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Retirement and Dètente

Scene I

He says: Joanne’s gotten so touchy since I retired. When I see more efficient ways she could do things and make suggestions, she gets all huffy.

She says: Since Rick retired, he’s been telling me how I should do what I’ve been doing for 45 years. So, now he’s the expert? I’ve done a darn good job of taking care of this house and him. He’s making me crazy.

Scene II

He says: I’ve spent the last 45 years providing for my family. It’s time to relax and enjoy a life without pressures and demands.

She says: John lives in that recliner. My schedule has taken a back seat to his TV shows and daily naps. It doesn’t feel like my house anymore. You’d think he could occasionally vacuum or load the dishwasher.

Scene III

He says: Oh man, I finally have the freedom to get out and do more of what I love—golfing, fishing, working on my classic car. I’ve dreamed about this for a long time.

She says: I was really looking forward to Greg’s retirement. I thought we’d be taking some side trips together, having lunch with friends, seeing an afternoon movie, . . . but he’s never around.

These are common complaints. In each case, the couples held different expectations about retirement, and it is said this may be contributing to an increased divorce rate for older couples.

Suddenly, two people who have spent most of their waking hours apart, find that the house has shrunk by half and their whole dynamic has changed. Add to this that many couples don’t develop common interests over the years and now must face that fact.

Japanese physician, Nobuo Kurokawa of Osaka, believes that 60% of older women suffer from (no joke) RHS—Retired Husband Syndrome, which includes a variety of ailments. Kurokawa says all these women manifest the same physical symptoms. (Online, see Retired Husband Syndrome.)

Before retirement, spouses need to sit down together to discuss their expectations—everything from finances to division of labor to leisure activities. These discussions should also include learning to appreciate the other’s position, then working toward compromise.

The retiring husband often feels he has lost power, identity, and importance—that his role has been diminished, and he has no more to contribute. This is especially true if his career included supervising others, or if he’s been forced out by health issues or company downsizing. Without a hobby or other outlet, the only place he has left is his home.

The wife, even though she worked outside the home, has usually run the household and may feel her place and her contributions there are being devalued or usurped. Resentment begins to build on both sides.

Each partner should, if possible, have a separate zone in the house where they can escape for alone time. Or they might develop a hobby, spend time at the library, join a club, volunteer, take on part-time employment. The couples’ together-time should be determined jointly.

He says: I’ve dialed back on the advice. Now Joanne’s more willing to hear suggestions I do make, even if she doesn’t always agree with them.

She says: I know John deserves his retirement, but so do I. We’re trying to be more considerate about sharing the chores.

He says: She and I reserve two or three days a week to pursue our own activities—I golf, she plays Bridge or goes to Zumba.

She says: Two days a week we save for each other—getting away overnight, taking classes, binge watching our favorite shows.

Partners can either learn to be compatible or spend the rest of their lives avoiding each other. It’s your retirement. Make it a happy one.

Constance Watkins