Picture: Noelle Otto/Pexels
Picture: Noelle Otto/Pexels

Retirement is threatening our 40-year marriage

By Steph and Dom Parker Time of article published Jan 27, 2020

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British TV's Steph and Dom Parker, 52 and 54, draw on their 21 years of marriage to solve relationship problems ...

Question: My husband and I retired at the end of last year. We are both in our late 60s.

I’ve started volunteering at a primary school, which I find rewarding, and have a busy social life, as many of my friends have also stopped working and live near by.

But my husband doesn’t seem to be doing anything with his time. Some days I come home and he’s still in the same chair I left him in. He just mopes around reading the paper, watching mindless TV and pottering in the garden.

He has never had as many friends as me — mostly his are the ones we share as a couple.

It’s starting to affect his mood: he is far more irritable. I feel I have to tiptoe around him and when I share stories about my day, he just snaps at me.

I’m worried he’s lost his sense of purpose. I’ve tried raising it with him but he just tells me not to nag. Any advice?

HE’S ENVIOUS OF YOUR SHINY NEW LIFE

Steph says: I admire you for writing to us about a topic that sadly is common for early retirees. You have created a new life for yourself post-retirement, full of purpose and friendship, but your husband is floundering.

I’m not remotely surprised you’re frustrated by your husband’s lack of enthusiasm for his new freedom, but I am sympathetic to his plight, too.

You shouldn’t have to tiptoe around your husband for fear of upsetting him, but I do counsel you to tread carefully here. The priority is to defuse a potentially painful situation by showing each other respect and love.

Your husband is potentially suffering from one of two problems. You say he ‘mopes’, but I suspect there are signs of genuine depression, too.

His irritability, lack of interest in your news and general reluctance to get up and involve himself in life are all red flags.

Men of his generation often are defined by the work they do — many of us feel our work defines our personality, social standing, wealth and success. When work ends, morale, self-esteem and pride are often casualties.

It’s not unreasonable in those circumstances to ask yourself some hard questions: Who am I now I don’t work?

If you think your husband may be suffering from depression, it is essential that he is assessed by professionals. Persuade him to see your GP. If he is reluctant, tell him how worried you are, which may shock him into making an appointment for himself.

Before you panic, though, it is also entirely possible that what he is feeling is not depression, but envy. He may be utterly terrified that your shiny new life is leaving him behind. He may be wondering who on earth this popular, dynamic and confident woman is, and hoping against hope that this new life doesn’t take you away from him.

So how does one resolve such a mismatch? I would advise that you start to treat your marriage as a brand new relationship. You say you resent his behaviour, but his happiness is still your number one priority.

So ensure he is involved with everything you plan to do socially over the next couple of weeks. He must be the first person you think of when you make arrangements, just as you did in those heady first years.

Then, I would gently steer him in the direction of something that will give him back his self-belief. He needs to feel needed and valuable.

There are websites dedicated to matching volunteers with all sorts of good causes. I believe this is the key here — that he is in control of his life choices again. In time I am sure you will both flourish and find a new and exciting way to live this next stage of your lives.

STOP JUDGING AND LET HIM POTTER!

Dom says: Your situation is a common one and I’ve certainly heard other couples express the same dilemma. We spend 40 to 50 years of our lives working and few of us are prepared for when it stops.

I often think the best way to retire is gradually, over the course of perhaps a year, by cutting back days, then hours, until you get used to the idea and have happily eased your way into it. But that’s not an option open to many.

Your husband is like a ship without a rudder while you’ve very much got the wind in your sails. You’re a woman in demand, but he feels surplus to requirements. Well, I have a radical suggestion: perhaps he’s happy that way, at least for a while.

It may be that he snaps because he doesn’t want to be cajoled into a hobby or a social life he doesn’t yet want.

He could be getting irritable because he thinks -  correctly - that you’re judging him for merely pottering, when in fact pottering is precisely what he feels like doing.

In my view, there’s a lot to be said for sitting down for a month or two after a lifetime of hard work. He has just retired — he’s owed a bit of ‘me time’, surely, and if he wants to spend it reading the paper and mooching about the garden, let him.

The last thing he needs, I’m afraid, is his wife banging on about ‘a sense of purpose’.

Your letter rather reminds me of my mother, who was always trying to get me to play outside when I was little when what I really wanted was to watch telly indoors on the sofa. If he annoys you, my advice is to ignore him and get on with your own admirably full schedule.

Clearly you don’t want him to sink into a proper depression. Make sure he is really enjoying his own company rather than feeling down in the dumps before you leave him to it.

If the inactivity persists, you might think about asking a friend’s husband to come up with a pretext for a beer, or find someone who needs a few hours’ help with something your husband has an interest in.

But don’t push too far. He will decide what he wants to do with his retirement in his own time.

Creating endless odd-jobs around the house, or packing the diary with social events seven nights a week, is a recipe for disaster. Let him happily stew instead!

Daily Mail

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