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Retired husband syndrome and what we should know. Part 1

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12 January 2015

Retired Husband Syndrome

That long awaited time finally arrives. The day to day grind of work comes to an end and the blissful fantasy of luxuriating in long days of free time with your spouse is suddenly within reach.

Interestingly it transpires, this may well be a fantasy rather than a reality. It seems that what is meant to be the most stress free time in life can actually be one of the most stressful.

If you’ve never heard the term Retired Husband Syndrome before, it was coined by Dr. Charles Clifford Johnson, in a 1984 commentary published in the Western Journal of Medicine. Johnson’s clinical description (based mainly on evidence of wives of retired men telling him, “I’m going nuts,” “I want to scream,” or “he’s under my feet all the time,’) includes: headaches, depression, agitation, palpitations, and lack of sleep.

A study published earlier this year set out to explore his theory and was based on Japanese households where gender roles tend to be more traditional with men at work and wives at home. They looked at both women in the home and women who were still employed (as well as their partners) and the findings demonstrated an increase in stress, depression and an inability to sleep.

Interestingly it seems that employed women suffered even more than housewives as demands upon them increased not only from work but from their newly demanding husbands. Furthermore it seems that both partners suffered with almost identical reactions.

This study was given wide publicity. Although based on Japanese households the effects are clearly felt worldwide. So why is this? Together with the reasons given by the study, here are my thoughts:

For both men and women

For many people, working life takes up the majority of their time. As a result couples can become estranged, spending more time apart than together, growing in different directions. Suddenly the family leave home, the jobs come to an end and the couple are thrown together only to find their common ground is not so common after all.

Due to increased external pressures in this day and age, people tend to react and deal with what is in front of them rather than take time to plan ahead for life changing events.

We can be creatures of habit and change can be challenging, even inducing a type of grief cycle (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), which can affect those involved in the change and their immediate relationships.

Financial concerns may trouble couples subject to how well they have planned for their financial future, based on a pension, rather than the normal monthly in-come.

Health concerns may increase and become apparent at retirement age (menopause, BPH ETC see below). It is not uncommon for people to work hard, depending too heavily on their adrenal glands and then be hit with an array of symptoms at the point when they finally slow down.

For women

Women are working longer and harder than previous generations. This means mounting demands at work and at home and an increase in stress related symptoms.

The effects of the menopause should not be underestimated either. As hormone levels decrease with age, low mood, anxiety, interrupted sleep, hot flushes and other health issues can become apparent.

Given that the average age for the menopause is 52 and can last from anything between a year and 10 years, it could well coincide with life changing times of children leaving the nest, elderly parents needing care and husbands retiring.

Women are more independent than in years gone by and able to pursue more hobbies away from home. Furthermore, they tend to have specific ways and means of running the household. A husband who is suddenly at home all the time can lead to feelings of restriction and frustration during the adjustment period.

Women may also feel the pressure of needing to fill a gap as their previously occupied husband is suddenly not occupied at all and looking for ways to fill the void.

For men

With many years of a daily structure suddenly removed, the empty space can be overwhelming leading to low self esteem and a lack in sense of purpose.

Men may see their wives continuing to live an independent life and feel sidelined as their own daily life changes dramatically.

Men have a greater tendency than women to go into their ‘cave’ often needing less social contact than their partners. When it comes to retirement this may mean limited social circles at a time they would most benefit.

With so many hours spent at work or thinking about work, hobbies may not have been a priority leaving men unsure as to how to spend their newly acquired time.

Health concerns may also challenge men of this age with 50% of men over 50 suffering from Benign Prostate Hyperplasia causing symptoms that may interfere with daily and nocturnal life!

A message of hope

Do not lose hope, if you are already suffering any of the above or suspect this could happen to you in the not too distant future, rest assured there are various measures that can be put into place to ease this life passage. Furthermore, forearmed is forewarned and people also do enjoy happy and healthy retirements.

Part 2 of this post will look at helpful techniques for adjusting to a happy retirement.

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