Taking on the role of caregiver to an ex-spouse; Is this a new trend?

This past weekend I came across a very interesting article that personally, I just can’t wrap my head around. I cannot imagine taking care of my ex husband, maybe that’s just me.

“The concept of as caregivers for their ex- is largely unexplored,” said Teresa Cooney, associate professor in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. “To date, our study is the first to examine this form of caregiving.

Okay, this is news to me. And to boot the findings suggest that it is more common than we realize.

Cooney and Christine Proulx, MU researchers in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, are examining the experiences of women who provide care for their ex-husbands. In the study, researchers conducted a series of telephone interviews with caregivers throughout the U.S. trying to identify the unique characteristics and motivations of these women and how caregiving affected their relationships.

“Compared to traditional caregiving, there are unique issues involved with providing care for former spouses,” Proulx said. “A surprising number of the women reported continued involvement with their ex-husbands post-divorce. A strong motivator for women to become caregivers is related to their desire to maintain relationships, not with ex-husbands, but typically with their children. It appears that having shared children with an ex might facilitate emotional attachment. Women also might try to shield their children from the demands of caregiving.”

Emotional attachments among women and their exes, including post-divorce relations or positive feelings toward former spouses, facilitated their caregiving relationships. Additionally, the study revealed that some women experience “uplifts” or emotional rewards for caregiving.

“Some women reported caregiving as a turning point in relationships with their ex-husbands,” Cooney said. “These women experienced positive interactions as they helped their former husbands, which seemed to buffer the challenges of caregiving. Although pleasant interactions are common among more traditional caregivers and their recipients, we didn’t expect to find this in a study of ex-wife caregivers. Several women noted that their ex-husbands had ‘softened’ during illness and there was less conflict.”

I don’t know about you but I don’t think I’m up to the task of caring for my ex, even for the sake of my child. Am I the only one that feels this way? Maybe we don’t know what we could do until we actually find ourselves in that particular situation.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you know someone or have you yourself taken on this role of caring for an ex spouse?

Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by theworkingcaregiver) from materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Science Magazine, Science Daily News, March 2011

About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked with the elderly and their families for over 30 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes". As an ElderCare Expert and Keynote Speaker, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and passion, to educate and promote self-care values to family caregivers and the community at large.
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10 Responses to Taking on the role of caregiver to an ex-spouse; Is this a new trend?

  1. Beth Bergstrom says:

    My ex and I were married for 47 years and share 5 children. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in September. He had surgery in December and had a very serious complication. I have been caring for him since he returned home. If I don’t do it, everything falls on my daughter who is the only child who lives locally. For a while it was working ok, but he/we are falling back into the same interactions that I lived with for so many years. I’m feeling frustrated and trapped, but I promised my daughter that I would not walk away and leave it all to her. There is no way he can live alone. This is not the way I expected to spend my “golden years”.


    • Sue Salach says:

      Beth, Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry for what you are going through, it’s overwhelming and heartbreaking. Make sure you are taking care of yourself. Ask for help from others, other friends, family etc. If you are part of a church community ask if they have volunteers who would be willing to help out. I’m praying for you to have strength and peace.


  2. diane page says:

    hi i am in a situation where my husband and i never divorced etc we separated in 2009 and of late he has been diagnosed with masteses cancer so he has no family that will care for him properly, so we still get along and im wondering whether the government will let me do that ? confused at this point as we are separated they want to know who does cooking share bathroom all that i cant answer those questions when he is unable to do much for himself now


    • Sue Salach says:

      If you want to take on that role for your ex then you need to have him make you his healthcare, as well as his financial power of attorney. There are forms online that you can use, however; your best option would be to find an elder-law attorney to create the forms in order to protect you and your assets in the process. I think it’s very admirable that you want to help him out, but make sure you take care of yourself as well. Not sure where you are located but contact Law Elderlaw and they should be able to help you or connect you with someone in your area. http://lawelderlaw.com/

      Take care of you!!


  3. Cari H says:

    My divorce was final a month ago. The day of our court date. My x found out he has cancer. I was so overwhelmed by the news. I told him I would help him get thru it. So, none the less my life has changed paths. Definitly not expecting that to happen.
    I have such mixed feelings on this. I dont want him to get his hopes up for reconcilliation. But, I do care enough about him that I cant just leave him stranded. Who would have thought the same day of our divorce he finds out he has cancer. How often does that happen?
    This next month is when he will be having sugery and I wonder if I should have him stay at my house….hmmm!! This is a little scary. What will happen. I believe in Loving God and Loving people. And he is just as special to God as is anyone else, nomatter why we divorced.


    • Oh Cari, what a champion you are! Just as I said in the last paragraph of the post – We don’t know what we would do unless we find ourselves in that situation – we can say all day long I won’t do this or I will do that…but until we actually find ourselves faced with it – can we really make those difficult choices. Kudos to you my friend. I applaud you and what you are doing. He is, God’s child – and a part of the bigger picture. Hang in there and keep us posted.


  4. Kellee Magee says:

    Wow. Funny, I just last night was astounded to hear of a woman in a similar situation .. .she in fact had donated a kidney to her ex (!!!!) and then had become his caregiver during that recovery. After 10 years, they’re now getting back together (cautiously, I imagine). While *I* certainly can’t imagine it personally, If there aren’t new spouses on each side and still a shared history with children/grandchildren, etc., I could see the logic in people coming ‘back together’ and putting aside some of the ugly things that split them apart. As we continue to see financial challenges with the economy, I do know there are many people who don’t divorce due to the financial strain … and I wonder if for some people, there isn’t some financial component here worth considering also. FASCINATING stuff!!


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