Traditional wedding vows often include the phrase “in sickness and in health,” but a new study found serious illnesses can be a strong factor in divorce, especially for women.

Study authors found a serious illness could increase a couple's likelihood to get divorced. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Study authors found a serious illness could increase a couple’s likelihood to get divorced. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

“Married women diagnosed with a serious health condition may find themselves struggling with the impact of their disease while also experiencing the stress of divorce,” said Amelia Karraker, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

With more than 20 years of data on 2,717 marriages where at least one partner was over the age of 50, Karraker and study co-author Kenzi Latham from Indiana University-Purdue University evaluated how cancer, heart problems, lung disease and stroke affected marriages.

In cases where these serious health issues occurred, 31 percent of couples got divorced.

“We found that women are doubly vulnerable to marital dissolution in the face of illness,” Karraker said. “They are more likely to be widowed, and if they are the ones who become ill, they are more likely to get divorced.”

The researchers did not assess why divorce seems more likely when the wife gets sick. Karraker noted that they didn’t have information on who initiated the divorce.

“But it’s important to keep in mind that in most cases, it’s women who do so,” she said. “So it could be that when women become ill and their husbands are not doing a very good job caring for them, they would rather that he just go and they rely on friends and family who will take care of them.”

Given the increasing concern about health care costs for the aging population, Karraker believes policymakers should be aware of the relationship between disease and risk of divorce.

In light of these findings, the study authors suggest that it might be important to offer support services to reduce the strain a serious illness could put on a marriage.

These findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America.

Front page image via Shutterstock.