If the wife in a marriage develops cancer or another serious health issue, such as heart disease, the risk of divorce increases; however, there is no increase in divorce risk if the husband has these conditions. A number of studies have found this to be the case, including one published in 2015 in "The Journal of Health and Social Behavior." One study found that if a woman has a stroke or develops heart disease, it raises her divorce risk even more than cancer.
Experts theorize that one reason this happens is because women tend to provide more care for men. When they become too ill to continue providing this care, the marriage is more likely to end. Women also tend to have more of a support system of friends and family members than men do, providing a safety net in the case of divorce.
Overall, women do not reap the health benefits of marriage that men do. However, these studies have usually been done on older adults, and gender roles in those relationships have probably been more traditional. This pattern might change with younger couples. Same-sex couples also tend to be more equitable in how they approach illness in a relationship. It should also be noted that illness does not always have a negative impact on a relationship and has brought couples closer in some situations.
Couples who do decide to divorce will need to negotiate property division and other issues, or they will have to go to court where a judge will do so. If one person is seriously, chronically or terminally ill, this may have an impact on divorce negotiations. Ensuring that the sick spouse still has healthcare may be critical, or it might be important to ensure that there is adequate support for a former spouse who is too sick to work. Parents may also need to take their health into account when they make decisions about child custody.