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


“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

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