Retired Husband Syndrome

ByABC News via via logo

Jan. 11, 2006 — -- Jo Turner and Molly McCartney have entered the golden years -- their husbands' retirement. It should be an era of marital bliss, but more and more women are finding themselves frustrated, annoyed or even furious when their husbands come home to roost.

As the first of the baby boomers turns 60 this year, it's a problem that can become more widespread in America.

"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.

Japanese doctors first described the syndrome when wives started showing symptoms of stress after being forced to deal with their recently retired husbands who demanded absolute subservience. The divorce rates among couples married for 20 years more than doubled between 1985 and 2000 in Japan.

Sayoko Nishida has written books and organizes retreats for Japanese women who say the constant presence of their retired husbands has caused serious physical illnesses.

Nubuko Toda is one of the women grappling with these issues.

"I feel heaviness and dizziness in my head," she said. "The feelings come and go frequently at different times."

Japanese physicians estimate that as many as 60 percent of wives of retired men suffer to some extent from "RHS."

One survey by a Tokyo advertising firm found that while 85 percent of soon-to-retire men were delighted by the prospect of retirement, 40 percent of their wives said they were depressed by the idea. In fact, around Japan, more than 3,000 groups have sprung up to retrain retired husbands to be more independent and communicative with their wives.

One group, called "Men in the Kitchen," teaches male retirees how to cook, clean and shop for themselves.

Maggie Walker teaches seminars that address the unexpected problems and anxiety women face dealing with their husbands as they embark on the final chapter of their relationship.

"Just the idea of adjusting with the kids not being the focus anymore, with the careers not being something to talk about so much anymore," she said.

Turner and McCartney have had some problems with their husbands, but take the new phase in stride and with a little humor.

"Retirement came -- your husband is everywhere you look, they're home," Turner said. They are "used to making decisions in their job. We all thought we were doing a great job until our husband retired."

Turner said that the best way to get over frustration with a listless husband was to develop a support system. Find other activities for your husband, like art, golf or volunteer work.

McCartney said that her husband retired without knowing how to run a home. It can be frustrating, but she said that she tried to see her husband's retirement as a great adventure.

"If you think about retirement, you know it's something you need to make an adjustment for," she said. "It's a change in how you live for you and him. If you want to make it work, you have to plan so it doesn't make a crisis."

McCartney said her mother experienced some frustration when her father retired, so she expected some changes. But she did not expect that his trash would pile up around the house or that her husband would master the art of selective hearing and selective vision -- he never sees that the house needs straightening up and doesn't hear his wife when she asks.

"Piles of materials -- newspapers, magazines, golf score cards, pennies, pencils, sticky notes, letters, bills -- stack up and get higher and higher," she said.

Turner says her husband, Wally, is a "sweet man." He's just a work in progress.

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