Study: If You Want To Save Your Marriage, Don’t Get Sick

In case there weren’t enough findings already being used to perpetuate female insecurity, a University of Michigan study has found that older couples are more likely to divorce when the wife gets sick.

Hoping to learn how heart disease, cancer, stroke and other diseases impact relationships, UMich researchers analyzed data on 2,717 married couples. It appears that every couple in the study was heterosexual, and at least one of the spouses in each marriage was over 50. It was found that 31 percent of the marriages ended in divorce. Even more sobering was the finding that even though the men were more likely to get sick than their wives, the marriages at highest risk for divorce were those in which the female partner fell seriously ill.

Researchers have found similar conclusions before, though none of them have settled on any potential causes for the phenomenon. Some scientists theorize that the social expectations surrounding the role of a caretaker may make men feel as though they aren’t up for it. I’m not so convinced on that one – it sounds too driven by stereotypes to me. In the average divorce, women are usually more likely to initiate than men, but it’s unclear whether that trend remains in place when it comes to divorces involving a sick spouse.

Call me cynical, but I can’t help but feel that if this study had found that marriages involving sick men were at higher risk for divorce, it wouldn’t have gotten half as much attention as it has. After all, if men were the subject of this study, people wouldn’t get to use fear-mongering sentences like this one in Time: “Talk about a double whammy of bad luck for women: first you’re diagnosed with a chronic disease, and then you get divorced.” Thanks, Time, for that visual of my crumbling hypothetical marriage to keep me up at night worrying that a chronic disease will render me somehow unworthy of love.

Apparently, we ladies are supposed to accept that we just have one more thing to add to the laundry list of reasons to fear we’re not good enough for a guy – in case thigh gaps, being single past a specified age, making too much or too little money, texting too soon after a date, or whatever else we’re supposed to fret about this week are not enough.

I try my best to take studies with a grain of salt, and this one is especially tough to accept. I refuse to allow data like this to give me fuel to condemn all men as jerks who are ready to bolt the second I get a cough, because I just don’t believe that. I guess the one thing we can take from this is to really think about what we mean when we get ready to utter “in sickness and in health” at the altar.

[University of Michigan]

[Photo of couple sick in bed via Shutterstock]