While vows said by misty eyed couples on their wedding day might seem heartfelt, a new study has found that married couples are more likely to divorce when the wife suffers a serious illness. So that vow about sticking it out in sickness and in health? Well, it seems, not so much.
The new study, led by academics at the Iowa State University in America analysed the data from 2700 married couples now aged in their 50s who were asked about their health and lives every two years over a period of 20 years for an earlier research project.
In addition to 32 per cent of the marriages ending in divorce, another 24 per cent ending with the death of a spouse, the researchers found that in partnerships where the wife fell ill they were 6 per cent more likely to get divorced. Curiously, in marriages where the husband fell ill this was not the case. Reinforcing, as the researchers of the study noted, that women are so often conditioned to be the caregivers in the family.
The study looks at the impact of four conditions – cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease – in both men and women and the effect it had on their marriages.
However there are complicating factors, and ones that aren’t the presumed callousness of leaving an ill spouse or the detriment of gender binaries (and also it must also be pointed out that many men can and do take take care of ill partners).
A serious illness undoubtedly forces you to evaluate your life choices. And as people live longer, they may choose to divorce later in life, rather than lose a spouse in widowhood.
The data didn’t differentiate the instigator of the divorce in sickness. According to figures, women are more likely to instigate a divorce, and in the case of illness, might do so because they’re not receiving the care they feel that they need, or deserve.
Amelia Karraker, assistant professor in human development and family studies at Iowa State University and lead author of the study told The Telegraph in the UK of her findings,
“Life or death experiences may cause people to re-evaluate what’s important in their lives,” she 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’.”