When I was married, my husband sold his dental practice and was home ALL the time. I was still working and had a demanding job. In his new retirement lifestyle, he would call me almost every hour. I finally started asking him, “Can’t this wait until I return home?” I was surprised by his newfound neediness. When he had his practice, we rarely spoke during the day. He was busy with patients. And I was busy at work. That was our normal life.
What I didn’t understand at the time is that he was trying to redefine who he was since he no longer had his dental practice. To find his “new” self, he would try different activities. But these activities required me to be available. I was still working. He needed my help with home improvement projects. Or he would expect me to be home by 5pm to join his new circle of retired friends for dinner (when he was working, we didn’t eat at 5pm, we ate after 7pm). In trying to redefine himself, he changed our lifestyle creating stress for both of us.
There is a name for this stress – Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS). In a 1984 commentary published in the Western Journal of Medicine, Dr. Charles Clifford Johnson introduced this term. He based it on his work with many women who had retired husbands. They complained: “I’m going nuts,” “I want to scream,” or “he’s under my feet all the time.” Dr. Johnson’s clinical description includes tension headaches, depression, agitation, palpitations and lack of sleep.
RHS has been mentioned in the media but there has not been a large scale study until recently. In July 2014, the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Bonn, Germany published a study by Marco Bertoni and Giorgio Brunello. The study focuses on RHS in Japan and measures stress, depression and inability to sleep. The findings conclude RHS impacts both spouses, but impacts women more than men. Additionally, working women are impacted more than non-working women.
Why is RHS important to recognize? It may be the cause for the growing number of U.S. divorces for those aged over 50 – also known as gray divorces. Over 60% of these divorces are initiated by women. We are living longer and many women are re-evaluating their relationship with their spouse. Do they really want to live another 30+ years with this individual?
How do you prevent or minimize the impact of RHS? There are two ways: self-awareness and communication with your spouse. These steps can be accomplished concurrently.
(1) Self-awareness: Life in retirement will be different than what you are accustomed to now. Many people fail to embrace this change which often leads to frustration. To begin your self-awareness, use the business skills you learned in developing a mission statement and strategy and apply it to yourself.
Write your personal mission statement – how do you want to be remembered? what is your legacy? Keep it simple.
For your life strategy, use our 5 P’s of Life as a guideline. Life includes five key areas: personal relationships | personal finance | profession | peace of mind | physical health. For each category, identify your goals. These goals will help you accomplish your personal mission statement. Some goals you may accomplish in one year, other goals may be accomplished 10 years down the road.
(2) Communication with your spouse: Prior to retirement, take time to share how you envision the next phase of life. If you have self-awareness (by developing your personal mission statement and life strategy) or at least started the process, then it is easier to discuss with your partner. Use the business skills you learned in pitching a new idea to your team or manager. Many couples find out they have different visions. One spouse may want to travel most of the time; whereas, the other spouse may want to spend more time with their grandchildren. To resolve this difference, they need to find a happy medium. Having these conversations BEFORE retirement is essential. If you wait until you retire, there may be too much emotion causing conversations to escalate into arguments.
Preventing or minimizing RHS is a process. It takes time and many conversations. If you stay focused on your commitment to your marriage, then you’ll find somewhere in the middle. No one will “win” in every situation. Accept that concept, move forward and keep your sense of humor.
“The Retired Husband Syndrome” by Charles Clifford Johnson, MD | Western Journal of Medicine | October 1984 | pp 542 – 545
“The Retired Husband Syndrome in Japan” by Marco Bertoni and Giorgio Brunello | Institute for the Study of Labor | July 2014
“Desperate Housewives: Stressed Women Suffer From ‘Retired Husband Syndrome’ When Spouse Hits Retirement Age” by Lizette Borreli| MedicalDaily.com | August 21, 2014 12:32 PM EDT
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Niv Persaud, CFP®, CDFA™, CRPC®, is the Founder of Transition Planning & Guidance, LLC. Her firm bridges the gap between financial planning and coaching. As a Transition Consultant, she offers sage advice in all aspects of life – financial, personal and professional. Niv does not manage money and does not sell financial products. She charges an hourly fee on a retained basis. Her services include spending plan development, divorce financial review, life strategy and professional progression. Niv actively gives back to her community through her volunteer efforts. She believes in living life to the fullest by cherishing friendships, enjoying the beauty of nature and laughing often — even at herself. Her favorite quote is by Erma Bombeck, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say ‘I used everything you gave me’.”