August 2014 ISSUE

 

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Hi, Honey I’m Home
And he’s not leaving—the first baby boomers retire, and a strange phenomenon spreads across the land as stricken wives confronted with idle husbands suffer the effects of what some experts are calling retired husband syndrome.

The battle of the sexes is about to heat up now that the first wave of baby boomers has hit retirement age, and men unaccustomed to domesticity find themselves stuck at home, and lacking in purpose.

The howls of protest are not coming from men, however, but women—wives who feel the need to vent as they struggle through a difficult period of adjustment, one that frequently morphs into a condition known as retired husband syndrome.


A widely recognized malady in Japan it’s only now beginning to receive the attention it deserves in North America. Symptoms of retired husband syndrome are all stress-related, among them depression, insomnia and headaches.

“This phenomenon of retirement represents a greater change in people’s lives than any other milestone transition,” comments Mary Louise Floyd, author of Retired with Husband: Superwoman’s New Challenge.

“It’s more fraught with peril than even child-rearing because couples rarely prepare themselves for retirement. They simply ignore the issue altogether. Financial planning is often the extent of our preparation for retirement. The sad fact is when men retire they lose their sense of identity since it’s almost always derived from work. He is looking for something to replace the time/space/ power he found from his appointment calendar. Now he’s coming into the woman’s domain of hearth and home. This group of men, the immediate post-war generation, is having a very difficult time adapting to retirement.”

As early as 1984, medical practitioners were coming to grips with retired husband syndrome, as evidenced by an article appearing in the Western Journal of Medicine.

Boise, Idaho MD Charles Clifford Johnson reported that a growing number of his female patients between the ages of 50 and 65 were displaying symptoms directly attributable to their husbands’ retirement.

“His normal aggressiveness,” wrote Dr. Johnson, “has now become that of ruling sovereignty. I have frequently heard wives rage with such allegations as ‘I am going nuts.’ ‘He is driving me crazy.’ These emotional statements are frequently associated with symptoms such as tension headaches, depression, agitation, palpitations, gas, bloating, muscle aches and so forth.”

Dr. Johnson’s remedy for the problem then, ‘collaring the husband and convincing him that retirement is not a totally one-sided affair’ is still fitting for today’s troubled spouse.

Floyd traces the origins of the problem back even farther, lamenting the impact of the Industrial Revolution on marriage, identifying it as the source of the division of labor that has long existed between men and women.

As she sees it, the husband was taken away from home-based work and put in the factory or office, leaving the wife at home in charge of domestic matters. Over time, hearth and home became the exclusive domain of women, a sphere remote to men, and held in generally low esteem.

“Unfortunately we only value what we’re paid for,” notes Floyd, a retired library media specialist who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. “The woman’s responsibility was not as highly valued by society.”

The baby boom generation produced what Floyd describes as a superwoman, an individual capable of managing both a household and career, changing the dynamics between men and women. The sexes now exist on an equal footing, only women appear to be more capable of multi-tasking, providing them with a distinct advantage when their careers end.

“The retiring superwoman knows that she’s entering second adulthood,” says Floyd, “and is ready to take up other pursuits. These women are having a major problem, however, with their husbands, who are not as stimulating and participatory as they would like them to be. Women seem to find new purpose better than men.”

Statistically, retiring baby boomers will live two-and-half more decades, plenty of time to reinvent themselves. Compare their life expectancy with the average North American’s in 1900, which was a meager 47.

Prior to the Second World War, the term “golden years” was non-existent.

Maybe it’s a Good Thing:

It’s difficult to change the patterns of a lifetime but maybe having your spouse at home can open up new possibilities for your life together:
  • Change your attitude. Instead of focusing on what’s bad, try to re-direct your thoughts to what’s good about being together. If you have legitimate concerns, raise them and discuss issues frankly but kindly—he’s not a mind reader. Change demands communication.
  • Encourage him to develop new interests—if he likes to watch cooking shows, for example, suggest that he take up cooking in earnest.
  • Try to discover a common interest—take swimming lessons together, join a hiking club.
  • Is there something the two of you have always wanted? Maybe you’ve yearned to own a horse or a sailboat, well, now you’re free to enjoy new adventures together.
  • Try dating again—go out for ice cream, schedule a movie night at the theater, go to a concert.
  • Overlook the small stuff and encourage him to do the same—relationships can fail under a mountain of lint if you allow it. Quit obsessing about the way he folds the towels.
  • Remember why you got married in the first place and appreciate one another’s presence—it won’t always be so.
Although Floyd feels no one is responsible for another’s happiness, she does assign a difficult task to women entering into retirement with reluctant husbands in tow.

“Their job is to re-engineer their husbands for second adulthood,” she states, “because he is not going to do it himself.”
Before attempting any exercise or diet modification, always consult a fitness or medical professional.
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