Most happily married couples look forward to opportunities to spend extended time together. As retirement years approach, they begin to dream about all the things they will be able to enjoy together and are grateful that annoying little things like work won’t interfere with all of that quality time.
Unless, of course, Retired Husband Syndrome is an issue.
No, that’s not some made-up condition that is the punchline for a female stand-up comedian. According to a study published by the Institute for the Study of Labor, Retired Husband Syndrome is a serious condition that affects as much as 60% of Japan’s older females.
Retired husband syndrome (主人在宅ストレス症候群, Shujin Zaitaku Sutoresu Shoukougun, literally “One’s Husband Being at Home Stress Syndrome”) was identified and named by Japanese researcher Nobuo Kurokawa. The condition carries several symptoms, such as depression, skin rash, asthma, ulcers, and high blood pressure. As the name suggests, it tends to manifest in those who are approaching or have achieved retirement age. It does not, however, primarily affect retired husbands. It strikes the women who are married to retired husbands.
The reason this condition appears so frequently in Japanese society may have something to do with the amount of time and energy Japanese men are expected to invest in their careers. Kurokawa theorized that women who have grown accustomed to living, effectively, as single mothers while being married to men who spend long hours away from home, have difficulty adjusting to home life once their husbands retire from such demanding obligations.
Frequently — especially among the Baby Boomer generation — retired couples have to learn for the first time how to share a home throughout the day with each other. After decades of seeing each other only briefly each day, it is as if they are suddenly spending the entire day with a stranger.
The phenomenon is not exclusive to Japanese culture. The stresses that come from all the changes involved in retirement can be difficult to overcome. Reduced income, increased age-related health issues, and the dynamics of children growing up and moving away from home, and increased housework that comes from having an extra adult in the house, are all factors that can lead to the feeling that life has suddenly grown out of control.
For those who have been afflicted by Retired Husband Syndrome, it is not something that will just go away with time. The research concluded that once the symptoms begin to show, they will only get worse by 6-14 percent with every year the husband remains retired.
The study determined that after the retirement of their husbands, 47 percent of wives reported emotional problems, 41 percent said they were more stressed, 23 percent were depressed, and 16 percent experienced difficulty sleeping.
Just as premarital counseling is a good idea for those who are contemplating marriage, a similar approach should accompany big changes such as retirement. Retired Husband Syndrome is not a fatal condition, but it is one that will not go away without effort.