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Study examines how serious illness can affect marriage

When it comes to the issue of divorce, researchers are always hard at work trying to uncover any new trends concerning the divorce rate here in the U.S., or insight as to why it is that couples decide to call it quits after weeks, months, years or even decades together.

To that end, researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study examining the impact that serious illness can have on marriage, meaning whether it strengthens couples' bonds or compels them to consider divorce.

As part of the study, the researchers closely examined information on 2,717 married couples spanning two decades. Specifically, they looked for those marriages in which at least one spouse was a minimum of age 50 and at least one spouse was stricken with a serious illness -- heart disease, lung disease, cancer, stroke, etc.  

What they discovered was truly shocking. 

The study found the following:

  • 31 percent of the marriages in which at least one partner was suffering from a serious illness ended in divorce.
  • While men were more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness than women, the divorce rate was actually considerably higher when women fell ill.

While the researchers were unclear as to why spouses were more likely to split when one spouse was sick, they did offer some very interesting theories.

For example, they theorized that the divorce rate might be higher when wives fall ill because husbands view themselves as unable to live up to the societal pressure of acting as a caretaker in a time of need. Perhaps more interesting, however, they theorized that it may actually be the wives initiating the divorces in these scenarios, as they may view their husbands as incapable of meeting their needs for support, and filling the ensuing void with support from both family and friends.

It should be noted that this is not the first study to reach this conclusion. Indeed, a study published back in the medical journal Cancer back in 2009 saw similar trends concerning serious illness and divorce.

While it's always difficult to get divorced later in life, it's important for people in this situation to understand that they more than likely have unique concerns and needs regarding such divorce-related issues as property division and spousal maintenance to name only a few. As such, it may be beneficial to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more.

Source: Time, "Divorce more likely when wife falls ill," Alexandra Sifferlin, May 1, 2014; The New York Times, "Divorce risk higher when wife gets sick," Tara Parker-Pope, Nov. 12, 2009

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