Friday, March 20, 2015

Retired husband syndrome

This stress condition is suffered by women the world over when their partners give up work. But now, news of RHS is reverberating around the world, after Italian researchers revealed that nearly half of women with newly retired husbands complain of increasing levels of stress, depression and sleeplessness

Many of my male friends may not have heard of this condition, which was identified in 1991 by Dr. Nobuo Kurokawa, a physician and leading Japanese expert. The symptoms include stomach ulcers, slurring of speech, rashes around the eyes, growths in the throat, palpitations, tension headaches and depression  as well as “agitation, gas, bloating, muscle aches, and other symptoms of stress. These symptoms were noted by Johnson, Charles Clifford, MD. in his article called The Retired Husband Syndrome, (Commentary). published in The Western Journal of Medicine. in 1984, Oct; 141, see pages 542-545.

We also know now that many assumptions about aging are inaccurate. Dr. Gary Cohen, in his new book, “The Mature Mind,” shows us that the brain does not stop growing after age three, as was thought to be the case. Instead, activity, both physical and intellectual, forces the creation of new brain cells and connections between cells. Nor are older people looking for ways to disengage from society, though remaining engaged may be more of a challenge than it was when they worked. Furthermore, the mature brain functions somewhat differently than the younger brain, becoming, for example, better able to access right and left brain simultaneously and more fully (Cohen). The mature brain benefits from developmental intelligence, which Cohen defines as the maturing of cognition, emotional intelligence, judgment, social skills, life experience, and consciousness and their integration and synergy (Cohen, 2005, p. 35). 

In addition, women and men age somewhat differently. Men become more inward; while women become more outward looking, ready to take on challenges on a broader plain. Men may for the first time in their lives, become interested in solving some of their personal psychological challenges, while women want to take on causes and contribute to more global change. There is some level of role reversal, or perhaps more accurately, role crossover. The unfinished business of each gender obviously differs as their previous roles led men and women to deal with different issues.

To help couples cope perhaps there could be pre-retirement classes that focus not only on the financial issues but which also deal with the social planning and planning for a new division of work at home would help people adjust to new expectations. 

Activities like learning a new language and cross-country skiing create brain cells and connections between cells, as well as ideas and experiences to share with a spouse, which improves retirement for both members of the couple. 

Nobody, it seems, likes the domestic balance being upset. We know that relationships are often put under pressure at transition times, such as retirement, because our identities are often closely linked with who we are at work, and we can find it difficult to adjust to a life outside the workplace. Equally, the dynamic at home changes when one or both partners retire, and couples can find themselves with far more time together than they had before.

While for some couples, this is a welcome change, it can often be difficult to adjust to having more concentrated periods together. It’s important for couples to be honest about the challenges that come with this transition and to work together to find solutions. This might include finding activities to do separately, as well as making plans for spending more quality time together. My male friends need to understand this and make sure they work with their  loved ones to make sure they do not cause undo stress.

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