As the Japanese population ages, there’s a growing trend among married men who have worked long hours during their adult lives to fully retire at age 65. In earlier generations, these retirees tended to live with their children. Today, though, this is no longer the case.
The husbands’ retirement can be such a difficult transition that their wives often suffer debilitating physical symptoms. The Japanese have adopted the label “Retired Husband Syndrome” for this condition.
Dr. Nobuo Kurokawa and other medical researchers have pointed out that Retired Husband Syndrome can cause health problems for wives that include stomach ulcers, slurred speech, rash around the eyes, tension headaches, palpitations, depression, agitation, muscle aches and other symptoms of stress.
The cycle goes something like this, according to educational consultant Barbara Kent Lawrence: As Japanese children grow up and establish their own lives, their mothers seek out companionship and recreation with female friends. Strong bonds grow between the women, and they still have time to care for their husbands.
When husbands retire, they lose connections with people and activities, and they no longer have the usual sources of approval and self-image that brought them satisfaction in their working years. No longer the ruler in the workplace, husbands can feel compelled to become the rulers over the household and intrude into their wives’ daily routine.
Often, this entry into a wife’s domain is not done in a helpful manner. Instead, the husband may demand obedience and can become verbally and even physically abusive.
As the husband’s feelings of self-worth diminish, they drink more and watch more television. Marriage bonds deteriorate, as they pull away from social interaction and increasingly resent their wife’s ability to interact outside the home.
Dr. Clifford Johnson, a psychologist in private practice in Boise, Idaho, noticed a similar pattern of Retired Husband Syndrome symptoms in women whose husbands have retired, according to Lawrence’s research. For instance, American homemakers would tell the Johnson, “I’m going nuts;” “I want to scream;” “He’s driving me crazy;” “I’m nervous;” and “I can’t sleep.”
While the Japanese workforce is dominated by males, in the U.S., both men and women in the boomer generation may have had fulfilling careers, so a more apropos description of this condition could be “Retired Spouse Syndrome.”
But the downsides of full retirement can be avoided by opting for semi-retirement, which affords married couples their space while maintaining purpose and productivity in daily life.
What Advisors Can Do
For advisors looking to work less and find a more satisfying lifestyle as they get older, semi-retirement could be just the ticket.
“Working into retirement or opting for semi-retirement can be great for longevity and quality of life, not only because it helps a person maintain their mental faculties, but it also generally increases social interaction, which can be a large factor in quality-of-life assessments,” according to Matthew J. Ure, vice president of Anthony Capital LLC, in San Antonio, Texas, when interviewed about the topic about 18 months ago.
To better illustrate semi-retirement, I’d like to describe why my father-in-law, James Bruno, chose this route rather than full retirement. He’s been on this journey for some time, keeping active while giving his wife the space she desires. He shared how he mapped out shrinking his book and his experiences since doing so.