Behind every retired man is a wife wishing he would go back to work...

By Shaiyanne Malik
Tue, 03, 19

Many men get into marriage and then later into retirement thinking things are going to be a certain way.....


Many men get into marriage and then later into retirement thinking things are going to be a certain way. They don’t necessarily share all of their preconceived notions with their spouses, let alone, ask them what their vision might be. They decide that things would be one way, and when they aren’t, they start looking for someone to blame and the blame game never turns out to be productive.

Retirement will be difficult for men and their spouses who have not prepared for the transition. In general, men have defined themselves by their career and not by other roles, such as a father or husband. On the other hand, women have maintained a myriad of roles, regardless of their work outside the home, and are commonly more social than men. So, it’s not a surprise that retirement can make men feel lost, lonely and more dependent on their spouse. This, in turn, can lead to a new kind of marital stress.

Emotional labour counts

Married men need to understand that wives don’t necessarily want to live out their husband’s retirement plans. There is more to their life. Also, men often ignore the fact that women were equally responsible for their achievements. In our society women are taken for granted for their emotional and physical investment in their families and homes, whereas their unpaid labour is worth a lot more. Wives do a significant amount of emotional work at home to get their husbands in the right mindset to adjust post retirement.

Coping up with the Retired Husband Syndrome

On the last day of work, people lose one of the most important things through which they gauge their place in society i.e. money. After money, the single most common worry about retirement is the effect it will have on their married life. In fact, women struggle so much with their husbands’ behaviour post retirement which is usually termed as the Retired Husband Syndrome. If your husband has retired, you’ll likely be familiar with this stress-related condition. Navigating retirement together can be a challenge, especially if you realise that you have different expectations or feel that you no longer have anything in common.

Men also have the added significant impact of changing identities, as they are no longer defined by their role in the work place, and have to adjust to a somewhat impactful identity crisis. Self-esteem is affected by the ending of employment, changes in income, and status. The ongoing ageing process, and for some, its limitations, including physical and health issues, none of which may ever have been anticipated, can also be very stressful for the retired, the impact of which can leave shocking impact on some personality traits which were not witnessed by spouse or the family before.

The after effects of retirement

A majority of couples and individuals look forward to retirement. Envisaging a time of relaxation, the opportunity to pursue interests and hobbies, to travel, and to have the choice to decide what they will and won’t do, as their circumstances allow.

For some lucky couples retirement can be a very enjoyable and fulfilling experience but for most it can also present challenges. Many retired couples acknowledge that one of the major changes retirement brings is the fact that they have more time to spend with each other. This can be a wonderful experience for a few and they can plan and do many things they were unable to do together previously. But for many the too confined proximity can become claustrophobic.

The reality of adjusting to retirement can prove to be very different to what was envisaged. Retirement often has an unexpected impact on relationships. Many couples find that retirement may not live up to the expectations they had and this causes difficulties.

Some retirees and their spouses find it very difficult to adjust to their new situation. A spouse who retires may have an expectation that the wife will be available to him all the time. All such changes can build up frustration and dissatisfaction.

The looming threat

The amount of stress generated in extreme cases leads to frequent bouts of yelling and shouting, involving threats of divorce. If one of the partner’s expectations are not met, it can eventually lead to resentment due to feeling neglected or not getting fair consideration of his or her own interests. Then there is the issue of social over-dependency. Psychologists suggest that being socially active in your later years is very important for your overall mental health. Usually, women seem to be more socially active but men tend to rely on their wives to keep them socially involved. One retired husband whose wife was a successful business woman, would chop all the large branches of one tree or another in her well maintained garden every time she left for a business trip, it was as if he was clamouring for attention even if it was just attracting her annoyance, it transpired that he was jealous of her social profile which he was constantly following. His irrational behaviour continued till one day, she had all the trees chopped down and moved out of the house permanently. He then went around complaining to everyone who would listen that she should actually be locked up in a mental institute, even going to the extent of trying to get doctors to write out recommendations of her mental illness. If he couldn’t control her at home, then he would control her by having her confined. Fortunately, he barely escaped getting himself committed. A most severe case of frustration over losing control compounded by an inflated ego.

Individuals and couples experiencing difficulties in their marriages and relationships following retirement may find it difficult to acknowledge their problems and hope to right themselves over time. A better option, in such circumstances, would be for both partners to acknowledge and take action, such as seeking counselling, to try to resolve their issues. Seeking help would be an alternate option provided both want to live under the same roof in harmony.

And on a lighter note, the man who realises that retirement is just about a change of bosses - from office to home - will be one happy man.