Monday, November 12, 2007

Marriage Monday: Retired Husband Syndrome

According to Wikipedia, Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS) is a psychosomatic, stress related illness which has been estimated to occur in 60% of Japan's older female population. It is a condition where a woman begins to exhibit signs of physical illness and depression as their husband reaches, or approaches, retirement.

"Retired husband syndrome" is one of the leading causes of divorce among older couples in Japan. The symptoms include irritability, ulcers, rashes, and the recurring urge to toss one's husband out the window.

OK, so living with a retired husband isn't that bad, but it is an adjustment. To be honest I'm sleeping better because he doesn't wake me up getting ready for work at 6 a.m., and it is kind of nice to come home from work to find him doing the laundry or cooking, but there are trade offs!

We have spent the past 33 years seeing each others only evenings, weekends and vacations. Now we spend every hour that I'm not working together. I'm sure that he is adjusting too...his identity for 33 years has been in his job, but until we start building our new house in the spring he doesn't have a lot to do.

As much as we look forward to retiring, retirement can be one of the most stressful events in life. There are a lot of losses in the transition from working to retirement – the loss of routine, work, income and identity. Unfortunately most of us only plan on our financial needs, not our emotional ones as we move into the next phase of life.

If you are approaching retirement age, there are a number of things you can do to prepare for an emotionally healthy retirement, states Elizabeth Holtzman in her seminar on The Emotional Aspects of Retirement:

  • First, begin by talking to someone – spouse, significant other, children, or all of the above about how you feel regarding the impending change in your life. Look at all the aspects, but particularly the emotional part.

  • Begin now to think about what you are passionate about. Is it politics, sports, finance, art or music? Many possibilities are available, but you need to focus on what excites you.

  • Get an emotional checkup. Many couples consult a marriage therapist before taking the big step. In a similar perspective, retirees may want to talk to a therapist about their situation and gain insights.

  • Don’t make other big decisions during this transition time. For example, people who retire and immediately move to another state may wind up suffering two major losses -- the loss of their work-related identity, and the loss of their relationship network.

Achieving a successful retirement is a process that takes planning, time, and experimentation. Retirees who achieve emotional integration learn to know themselves and what will make the coming years satisfying. They are confident in their ability to cope, and they can appreciate the possibilities within themselves. Retirement can then become a passage to new opportunity and self-fulfillment.

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