In sickness and in health? Couples typically recite these words as part of their vows when they get married. A study has found that it might be easier said than done, most especially when a spouse does get sick.

In a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, researchers analyzed divorce rates in couples where one partner gets diagnosed with an illness, and discovered that those couples where the wife gets sick are 6 percent likelier to go their separate ways compared to those who had sick husbands. The data the researchers used, however, does not offer an explanation as to why divorce rates are higher when the wife gets sick.

Researchers surmise that care quality can be a factor. With wives generally being the caregivers in the relationship, they are dissatisfied with the level of care they receive from their husbands. Men, especially the older ones, have not been socialized to be as caring as women and thus this is highly felt when they are thrust in the role of caregivers. Not to mention men might be less comfortable assuming the role of caregiver and this influences how well they carry out the role.

Amelia Karraker and Kenzie Latham used data from the Health and Retirement Study. This study didn't specify which spouse initiated the divorce but it is possible that some are brought about by the fact that life or death experiences push people to reassess what they find important in their lives.

For women in bad marriages, getting sick might be the push they were waiting for to stand up for themselves and get out of a bad situation.

More than 2,700 marriages were assessed for the study and researchers found that 24 percent ended due to widowhood while 32 percent of couples called it quits and got divorced. The data for the study covered almost 20 years of information and had at least one spouse at least 51 years old when the Health and Retirement Study began.

Researchers also determined that divorce was likelier to occur in couples who were younger while separation due to death was likelier in the older set. They also saw that widowhood increased by 4 percent when it was the wife that got sick compared to 5 percent when the husband was diagnosed with a serious illness.

Four illnesses were mostly covered in the study: stroke, heart disease, lung disease and cancer. Researchers wanted to see if the type of illness affected divorce rates but found that generally how a spouse got sick was not a factor.

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