“I married him for better or for worse but not for lunch.” Now 40 years later, she’s got him not only for lunch but also for all the hours in between. Though retirement may be a dream come true for some men, it’s a nightmare for some of their spouses.
Why should this be so? And why is it such a big transformation, particularly for men with successful careers?
When a man retires, it’s not only his work life that ends. It’s also the structure of his day and the social network he has. It’s a shock to the system when work friends quickly become past acquaintances. Associates become fond memories. Respect that one is used to receiving from underlings becomes non-existent. And getting up and out early in the morning becomes a pattern of the past.
When husbands have no work to wake up for and no people to interact with, it becomes a wife’s worst nightmare. She has now been transformed into his sole social network and his raison d’être. This stifles her freedom and upsets the balance of the relationship.
Should wives worry about this scenario or is it an unfair stereotype that denigrates retired men? It can be either. Here are the stories of two men who have dealt with retirement quite differently.
Jerry has retired into an empty void. For 30 years, he was a high level manager working for a major corporation. When he was forced to retire (because of a company merger), it felt like a sucker punch. The work he had prided himself on was taken away. He felt unappreciated. Used. Used up. Always the protector, he told his wife not to worry. He had earned a well-deserved retirement. Things would be okay.
His wife, however, knew better. She noticed his sad eyes, drooping shoulders, slow walk. It was as though he had aged 10 years in the 10 months he was retired. He had nothing to do, nowhere to go. She was his lifeline, not a role she relished. She tried getting him to join a social group, take up a sport, develop a hobby or enroll in a course. His response was always, “No, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.” Or, “Leave me alone, I’m ok. Get off my case.”