A few years ago I wrote about a new “disease” that had been discovered in Japan. The doctors there called it Retired Husbands Syndrome and claimed that more and more women were seeking psychiatric and general medical help due to having their retired husbands around all the time. Wives of retired men came to physicians complaining of stress, depression, rashes, and insomnia.
Now a new study, this time conducted by researchers in Italy, confirm the earlier Japanese findings. The researchers focused on Japan but say this syndrome affects couples all around the world. They selected Japan because historically that country has had strong gender roles.
The social scientists said RHS affects both housewives and women who worked outside the home and is the worst for women who keep working after their husbands have retired. Not only do the women find there is more housework once the husband is at home, the stress of his demands adds to her stress at work.
Writing for the journal of the Institute for the Study of Labor, Marco Bertoni and Giorgio Brunello analyzed interviews with almost 1000 Japanese women. They gave women with a retired husband a RHS score based on how emotionally stressed they were. One surprising result was that they found that the longer the husband was retired, the more the score increased. They found that 47% of wives reported emotional problems when their husbands retired, 41% said they felt stressed, and 23% reported depression.
The report said: “After a life apart…this can be a very stressful experience for women who suddenly have to face the continuous presence of a stranger in the house and the additional burden of his requests.”
When I first wrote about RHS in my book, “Reinventing Retirment,” I said that this phenomenon had first been reported by psychiatrists in Japan. However, the Italian social scientists say American researcher Charles Johnson collected data on RHS 30 years ago. Johnson said wives of retired men told him “I’m going nuts,” “He’s under my feet all the time,” and reported stress-induced conditions such as headaches, palpitations and agitation. This new study is the first to demonstrate that RHS exists on a large scale.
While these reports tell us that it is the women who are getting physically sick when their men retire, the men are suffering as well. Retirement can be difficult and when men are cut off from their work-related social network, they feel friendless, alone and incapable of taking care of themselves. Some Japanese men began attending men’s groups where they learned what it was like to be a partner rather than a boss. The men in these groups say they and their wives are enjoying each other’s company more and that the men are making new male friends and feeling less isolated.
Once again, the solution is that both husbands and wives must discuss retirement before it happens, explaining their expectations and hopes. Assumptions cannot be made.