Should I Stay in a Marriage Only Because My Spouse Has Cancer?

When a spouse has cancer, it can be very difficult to navigate through the emotional and physical turmoil. Should a couple divorce during a serious illness?

when a spouse has cancer

When a spouse has cancer, it can be very difficult to navigate through the emotional and physical turmoil that the illness brings on. Cancer is even more difficult to deal with when the couple is considering divorce. On average, the process of divorce takes about 11 months from start to finish.

During that time, emotions are sensitive, your daily routine is changed, and the person who you have invested in the most fades away. While divorce is an already upsetting process, going through one while dealing with the disease is no easy feat for either party involved.

One simple question remains: Should someone stay in a marriage when a spouse has cancer? While the yes or no answer can truly only be decided by the two of you, there are many things to consider when deciding whether to prolong the relationship or to call it quits.

When a spouse has cancer, consider their life expectancy before initiating divorce.

One of the initial steps to take when a spouse has cancer is to evaluate the seriousness of the disease at hand. Some cancers like breast cancer commonly have a high life expectancy. Early diagnosis and tailored treatment options have shown the average 5-year survival rate to be 90%, which will let both of you live a happy life post-divorce.

However, some cancers move far more quickly and require more extensive caregiving. Mesothelioma cancer is an example of this. This disease presents itself years after exposure to asbestos, and the prognosis of mesothelioma is much poorer than that of more common cancers. This cancer develops primarily in people over 50, a time when many marriages are in later stages. Doctors are hard at work searching for more accurate treatment plans, and while finding the right mesothelioma specialist will aid in the journey with cancer, some of the most important support stems from family members and keeping a solid foundation at home with care and love. A cancer diagnosis later in life presents several hurdles.

Some spouses rely on their partner’s health insurance. A divorce or separation could have serious financial repercussions if the person who falls sick needs long-term medical treatment and they lose their insurance along with their marriage. This is something you should discuss seriously given the stress of relationship turmoil paired with a terminal diagnosis.

Communication is Key

According to, Andrew W. Kneier, Ph.D., “Although your spouse has cancer, the illness is really happening to both of you. Your life is being disrupted in many of the same ways.”

It’s natural to want to play the blame game for your failed marriage but it’s even easier to feel guilty about your partner becoming sick. If your relationship was disrupted before the cancer diagnosis, chances are that it’s not going to improve when factoring in sickness. Seeing a therapist or a marriage counselor could improve your relationship or save your marriage. If the romance is gone, talking to someone can help remind you of the importance of why you needed each other in the past.

Seeing a therapist on an individual level can help with any feelings of hopelessness or depression associated with sickness, help you gain better-coping skills with your marriage ending, and lead you to a brighter future.

Seeing a therapist as a couple can teach you to rationalize the illness and come to terms with the fact that in some cases it is no one’s fault and people naturally grow apart. Speaking with a professional can help you gain perspective on how to speak with your family about the ups and downs that could occur as they move forward.

What Is Best for the Entire Family?

This will be an important time for everyone in your family. No matter the age of your children, don’t let your children associate cancer with divorce. It’s imperative to explain that these issues existed before you fell ill. Whether or not the sickness was announced first should factor in the importance of keeping open lines of communication and transparency. Finding good balance when co-parenting is vital.

No matter your children’s age, kids will be affected in some way. Do what’s best for the entire family in terms of maintaining a healthy routine with day-to-day activities. Everyone in the house will need to take on new responsibilities regarding doctor’s appointments, offering extra care and helping to limit stress. The healthy spouse shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to separate during the sickness, and sometimes even the patient battling the disease may want to take time apart as well. Surviving cancer has also been seen as a tool for patients to find the courage to leave an unhappy marriage, says Dr. Lidia Schapira, MD. It’s important to understand both sides of the relationship. Fifty percent of couples break up during a cancer diagnosis. This shocking number has been proven due to the lack of ability to cope with the ever-evolving physical and emotional changes associated with a serious disease.

When to Separate?

Every diagnosis and sickness is different. No relationship will experience the same exact situations when a spouse has cancer. When it comes down to the serious decisions, the only two people that should have a say is the couple. If you feel the right time to move out is before the treatment starts, that needs to happen. Remaining peaceful and open to communication will be the best way to provide you with answers and options specific to your relationship.

As mentioned earlier, the severity of the sickness will help you decide the timing of your separation. A cancer patient may experience large amounts of stress due to their treatment plan and will need additional love and support to rely on. If you can’t mend your romantic relationship remember the importance of supporting one another and your joint family.

Emily Walsh is a content writer for, specializing in the awareness and advocacy of rare diseases. Walsh & her team are tirelessly working to spread the word about the dangers of asbestos and other cancer-causing carcinogens. 

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