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Discuss, don't assume

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Many of us are shocked...and indeed troubled…when we hear about a long married couple who are getting divorced after a long marriage. Could it be that retirement is a contributing factor?

Any relationship between husband and wife is greatly affected by retirement. For example, if a retired husband assumes his wife is going to give up her routine - a career, volunteering, friends, exercise - to be with him all day, every day, and he has never even discussed this expectation with her, there will be problems in the marriage. Or if a previously high-ranking “chief” now finds himself at home without a support staff and no one to tell him how important he is, things can become unpleasant for both partners.

In Japanese, the term nure ochiba means “wet leaves.” It is used to describe retired husbands who stick to their wives no matter how often they try to pull them off. Today’s Japanese women are constantly sweeping aside these clinging wet leaves - but they keep sticking. Now there are reports than many Japanese women are showing physical signs of stress as husbands retire and are miserable at home.

A Japanese doctor, Nobuo Kurokawa, named this “Retired Husband Syndrome.” Dr. Kurokawa says that as many as 60 percent of wives of retired men suffer from this condition, with physical symptoms such as rashes, dizziness, irritability, or ulcers. Note that it is the women who are getting sick as the men retire. Cut off from the social network at work, the Japanese husband now has hours of empty time on his hands.

One Tokyo husband related that he didn’t know how to do anything for himself and expected his wife to serve him. He also had no friends outside of work, while his wife had many. Contributing to this disconnect is the fact that many wives, in Japan and elsewhere, continue to work after their husbands have retired. Many women stayed home with young children and entered the work force later and are not quite as ready to retire as their husbands are. Now in their 50s or 60s, they have finally attained the positions they wanted and they don’t want to give it all up for what they see as days of idleness or servitude at home.

Also, women often marry men older than they are. So, even if their spouses are physically and emotionally ready to step off the fast track, the women feel they still have some good working years ahead of them. This would not be a problem if the husband has his own interests and friends, but too often he expects his wife to retire when he does and provide these things for him.

These unspoken expectations can lead to major misunderstandings and golden years that quickly tarnish. Couples need to sit down and discuss their expectations about retirement before it happens. Assumptions cannot be made.

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