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People talk about good divorces and bad divorces, but what most of us consider a bad divorce typically has to do with money or nastiness and manipulations. I’ll agree that those can be pretty ugly, but there are some divorces that are beyond bad divorces, the “who would do that?” divorces, the Mother of All Divorces divorces. Those would be when splitting causes an additional incomprehensible pain to a spouse and the children.  Ready for surgery

For instance, John and Elizabeth Edwards. They separated after 32 years and Elizabeth filed for divorce within days after John admitted, yeah, I did father a baby with Rielle Hunter — at the same time that Elizabeth was battling the incurable cancer that ultimately killed her. How painful is that?

Sen. John McCain’s divorce was no better. His was schtupping a younger babe while wife No. 1, Carol, was barely recuperated from a devastating and disfiguring car accident. Then he dumped her to marry his mistress, now Mrs. Cindy McCain. Nice.

It seems especially callous to cheat on and divorce a partner who’s sick or suffering. And yet, it isn’t all that unusual. Not too long ago some doctors noticed an odd pattern in their oncology practices — too many of their patients, female patients that is, were suddenly getting divorced. A study last year, “Gender Disparity in the Rate of Partner Abandonment in Patients with Serious Medical Illness,” backed their observations.

The odd thing about the aptly named “partner abandonment” is how big a role gender plays in it. Women who are diagnosed with cancer or multiple sclerosis are six times more likely to find themselves separated or divorced shortly after their diagnosis than if they were a man, according to the study.

As if that wasn’t enough, the older the woman, the more likely she was headed for splitsville, resulting, not surprisingly, in some serious impacts on her health and quality of life. Great! And women get called out for initiating divorce more than men; maybe we sense men don’t fully buy into “in sickness … for worse” thing.

What would drive a man to abandon his wife at the time she needed him most? The study’s authors don’t quite answer that — who can really know? — but they cite other studies that indicate men are “less able to undertake a caregiving role and assume the burdens of home and family maintenance compared with women. Thus a woman becomes willing sooner in the marriage to commit to the burdens of having a sick spouse.”

As a twice-married and twice-divorced woman, I know what the researchers are talking about. One of my fantasies is that my partner wouldn’t mind — dare I say enjoy — pampering me just a little when I’m sick as I so willingly do when he’s feeling crappy.

What gives, guys?

Another beyond-bad divorce scenario is when a cheating spouse ends up shacking up with or marrying his or her lover and there are kids involved, as in McCain’s case. I can’t even imagine how to begin that conversation with your kids let alone spin it to be a good thing, especially if they now have to live with the woman or man who helped destroy their family. A few of my friends have been those kids, and the anger and resentment even decades later haven’t totally gone away.

Not that I think explaining why you dumped Mom when she was sick would be any easier.

Then there are the double betrayals — think Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Soon-Yi Previn. Losing your spouse to a good friend — or to your own child — would pretty much suck.

All of which makes me so thankful that my divorce from my kids’ dad fell into the “good” category. Sure, there are many times that we’ve been frustrated and disappointed with each other, but his betrayal was just the good ol’ fashioned kind — an affair that eventually ended.

But in some weird stroke of luck, I ended up following Nora Ephron’s sage advice: Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.

How about you?

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2 Responses to “In sickness and in health? Maybe not …”

  1. Rosemary says:

    That there are men who would cheat on or abandon a sick or dying spouse is, unfortunately, not surprising. There are many cruel and evil people in the world. What amazes me, though, is the women who then marry these vile men. Do they justify it by imagining that the sick or dying wife somehow deserved such vicious treatment? What do they think will happen if they, too, become sick someday?

  2. Valentina says:

    I am glad I came upon this website as I am currently going through a divorce. Filed in Jan 2015 and 8 months later no where close to resolution… custody disputes. I agree with the article that undertaking a caregiving role may be too much for someone, it was for my spouse, I also see how men may create an emotional disconnect when it comes to having a sick spouse, which I have no explanation for. Maybe they can’t handle it and go lean on someone else (another women) for moral support, just a narrow-minded guess from me.
    After my second child and frustrations with my spouse of not helping me, I went to a chaplain for help, work balance, stress management. The frustration was that I worked full-time and in my opinion contributed to the overall 85% of the caregiving/maintenance of the home to include errands/grocery shopping, etc. I am very thankful I went to see somebody and reading other blogs posted on this website, women tend to want to repair their marriage or are more aware of the problems, so I guess my actions were what typically women do. The chaplain said to me, you should get some blood work done in case it is a chemical imbalance. So in Aug 13, I got blood work done and a couple months later was diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer. I was devastated, I had multiple doctors appointments and out of all of them, my spouse went to 2 of them. I would say, “I have a doctor’s appointment can you come?”. The various responses I heard, “I have no PTO left,” “is it just a check? Do you really need me to go?” What do you say to that to kind of response. Mine was, “well if you can’t you can’t, but I would really like you there.” Then the follow-up response would be, “why can’t you make the appointments at the end of the day where I can try to make it.” It was like pulling teeth, not just for this, but for other things that involve raising and running a household.
    I had my first surgery in Nov 13, during my recovery my spouse did not make me food, oh I also had to drive myself to the hospital (he did pick me up) after work to take me home. Post op, he woke me up in the morning b/c he was running late for work and had to get the girls ready; which I always did and would have to constantly ask him for help. I even told him, like a child, to make sure he woke up early enough to get them ready. No sir, this person had no decency to take care of me or handle a week of getting my children ready for daycare. The feeling of knowing that the words “in sickness and in health” do not exist with your spouse can only be truly tested when you are sick. There were many other instances he had “abandoned me” in not helping me with stuff (I dealt with it and would bring it up), but he gave me a false sense of love where he would say things like “when something is important, I will do what needs to be done”, his failure to live up to that statement was an overwhelming feeling of lies and betrayal.
    I had my second surgery in Dec 13 because my mother was a teacher, I scheduled it when I knew she was on her winter break. My spouse was upset with me for doing that, still recovering from my first surgery, he gave me crap as I told him I needed someone to take care of me and the kids too, I needed help. He was mad at me because I basically made him look bad in front of my parents, he said,” now they’re probably thinking I can’t take care of you.” Well, basically, if the shoe fits.
    During this time, the emotional feelings associated with being diagnosed with cancer is overwhelming. I was 27 years old, had 2 daughters who were toddlers and the uttermost fear that they wouldn’t be raised without a mother is absolutely gut renching, and to top it off as an active duty military member who loves their job, I was possibly facing medical discharge if my condition worsened. I was utterly alone and I’m so thankful my mother and father were with me during that portion while I was going through my health issues
    My spouse just worried about his image and getting an Xbox 1 for Christmas. After that I still tried for close to another year to work on my marriage and communicate how hurtful his actions were. With no progress and the lack of remorse from him, I realized I couldn’t live like this anymore.
    Going through a health problem where you think a person that loves you unconditionally and will be there for you like the men in the romantic movies us females watch, is one of the hardest things I have had to recover from.
    I can completely see how statistics reflect divorce rates for women who had health issues.

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