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Home » Advice Centre » How Can Health and Chronic Illness Impact a Marriage?

How Can Health and Chronic Illness Impact a Marriage?

Posted on: 20 April 2020 by Goodwins Family Law Solicitors

Studies have found that chronic illness plays a significant role in the breakdown of a marriage. Statistics show that 75% of marriages afflicted with chronic illness end in divorce.

And in a further dissection of these statistics, Dr. Amelia Karraker concluded that the risk of marital dissolution was affected by which of the two spouses fell ill.

This article will explain Dr Amelia Karraker’s study and her findings, as well as offer explanations for why chronic illness raises the divorce rate when experienced by a particular gender.

The study

A report in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour analysed the divorce rate in older couples when either spouse was critically ill, from a sample of 2,701 marriages.

The study focused on four main illnesses: cancer, heart disease, lung disease and stroke.

The results showed that the onset of illness in the wife was linked with a greater risk of divorce, but onset of illness in the husband was not. A further study, carried out by Iowa State University, found this risk to be as much as 6% higher.

Simply put, marriages were more likely to end in divorce when the wife was ill but not when the husband was ill. 

Why this outcome?

The study did not offer concrete evidence for why there was a greater risk of divorce when the wife was ill and not the husband, however, there are some considerations that would support these findings.

  • Gender roles are altered

A spouse getting ill can heap extra responsibility on the healthy partner. The male role is typically less accustomed to these responsibilities — cooking, cleaning and general caregiving — than the female role. It follows that men will find it more stressful adjusting to their new responsibilities. This stressor may lead to the breakdown of the marriage.


  • Men are afforded a greater opportunity at remarriage

Studies have shown that men have an advantage over women in the marriage market. This is because women, unlike men, experience a depleting pool of potential partners as they age. Husbands who feel burdened with extra responsibilities and stress may be more inclined to get a divorce in hope of finding another partner.


  • Women have more support systems

Women typically have more sources of support than their husbands. Women are more likely to confide and rely on people outside the marriage, such as friends and relatives. Men who don’t have these relationships with anyone besides their wife may feel helpless and unable to gain the support they need to try and fix the marriage.


  • Wives are dissatisfied with the level of care they receive

The risk of divorce may rise when it is the wife who is ill, but it is not always the husband who files for divorce. As mentioned earlier, men adopt many new caregiving responsibilities when their wife is ill. Because the male role typically doesn’t involve caregiving to the same extent as women, the level of care they provide may be inadequate. Women might file for divorce because they don’t feel they are getting the levels of care they want or need.

What other ways can illness impact a marriage?

Critical illness can impact a marriage in many different ways. How each couple responds to these new challenges will vary from person to person.

Other ways an illness can impact a marriage include:

  • Increasing hours/taking on extra work

If a spouse falls ill to the point that they are unable to work, the healthy spouse may need to increase their hours or change their job to support the family.


  • Changing plans

Falling ill probably wasn’t a part of your happily ever after. Partners should discuss new plans and goals for the future that account for the illness.


  • Prepare for death

It is a sobering reality that some people will end up widowed. If a spouse is critically ill, it is important to prepare for that possibility. You may need to arrange your finances, seek emotional support and plan for a future without your partner.


  • Strengthen

Illness can strain a marriage but it can just as easily strengthen it. It is during these difficult times that couples come together as a unit to ‘fight’ the illness. Spouses become open and honest with one another; they cherish each other; many even find great reward in becoming a caregiver to their partner. 


Goodwins Family Law Solicitors are a leading family law solicitors based in Harrow, London. We offer services in a wide range of family law disciplines, including divorce law, international divorce and child custody. Treating every case with care and sensitivity, we ensure our customers receive the best possible service, advice and treatment during an understandably difficult time in their lives. With over 25 years’ experience, our fully qualified team will do their utmost to help you.

Contact us today to learn more about our services.


Goodwins Family Law Solicitors is a registered company in England. © Goodwins Family Law Solicitors 2022. All Rights Reserved.

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