Husbands can't handle sick wives
WHEN people get married and love is still in the air, with no in-laws interfering and no children's mucus to clean, they vow to love each other "in sickness and in health".
Many people think that this will apply years later when one partner is sick.
But research suggests otherwise. Studies show that women are more likely than men to be abandoned by their partners when they get sick.
A 2009 study published in the journal Cancer, found that a married woman diagnosed with a serious disease is six times more likely to be abandoned than a man with a similar illness.
Among study participants, the divorce rate was 21% for seriously ill women and 3% for seriously ill men. A control group divorced at a rate of 12%, suggesting that if disease makes husbands more likely to split, it makes wives more likely to stay.
According to Dr Zethu Ngqola, a diabetes specialist, men in general do not deal well with women who are ill even though they may have unconsciously fostered it. Ngqola says as the prevalence of diabetes is increasing, in particular the type-2 form, many sick women end up being abandoned by their husbands.
"Having a sick wife means she will be emotionally, financially or physically dependent on the man. Men become fearful and are at times unable to handle the unknown. Few people have a plan for dealing with diseases and men are less organised for such occurrences."
Dr Thobani Maweni, a psychologist, says men don't cope well with sick wives. They are generally less emotionally resilient than women. A husband may withdraw from his ailing wife in a subconscious effort to minimise the pain he'd suffer should she not survive.
He adds that women are better caregivers because often they have to be more nurturing, loving and caring and care giving is not a traditional role for men.
"Men tend to be less comfortable in care giving. Coming home to a wife with wounds that need to be cleaned and all kinds of other things are very uncomfortable for many men."
Maweni says having to take care of someone who is physically depended on you can put a strain on a relationship.
"When one party can no longer take care of themselves, the other person can feel they are no longer equal, adult to adult, as they once were.
"If you are someone's caregiver, it can be more akin to being their mother, rather than their partner."
He adds that men are more visual than women and are more likely to be attracted by what they see. Equally, they are also more likely to reject someone for the same reason.
"When someone's appearance changes significantly, there is nearly always a sense of loss or bereavement for both parties. The same thing happens when a partner gets fat," explains Maweni.
He says he often sees men starting affairs when their wives get sick.
He says women usually have an emotional attachment to a partner, family and home that in times of stress causes them to deal with it, while men may want to run away.
" Men divert all that painful emotion into something to distract them. This might be a new hobby, spending more time on his work or worse still, having an affair with a healthier partner."
Zuko Mathyila, a male activist in Cape Town says men have affairs when women get sick because men need physical touch and physical attention.
"I do not say this is right, but it is the reality. It is hard to stay emotionally connected when a man is not getting what he needs to keep loving his wife. The attention doesn't even have to be entirely sexual.
"Men emotionally connect through a woman by her appreciation of him and even more so through her touch. It is the way we are wired to connect to females on an emotional level.
"If physical touch and intimacy are not frequent or non-existent, we quickly start feeling disconnected to our partners and look for this elsewhere."
Mathyila adds that for a man to keep going, he needs sexual relief.
"What happens in the bedroom really does affect how a man feels the next day at the office. Sex is a release of day-to-day pressures and seems to make everything else better. If he does not get it, his day and other people's day can be spoilt."
Maweni says the solution is to talk to someone about your problems.
"What makes matters even more difficult for men is that they do not like to talk to other people about their problems.
"Women usually speak to friends, pastors and church people for the help they need, men don't.
"A man typically relies on his wife as his main confidant, but when she is sick, he can find himself in a downward spiral of isolation." - email@example.com
- This article was first published in print on 4 July 2012