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When the wife gets sick, why do so many men leave the marriage?

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Why do so many men abandon their wives when the women become seriously and chronically ill? On the other hand, you have women using their nurturing, caregiving skills to tend to their husbands medical and culinary needs when the husbands become physically incapacitated. Men leave: Separation and divorce is far more common when the wife is the patient, says a recent study that found female gender to be a strong predictor of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness. When divorce or separation occurred, quality of care and quality of life were adversely affected.

If a wife becomes incapacitated, for example, paralyzed by a stroke, and need a meal, the man make make the same bland food over and over because he has almost never had to cook his own food in the marriage. Or he may let dishes pile up in the sink or not wash them clean. The women who is bedridden may become depressed and not be fed the type of food she'd make herself if she were able to use her hands or see. The issue revolves around caregiving skills the man may lack and the fact that the man is more likely to leave his wife if she gets sick than the wife leave the husband if he's the one with the severe medical problems.

A woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if a man in the relationship is the patient, according to a study that examined the role gender played in so-called "partner abandonment." The study also found that the longer the marriage the more likely it would remain intact.

There are exceptions, particularly when a couple in a stable marriage for many decades are faced with chronic illnesses due to age. And yet, there are even older men who leave their wives because the men's caretaking skills are inadequate, or the male doesn't have the money to hire help or pay for other long-term care of the wife and abandons the marriage. And on the other hand, some men divorce their young wives when the when becomes ill after childbirth, for example with agoraphobia and becomes house-based, afraid to leave the residence. The men may not only divorce the wives, but also take away the offspring and send them to his mother, sometimes in a foreign land because the wife became so dependent with chronic anxiety.

The study confirmed earlier research that put the overall divorce or separation rate among cancer patients at 11.6 percent, similar to the population as a whole. However, researchers were surprised by the difference in separation and divorce rates by gender. The rate when the woman was the patient was 20.8 percent compared to 2.9 percent when the man was the patient. You also may wish to see the abstract of another study, "Emotional stress and traffic accidents: the impact of separation and divorce." That study suggested recent separation and divorce are associated with an increase in serious traffic accidents. Or you may want to see still another study's abstract, "Does financial hardship account for elevated psychological distress in lone mothers?"

Female gender and separation/divorce of medical patients

"Female gender was the strongest predictor of separation or divorce in each of the patient groups we studied," said Marc Chamberlain, M.D., according to the November 10, 2009 news release, "Men leave: Separation and divorce far more common when the wife is the patient." Chamberlain is a co-corresponding author and director of the neuro-oncology program at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA). Chamberlain is also a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

The study, "Gender disparity in the rate of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness," is published online in the November 15, 2009 issue of the journal Cancer. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19645027 The other corresponding author is Michael Glanz, M.D., of the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Why men leave a sick spouse can be partly explained by their lack of ability, compared to women, to make more rapid commitments to being caregivers to a sick partner and women's better ability to assume the burdens of maintaining a home and family, the study authors said, according to the news release

Researchers at three medical centers -- the SCCA, Huntsman and Stanford University School of Medicine -- enrolled a total of 515 patients in 2001 and 2002 and followed them until February 2006. The men and women were in three diagnostic groups: those with a malignant primary brain tumor (214 patients), those with a solid tumor with no central nervous system involvement (193 patients) and those with multiple sclerosis (108 patients). Almost half of the patients were women.

Chamberlain said the study was initiated because doctors noticed that in their neuro-oncology practices, divorce occurred almost exclusively when the wife was the patient. The researchers enrolled groups of patients with other cancers and with multiple sclerosis to separate the impact of oncologic versus neurological disease. The results showed a stronger gender disparity for divorce when the wife was the patient in the general oncology and multiple sclerosis groups (93 percent and 96 percent respectively, compared to 78 percent for the primary brain tumor group).

The study also found correlations between age and length of marriage and the likelihood of divorce or separation. The older the woman was the more likely her partnership would end. However, longer marriages remained more stable

Researchers also measured some health and quality of life outcomes among the patients who separated or divorced. They found that patients used more antidepressants, participated less in clinical trials, had more frequent hospitalizations, were less likely to complete radiation therapy and more likely not to die at home, according to the study.

"We believe that our findings apply generally to patients with life-altering medical illness," the authors wrote. "We recommend that medical providers be especially sensitive to early suggestions of marital discord in couples affected by the occurrence of a serious medical illness, especially when the woman is the affected spouse and it occurs early in the marriage. Early identification and psychosocial intervention might reduce the frequency of divorce and separation, and in turn improve quality of life and quality of care." You also may wish to see the website of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Women want a connection, but men often say "give me a break."

Some women may reply to that, "not until I get a connection as some women vy for attention while others, especially those financially dependent on the breadwinner of the residence, adjust to a fate of "he has his own world and I have mine." Researchers in a recent study are rethinking what men and women want in a partner.

When it comes to romantic attraction men primarily are motivated by good looks and women by earning power. At least that’s what men and women have been saying for a long time. Based on research that dates back several decades, the widely accepted notion permeates popular culture today.

But those sex differences didn’t hold up in a new in-depth study of romantic attraction undertaken by two Northwestern University psychologists. In short, the data suggest that whether you’re a man or a woman, being attractive is just as good for your romantic prospects and, to a lesser extent, so is being a good earner.

Sex Differences in Mate Preferences Revisited: Do People Know What They Initially Desires in a Romantic Partner” is published online in the February 2008 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. You can read the PDF article online. http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/eli-finkel/documents/EastwickFinkel2008_JPSP.pdf

For a month, the romantic lives of study participants were scrutinized, including their prospects within and outside of a speed-dating event. What people said and did in choosing romantic partners were two different matters.

“True to the stereotypes, the initial self-reports of male participants indicated that they cared more than women about a romantic partner’s physical attractiveness, and the women in the study stated more than men that earning power was an aphrodisiac,” said Paul Eastwick, according to the February 13, 2008 news release, "Rethinking what men and women want in a partner." Eastwick is the lead author of the study and (at the time of the 2008 news release) was a graduate student in psychology in the Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. But in reality men and women were equally inspired by physical attraction and equally inspired by earning power or ambition.

“In other words good looks was the primary stimulus of attraction for both men and women, and a person with good earning prospects or ambition tended to be liked as well,” said Eli Finkel, said, according to the February 13, 2008 news release, "Rethinking what men and women want in a partner." Finkel is an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern (at the time of the 2008 news release). “Most noteworthy, the earning-power effect as well as the good-looks effect didn’t differ for men and women.”

Participants’ preferences based on their live romantic interactions contrasted with the ideal sex-differentiated preferences that they reported 10 days before the speed-dating event

“We found that the romantic dynamics that occurred at the speed-dating event and during the following 30-day period had little to do with the sex-differentiated preferences stated on the questionnaires,” said Finkel, according to the news release.

The speed dating methodology gave the researchers an opportunity not available to earlier generations of researchers to compare stated romantic preferences with actual choices participants made about a series of potential partners.

The discrepancy between what people did and said in this dating situation fits with other research that shows that people often do a poor job explaining why they do things, often referring to accepted cultural theories to explain their own behavior.

The speed-dating methodology allowed the Northwestern researchers to move beyond the abstract world of romantic ideals to see how people actually rated a number of flesh-and-blood people regarding physical attractiveness, ambition and earning power

“If you were to tell me that you prefer physically attractive romantic partners, I would expect to see that you indeed are more attracted to physically attractive partners,” said Eastwick, according to the news release. “But our participants didn’t pursue their ideal in this way. This leads us to question whether people know what they initially value in a romantic partner.”

What about the academic argument that men are primed much more than women to highly value beauty in romantic partners in an evolutionary quest for health, fertility and preservation of the gene pool? The new Northwestern research poses at least as many questions as it answers about the differences between the sexes.

Is it possible after all that, when it comes to romantic attraction, men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus? The new study suggests that both sexes have similar romantic responses to each other right here on planet Earth. For more information, you may wish to check out articles such as "Neely Steinberg: What Do Men Want? - Huffington Post" and "The Top Eight Reasons Men Fall Out of Love - eHarmony Advice." Or see the article, "The Real Reasons Women Break Up With Men | YourTango."

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