Feb 072017 0 Responses

When Cancer Causes Divorce

Sally never saw the diagnosis coming. There had been no pain, no symptoms, and no concern. The appointment was routine. The blood work was expected. The follow-up was pre-scheduled. She was so oblivious to the possibility of a problem that she never noticed the concern on the doctor’s face as she walked into the exam room.

As the doctor began to speak, Sally was confused. What was she talking about? Elevated blood counts, suspicious scans, a needed biopsy to confirm, but there was little doubt of the diagnosis–cancer. Sally stumbled out of the office and made her way home. She called her best friend who quickly came to the house. She was everything Sally needed–empathetic, thoughtful, and on her side. The afternoon slowly passed until Bill came home. Sally didn’t want to bother him at work. She could wait until dinner to tell him.

In nearly every situation I hear like this, the scene is the same. Bill comes home. He notices something is wrong. Sally tells him. The two fall into a puddle of grief and console each other. The illness gives them a new perspective on life. As difficult as the treatment was, they both admit the sickness was good for their relationship. They end up loving each other more than they ever have. (See: How Some Soar Through Suffering)

This is the norm. Except when it’s not. More often than anyone admits, cancer creates divorce. Instead of driving the two spouses toward each other, it exposes a divide which has long been present. Whereas many couples overlook the disagreements and pull together, some get out before the suffering gets worse.


Clearly cancer doesn’t cause divorce. Thousands of people get cancer each year and for most of them, their marriages become stronger. But why do some people get divorced after a diagnosis?

The issue is trust. I can suffer with another person as long as I trust them. No matter how many differences we have, as long as I can trust your heart, I can walk beside you through the darkest moments of our lives. When trust is gone, so is my endurance.

Some couples divorce because they have long ago stopped trusting one another. They feel as though they have been suffering with one another and the thought of greater suffering is too much to bear. Despite the social shame, they run.

One of the core promises of marriage is the vow to stick with someone in tough times. “In sickness and in health,” the officiant makes us say. While the characteristic of endurance in times of suffering is often overlooked when picking a spouse, it is a vital quality we should desire in a mate. Life is full of too many sorrows not to have someone by your side in your darkest days.

Yet being able to suffer well is not a binary trait that we either have or lack. Endurance during difficult times is much more about the level of trust spouses have built between one another. The greater we trust, the stronger we endure.  The less we trust, the more likely we are to flee when times get tough.

How Do We Develop Trust

Trust is something we build. It’s never in a static state. It ebbs and flows based on our experiences, actions, and choices. Preferably, a couple is always increasing their level of trust as time is proving each of them faithful in both big issues and small.

Here are four ways to strengthen trust between spouses:

1. Enrich your friendship. Trust and friendship go hand-in-hand. Oftentimes trust is the distinguishing characteristics of our friends. As we see, understand, and appreciate the heart of those we love, we begin to trust them.

2. Create a pattern of choosing your spouse over other things. Part of trust is knowing our spouse will be there when we need them. This is created more by showing our spouse than telling them. If we continually choose them in the big moments of life and prove that we will always be by their side when they need us, trust will naturally follow.

3. Do what you say. Anytime there is a divide between what we say and what we do, trust is eroded. Yet every time our actions match our words, trust is developed. If you consistently do what you say, trust will grow.

4. Quickly admit mistakes. No one expects perfection. Much of trust is about how we handle things when we mess up. If you own your mistakes, admit them, attempt to make them right, and don’t repeat them, your spouse will grow to trust you.

It could happen to any of us on any given day. A call could come and our lives could immediately change. In those moments, who do you want to be? What kind of spouse do you want to be as your husband or wife is walking through their most difficult moments? If you want to be a faithful, loving, kind, long-suffering, servant who loves no matter the circumstance, you need to build trust every day. If you wait until it’s needed, it might be too late. If you build it now, you will never regret it.

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