Do 75% of spouses really divorce terminally ill partners?

A good friend took my wife away for the weekend, and it meant a bit of down time for us all. Myself and the children could relax a little bit, and not feel so stressed all the time. It also got me thinking about the impact of long term disease on a relationship. I have written previously about some of the things we have lost due to cancer, and our relationship is one thing on that list. But are there any longer term implications of that?

A study quoted by the following link –,dissection%20of%20these%20statistics%2C%20Dr. – by the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, showed the impact of chronic illness on marriages. Statistics apparently show that 75% of marriages hit by chronic illness end in divorce, with the study showing this is higher when the sick partner is the woman. Now, personally I am shocked by those statistics, but can start to understand some of the reasons behind them. I’m not about to leave my wife, dont get me wrong, but I can see why some people think about it.

The strain can be immense, and the dynamics of the relationship change. From a loving, hopefully equally split relationship to a carer and patient dynamic. This is much different. I have mentioned in the past how we have had to cancel dinner appointments and party invites at short notice, and this goes to show how the social aspect of a relationship can go. A key part of keeping a marriage going is to build time into your lives for each other, but when you throw in the un-predictability of cancer, that one on one time can disappear. I cannot remember the last time we had a ‘date’ night for just the two of us that wasnt cancelled at the last minute.

God forbid trying to go away for a night just the two of us. I know that would end with me sat drinking quietly in a chair in the corner in a hotel room while my wife slept at 8pm. And that is if we even managed to get away. I know that a relationship isnt just about the ‘fun’ things you may do together as a couple, but they are the bits that can make life fun, and taking those away contributes to the strain and bitterness between a couple, leaving divisions to fester. You start to ask what is the point of trying to do things together.

The following article talks about keeping your relationship solid during a serious illness – When we got married, we declared our love through sickness and health, but a terminal illness tests that to the limits. As the article says, there are many unexpected challenges. My wife isnt the same as she was before. This is true physically, as she has been through major surgery that has changed her body, as well as had numerous sessions of chemo that have had the same impact. But also mentally, the scars of what she has had to endure are deep.

I have had to deal with watching the woman I love, and the mother of my children go through, and still be going through, a major life changing experience. I really dont know how to handle all the changes appropriately, and this causes strain on our relationship. So we have to adapt. As a spouse, we should try to understand our partners concerns and feelings, and try to learn about the disease. We should be talking through matters that concern both of us. And watch out for caregiver burnout.

Burnout is one area that I think I have hit recently. The relentlessness of the disease, and trying to cope have been brutal. Emotional and physical exhaustion that doesnt go, withdrawing from friends and family, and being more frustrated. There has been a feeling of helplessness, of asking what the point of it all is. I struggle to enjoy things I used to, which drives me further away from friends as I refuse invites to meet up, almost embarrassed about the life we are living. I feel we are just surviving and not living as a family, and why should we fight just to survive.

Part of this strain and exhaustion is an element of trying to do too much. I am spreading myself too thinly. I am taxi service to the children, driving instructor to my daughter, sports physchologist to my son, chef, handyman, full time accountant, gardener, the list goes on. This is in addition to being a full time carer. Thats one reason why my wife being away this weekend was such a godsend. I had a break from the full time carer role, the one which is arguably the most stressfull, and could concentrate on me and the children.

It was a case of out of sight, out of mind to a certain extent, shamefully so. I had passed the baton of care onto someone else, trusting them to ensure my wife was safe and comfortable, and I could relax. And I think this is where the drive for so many partners to divorce or leave terminally ill partners comes from. We all have different levels of strength, different tolerances to stress and strain. Some may break early, some may last many years, but without a release of the pressure, we become overwhelmed. And when at that low point, that moment of being overwhelmed, the way out will appear to be to leave the situation that is causing the pain. Leave the sick spouse and move on to pastures new. Leave the family that demand all the time and try to live a life that is free and easy on our own.

It is the same impulse as imagining what life will be like when our terminally ill partner dies. I will admit to planning what I would say at my wifes funeral at times when I am feeling low. Thinking about how I will cope in the days and weeks after it finally happens. Trying to plan what I will tell the children. This is a similar impulse to when people leave a sick partner, imagining a life without the one big massive stress driver that is causing your life so much pain and heartache. Thinking that the end of all your personal problems and worries will come with that full stop on your relationship.

I can think that, but realistically that day will only change the focus of my worries, and will bring a whole new set that I havent even thought of. I can plan what I will tell my children, but I have no idea how they will react in the following weeks and months. I dont even know how I will react, no one can know that. The future is as yet unwritten. Trying to think about that time hurts more than trying to survive in my current life, and that hurts enough at times.

So it those thoughts that drive people to leave a sick spouse, giving up on the coping and surviving, and somehow shrugging off responsibility? Like my weekend past, having my wife away and out of my thoughts, but on a much bigger scale, passing the baton on permanently to someone else, not even thinking about what is going on, or the extra hurt they have caused. Because that is the other important (and arguably most important) point here. The main focus has to be the patient, it has to be the sick spouse, it has to be the ill mother. To cause extra pain and heartache to someone suffering with physical pain and the mental knowledge they will die sometime very soon is so very cruel. Putting your own short term comfort ahead of someone you supposedly love and causing them to suffer more is heartless.

Ultimately, while I can see the reasons why people may give up on a sick partner, I cannot ever see a full justification for doing so. The 75% number quoted in the study I linked to above is unfathomable to me, but maybe I underestimate human beings capabilities. Me, I will take the advice on how to strengthen our relationship, and try to arrange for more breaks like we had this weekend, short term holidays from the life for me and the children, that will allow us to recharge and be able to give more focus to my wife going forward.


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