Study: Hello Illness, Goodbye Marriage

Hello Cancer, Goodbye Marriage: A new study shows that men are more likely to ditch their sick spouses, should really be titled, “Hello Illness, Hello Marital Stress”.

The authors, Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert, are reporting on an article in the November 2009 issue of Cancer, titled, “Gender disparity in the rate of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness”. Of course, the research article’s abstract begins by stating the obvious, “Life-threatening illness creates severe stress that may result in marital discord, separation, or divorce and may adversely impact treatment, quality of life, and survival.”

While the Newsweek summary of the findings focuses on couples where one partner has cancer, the original study is of 515 patients: 214 have a malignant brain tumor, 193 have a serious brain tumor with no nervous system involvement and 108 have multiple sclerosis. All were married at the time of diagnosis.

Because Newsweek has summarized the finding of the Cancer article, I’ll not do that again here. I’ll merely point out the obvious: caring for a spouse who has a severe illness is stressful and disrupts marital relationships. Unless one marries a partner who has already been diagnosed, it may be impossible to understand the implications for one’s future which is contained in the small phrase, “in sickness and in health”.

I may comment on this study again in the future because I think it describes a phenomenon that is so very important for multiple sclerosis caregivers to appreciate. And because I know it is possible to build a stronger marriage – even as the chaotic effects of Multiple Sclerosis bang against your marital relationship.

And as fascinating and accessible as the Newsweek article may be, the readers comments to the Newsweek article are worth studying all by themselves. People have a lot of emotion about the issue of spouse abandonment:


  1. […] I’ve written before about men and women who walk away. And I shared my perspective on that – if a partner walks away because of MS, he or she probably wasn’t really there to start with. MS is not a barrier to an excellent marriage – even if the chaotic effects of Multiple Sclerosis bang against your marital relationship. […]

    October 6, 2010
  2. Richard Thorne said:

    The term says it all, doesn’t it: caregiver. To CARE you must be a GIVER. Having been there and worn the dirty t-shirt, I walked that walk, and actually found the journey to be a blessing. The last nine years of her dear life with MS were confined to her bed. That is when real caregiving is realized. I got to take care of her … I didn’t have to take care of her. We both were blessed.

    October 7, 2010

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