Men and Partner AbandonmentResearchers use the term "partner abandonment" to essentially mean a situation where one spouse leaves the other after the diagnosis of a serious illness. Although the data is mixed, in one well reported study of 515 men and women, 11.6% were "abandoned" (e.g. divorced or separated) after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis or cancer. That alone is sad, but when you separate out by gender only, 2.9% of the men with a diagnosis were divorced or separated while 20.8% of women who received a diagnosis of cancer of multiple sclerosis were divorced or separated. Men, in short, are much more likely to abandon their partner than women, according to this study.
Helping Men Be CaregiversWe could take this opportunity to "bash" men and talk about how self-centered and uncaring men could be -- but I would like to do something more constructive. I would like to talk about how we can help men be caregivers. See, my wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I find myself in this role to some degree. I'll tell you, it's hard. But the reason it is hard is not the stuff you would think -- it's not about trips to the doctor, modifying activities or being patient when she has fatigue -- those are just problems to be solved. What is hard is that there is no one to talk to about being a male caregiver.
When Men CarePersonally, I think that there is no societal role model for male caregivers (just the phrase "male nurse" can still bring snickers to many). This makes it incredibly hard to be a good caregiver. Now, I am not excusing the men who divorced their wives because of a diagnosis. I'm just saying that maybe some of them would have stayed around more if there was some (any) support for male caregivers in society.
Ideas to Help Men Be CaregiversIf you know the spouse of of a woman who was recently diagnosed with a serious illness, consider trying some of these ideas, they just might help a man feel less alone and perhaps even help him stick around.
- Ask how they are: It is important to acknowledge that illness is hard on the partner as well as the patient.
- Give 'em a Break: Golf, fishing -- help figure out how the male caregiver can take some time off. Volunteer to sit with his wife while he relaxes.
- Listen: It's hard enough for men to talk about their feelings (excuse the stereotype), but talking about the feelings that come with the illness of someone you love is even harder.
- Give some couple time: Offer to babysit or housesit so the couple can have some time together or send them on a weekend away.
- Ask for suggestions: Ask the caregiver what would be helpful. Sometimes just expressing your support for them is all it takes.
Source: Gender disparity in the rate of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness
Michael J. Glantz, MD. Cancer Volume 115 Issue 22, Pages 5237 - 5242. Nov. 15, 2009.
Gender disparity in the rate of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness Michael J. Glantz, MD. Cancer Volume 115 Issue 22, Pages 5237 - 5242. Nov. 15, 2009.