5 Tips to Help Your Marriage Survive “Retired Husband Syndrome”


Posted on: 18 January 2019 by Kelly Wilson

When my grandfather retired, everything has changed. Everyone was in shock on how my saint of a grandmother suddenly demanded divorce after 58 years of marriage. She was evidently distressed. Apparently, few talks about the rough changes retirement bring to elderly couples. In fact, it can strain relationships and even break marriages. In 2017, the Pew Research Center revealed that the so-called “grey divorce” has risen by 50% over the past 25 years.

The long wait is over.

Finally, you have all the time in the world to peacefully spend on the things you have always wanted to do.

When I was young, I had the same thoughts about retirement – a long-term vacation to paradise in the tropics.

When my grandfather retired, her small business is good.  everything has changed. Everyone was in shock on how my saint of a grandmother suddenly demanded divorce after 58 years of marriage. She was evidently distressed.

Apparently, few talks about the rough changes retirement bring to elderly couples. In fact, it can strain relationships and even break marriages. In 2017, the Pew Research Center revealed that the so-called “grey divorce” has risen by 50% over the past 25 years.

“How so?” you’d ask. After all, retirement is being with the person you have loved for the most part of your life. But have you considered the impact of your retirement to your spouse?

What is Retired Husband Syndrome?

In a 1984 study, Retired Husband Syndrome was described as a psychosomatic stress-related illness occurring in 60% of Japan's older female population. It is interesting to note that both the husband and the wife experience physical symptoms such as tension headaches, depression, agitation, palpitations, inability to sleep, gas, bloating, and muscle aches.

Couples experience huge change and adjustments once retirement starts. In a commentary published in Western Journal of Medicine, Dr. Charles Clifford Johnson described the typical life of retired couples in Japan.

A newly married couple spend their first couple of years pleasing each other, dining out, watching movies, and socializing with other young couples. Soon, the husband will feel the increasing pressure to climb up the career ladder. This means more work and less time for the wife.

Meanwhile, the wife will find hobbies and crafts to fill the lack of attention. She may even have time to meet up with her friends. When the children arrive, the wife will be busy raising the children and doing the housework.

The husband goes home exhausted from work. He feels that the wife is not doing enough work to keep the house spick and span though he himself contribute very little. The wife ignores this since he spends a short time at home.

After two or three decades, the kids have all moved out. The wife now has more time for her crafts and hobbies. Shortly, the husband goes into retirement and becomes more dependent on the wife. The wife, in turn, has to attend to her husband’s demands and lose the time she wanted to spend on her leisure. His aggressiveness became ruling sovereignty which the wife must diligently submit to. Wives feel that they ended up living with a stranger they thought they knew from 40 to 50 years of marriage.

While the studies were done in Japanese households, it is clear that many old couples around the globe experience the same dilemma.

The Wives

Whether the wife is still working or has always been a housewife, her husband’s retirement will throw her daily routine into chaos.

For one, the budget at home will significantly change. Some Japanese women noted that their husbands insisted on buying other items that were not in their usual shopping list. However, the budget stays the same.      

The Skipton Building Society conducted a study on 660 retired people still in relationships and discovered that money worries can upset most couple. Half of the respondents admitted that the lack of money makes their relationship unhappy.

The arguments come from the fact that one wants to save the extra cash they have while the other wants to spend the spare money and enjoy the retirement.

Dr. Johnson also pointed out that certain arguments can arise from simple things such as cooking. Some husbands begin to direct their wives on how to cook. There are also times that husbands will take up cooking only to end up with food the wife considers inedible and a waste of money.

The Husbands

The husband’s identity used to be wrapped up in his career.

Now that he is retired, his sense of purpose diminished. Deana Arnett of Rosenthal Wealth Management Group shared that if the husband fails to fill this gap, depression and dissatisfaction will start. While they see their wives continue the same routine, the husbands are left to figure out how they will spend their extra time.

Many decided to take up hobbies like fishing, camping, traveling and golfing in the company of their wives. Unfortunately, 11 percent of old couples admitted that they disagree on how their days should be spent.

Additionally, no work means cutting down on social interaction and exercise from the daily routine. This puts their mental and physical health at risk.

5 Tips to Rekindle the Spark of Marriage

  1. Expect a Roller Coaster of Emotions

Retirement is a phase in life involving a myriad of emotions. Consider it as a wedding. You are officially retired when your last day of work ends. There may be a party to honor you too. Then the next day you will experience the honeymoon stage.

Your job held you too long from fulfilling your bucket list and life goals. Now, you savor the freedom of dispensing your time the way you want.

Then, after the honeymoon stage, you need to settle down into a slower lifestyle. Boredom and anxiety start to creep in. You might even think that you are doing something wrong since you think people are supposed to enjoy their retirement.

When you get negative feelings, it is best to handle them the healthy way. Dr. Johnson shared that some wives developed agitation, depression and various illness after their husbands became alcoholic and verbally abusive.

  1. Recreate Your Budget Together

Since 50% of retired couples admitted that money problems spark arguments, it is only fitting to consider financial planning.

The main source of family income has been cut off and this will lead to massive adjustments when it comes to personal finances. In the ideal world, you should have been able to save enough money to last the rest of your life. On the other hand, it’s a good thing that they can still apply for loans from a licensed moneylender during emergencies.

Unfortunately, many retirees have too much time but little money to spare.

Remember to make a realistic spending plan. Include entertainment and wellness activities as part of your outgoing expenses. From here, you will see if you need to take on a part-time job or if you have money to spare to take your grandkids out to lunch every week.

Do not forget to encourage each other to follow the plan and give each other simple rewards every time a minor milestone is achieved.

  1. Make a Routine Schedule

It’s hard to get out of bed without any motivation. For the past years, you have followed a daily routine when you go to work. Now, you need to establish a healthy daily routine. Try various timeslots and different activities to see which gives you the most rewarding day.

There is no need to be too rigid with your retired routine, but this will help to create a feeling of normalcy now that you do not go to work.

Include your morning newspaper while having a cup of coffee, add a regular time for exercise, family meals, volunteering, and social activities. Do not forget to consider how your spouse prefers to spend the day. Find time for you as you give your spouse some time to be alone too.

You can’t just stare at each other day and night. You also can’t drag your spouse around. Too much closeness is not conducive to a good mental attitude. This is why being busy with different hobbies can let you and your spouse have some personal space.

  1. Keep Old Friends Close as You Make New Ones

You may be retired, but that does not mean you isolate yourself from society. Before retirement, you see your colleagues and talk with them every day. Now, you will need to make a conscious effort to go out with your friends and loved ones.

Ask a friend to regularly meet you for lunch every Friday. Go walking every morning with a neighbor. Grab a coffee with another friend every Monday. If you’re and your spouse is friends with another couple, you can set a game night or just a simple dinner once a week or month.

While you are taking care of your close ties, there is no stopping you from creating new ones. Volunteer on programs that interest you and will keep you moving at the same time. This can range from helping out in an animal shelter to packing food for families in need.

Don’t know where to start? Check the programs of your church or local community center. Find groups of people near you sharing the same hobbies. They usually have social media groups where they discuss their experiences and even regular meetups.

  1. Find a Part-time Job

Retirement need not be full time. There will be people who just can’t stay away from the workforce. This may be the right time to try out the secondary career you have been considering.

Dr. Joseph F. Quinn published a study in The Gerontologist Society of America sharing that retirees who prefer partial retirement and get a new job or explore self-employment showed significant improvement in mental and physical health.

Retirement is a process rather than just a single event elderlies will have to experience. Once you stop working, your family and you will have to make massive adjustments. We are humans and we are vulnerable to stress and anxiety when we are confronted with unavoidable changes.

Too much time in your hands can drive you nuts if you don’t know how you will spend it. This can lead to anxiety and depression that can radiate to your spouse. It’s a good thing that there are ways to get around Retired Husband Syndrome.

Keep yourself busy.

Reminisce your cherished moments with your spouse. Plan your days together though you do not necessarily have to be always by each other’s side. Spend time with your grandchildren. Never forget to show your love and add humor to your daily life. After all, laughter can be the best medicine for the aching heart and joints.


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