamics within a marriage,” said Dr. Amelia Karraker, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State.

In addition, “If your spouse is too sick to work, we know that financial strain is a major predictor of divorce in and of itself.”
Quality of care may be another factor. Overall, wives seem less satisfied with the care from their husbands, Karraker said. In general, men — especially older men — have not been socialized to be caregivers in the same way women have, and are less comfortable in that role.
Karraker and colleague Dr. Kenzie Latham, an assistant professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, used data from the Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing University of Michigan longitudinal study that surveys a sample of approximately 20,000 Americans over the age of 50 every two years.

Although the data does not indicate whether the husband or wife initiated the divorce, it is possible some women ended the marriage because of their care.

“Life or death experiences may cause people to re-evaluate what’s important in their lives,” Karraker said.
“It could be that women are saying, ‘You’re doing a bad job of caring for me. I’m not happy with this, or I wasn’t happy with the relationship to begin with, and I’d rather be alone than be in a bad marriage.’”

Prior studies have shown that married couples have better physical and mental health. Ironically, Karraker’s research shows that illness puts women at risk of losing those health benefits from a marriage.

“I think the research shows the potential vulnerabilities for people in society who are sick. There is an elevated risk for depression with illness and now you’re also at risk for divorce,” Karraker said.

“People in poor health may have less access to beneficial social relationships, which in turn can compromise their health further.”

If you or someone you know would like to talk to a professional about marriage or divorce, we’re here to help. Call or make an appointment today. 


Source: Iowa State University

If not now, when?

You don’t have to go through this alone. Seriously. Let’s get started.

Recent Posts

Featured Testimonials

Chris B.5.0
Read More
Kids are always hard and as a parent it's not always easy to see objectively what is really going on. Jennifer helped me talk through challenges/issues with my oldest son that were running through my head. In the end she provided me a solid perspective to build on and because of that I have been able to manage the situation much better. Easy conversation and very helpful.
Ravenna S.5.0
Read More
Jennifer is such a wonderful and genuine therapist. She is extremely kind and understanding. She comprehends couple and mental health problems precisely. I would definitely recommend her to anyone that is seeking help.
Ravenna5.0
Read More
Jennifer is such a wonderful and genuine therapist. She is extremely kind and understanding. She comprehends couple and mental health problems precisely. I would definitely recommend her to anyone that is seeking help.
Timothy 5.0
Read More
I have been seeing Jennifer De Francisco for about a year, and she has helped me so much with the unhappiness I thought would never go away. Jennifer’s compassion and empathy made me feel safe enough to open up and talk about the uncomfortable feelings I didn’t even know were causing my sadness. With Jennifer’s help, I am now aware of my negative thoughts. Instead of avoiding them, I can work through them. She has helped change my life.
Denise5.0
Read More
It was tough when we first started with Jennifer , but through difficult conversations and understanding some of the causes of how closed off we were to each other, we worked through it and are in a good place. The idea that we could break up is the furthest thing from my mind now, and going in to work on our relationship was the best thing to do. One of the things that really helped was that I felt Jennifer really cared that our relationship worked and that we improved things between us. I think that is rare, and always helped me not give up hope.
George S.5.0
Read More
I know people hate to hear this, but relationships take work, especially with kids and stress. I would suggest relationship counseling for any married couple, even if it were just monthly or when things get tough. We continue to see Jennifer after our initial problem because it keeps us on track. Best of luck to all couples looking for help- Jennifer is a wonderful resource.