Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Are Certain Illnesses More Likely to Lead to Divorce?

Couples who are dealing with the illness of one partner know well the emotional, physical, financial, social, sexual, and spiritual toll that can take. Some couples find that the struggle to adapt raises them to higher levels of awareness and intimacy. Some couples find that the stresses inherent in this situation fray the tethers that hold them together to the breaking point, and beyond.

I had thought that how a couple weathers illness depends more on the people involved than on the nature of the illness. However, a recent study (reported by Reuters) by some Norwegian researchers presented at the European Cancer Conference in Barcelona found that there are two types of cancer that increase the risk of divorce -- testicular cancer or cervical cancer.

"The research compared divorce rates of 215,000 cancer survivors with those among couples free of cancer over a 17-year period. Women with cervical cancer had nearly a 70 percent greater risk of divorce at the age of 20, a level that fell to 19 percent at 60. For testicular cancer, the divorce risk was 34 percent at 20 and 16 percent at 60, it said.

The reason could be because both diseases affect intimacy and result in decreased sexual activity, said Astri Syse of the Norwegian Cancer Registry, who led the study. Age was another possible factor, because both cancers tended to hit people when they were younger and had not yet forged strong bonds, Syse said."

This made me want to ask the question of readers and fellow bloggers -- are there aspects of the specific type of illness you and your partner are living with (or lived with) that are particularly difficult to deal with? I'd be very interested in your thoughts about this.


Emily said...

you pose an interesting question -- i think the aspects of my 'illness' (really it's pain, there's no illness) that are most challenging are the nausea and my attitude.

it's been three years of pain every day, but i still find that sometimes i am crabby/grumpy/irritable, and i snap at my husband. i hate when i do this. i keep trying to be more ... to express myself and not say things i don't mean.

the second thing is probably nausea. this is mostly an issue when i haven't made dinner and can't think of anything i think i can eat...he starts going through the litany of options, and it's just frustrating (for both of us!) to try and think of something that sounds ok to me.

Sherril said...

In my case, I think the "invisibility" factor definitely played a roll. He didn't seem to believe I was sick. His standard comment became "It's always something with you." There were other major problems with our marriage so I can't say for sure that my illness was the cause of our divorce. It was for sure a major factor in my decision that I would be better off without him. The lack of support, I could even go so far as to say that the negative support I got from my hubby, got to be more than I could deal with.

therapydoc said...

There's so much people don't know about sex and healthy relationships. Add an illness that points in that direction, and I'm not surprised about the findings.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Emily & Sherril - you name some powerful illness factors (mood, invisibility, nausea).

Emily - sometime we let it out on the person whom we know is safe, our partner. I often did that with Richard, and felt rotten afterwards. I appreciate your awareness of this dynamic and your effort to change it. I know a lot of couples who don't have illness to deal with and spill on each other without any remorse.

Sherril - it's so awfully hard when the partner just doesn't get it; and even harder when their behavior does damage. I hope you now have a support system that nourishes you.

Rachel said...

Undiagnosed thyroid disease. My husband put up with an awful lot before we got that figured out and fixed. :)

IntrepidReader said...

I have had fibromyalgia for about 12 years now and last year was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and diabetes. While everything is pretty much controlled by meds and lifestyle changes, I still struggle with constant fatigue and I have a lot of very bad days, both physically and emotionally. My partner whom I have been with for 3 years was very healthy when we met, and she understood that I was 'sick' and was a great support and comfort to me.

I say "was" because now she has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia as well and because she is very overweight, her pain is intense and unrelenting. She can't walk very far, standing for any length of time is out of the question, and she is an emotional mess. Needless to say we are facing a slew of issues. I feel abandoned, I have had to take up the slack in a lot of areas being the one who is not as sick, and I worry constantly about how it will be when we are older. I try not to think of it too much, knowing we will deal somehow. But it's hard!

We are both learning to let go of things that aren't important, like housework, and to use our "spoons" wisely. And we keep the lines of communication open so neither one of us suffers in silence. The tendency to take on the martyr role is tough to resist for both of us. I guess I feel like the young child who was the centre of attention until a new baby came along. It's put an enormous strain on the relationship...sometimes I wonder if we will make it.

Anonymous said...

my wife is a cancer survivor of over ten years and deals with daily debilitating symptoms caused by the effects of all the treatment and surgeries. Winters are extremely hard because her lungs have been damaged by radiation. That is just the tip of the iceberg. I don't think there has been one part of her body that has NOT been affected in some way since all this began in 1998. Our 20th wedding anniversary is in May of 2009 and I hope we make it. Yes, our sex life has been damaged tremendously, but we have found other ways to be intimate. I will be 50 this year and still have a very strong sex drive that for the most part is a need that has been left unmet. But that's OK. My wife is only 40 and she never thought she'd see 35. I am thankful that I still have her no matter what her condition. However, the last few weeks have been very hard on her and our communication is breaking down. If we loose our ability to talk to each other I'm afraid things will go down hill very fast. We are hanging by a thread.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Anonymous - you and your wife have found remarkable ways to connect beyond illness - I hope that thread holds for a very long time.

Intrepid Reader - there is so much to carry, you are right. I hope your self awareness and clarity of insight support you both