Monday 11 December 2017

Michael Murphy advises: My retired husband is driving me mad

My husband recently retired after working for 45 years but, God forgive me, he's driving me mad now he's home all the time.

Don't get me wrong, we've had a wonderful marriage, producing three strapping sons and a lovely daughter along the way. But I'm beginning to think that we got along until now because we spent so much of the day and week apart. We've both always worked -- my husband was a teacher who was always very involved with extracurricular activities, such as school sports and debating clubs, so he was always on the go. Likewise, I had my own part-time job that was my outlet.

We both gave up work around the same time with the idea of having more time to travel and enjoy our later years. I think I've adjusted okay, but my husband seems to have lost his spark. Rather than make holiday plans or enjoying days out, we seem to spend all our time fighting.

He's turning into such an old fusspot and busybody about everything: housekeeping, the bills, even our children's marriages. He's also not as affectionate as he used to be, which I really miss.

The latest thing is that he's become a hypochondriac. Every little ailment, from the flu to blocked sinuses, is treated as a major medical emergency. He pesters our GP, and he's always diagnosing himself online. The man is perfectly healthy! I'm at my wit's end. I just want my fun, interesting, go-getting husband back. What can I do? Patricia

Michael replies:

You describe your marriage in the past tense: "We've HAD a wonderful marriage..." You say your husband has lost his spark, and that he's not as affectionate as he used to be, which you really miss. So you're in a state of mourning for the past.

But the present reality is that your marriage isn't over, and neither is your growth towards the realisation of your full potential, which is the purpose of this late-maturity developmental stage that both of you have entered.

You want your fun, interesting, go-getting husband back, and not the recently retired stranger who's home all the time and driving you mad. You gave up work at your part-time job, your "outlet", so you're home as well.

Since both of you spend all your time fighting, could your husband be mirroring the same losses you're really fighting with?

You criticise him for being an "old fusspot". Add in the busybody and the hypochondriac, and you paint a caricature of his feminine side: you're as good as saying he's turned into an old woman. Like you, I suppose! Do you really think you've adjusted okay to retirement, and to getting older? While retirement is causing your husband pain, it's also causing suffering for you.

Rather than remaining at your wit's end, examine where the pot is calling the kettle black, withdraw your projections and see the truth of the present situation full on. Late maturity is a time for becoming creatively alive, so bring those qualities of inner resourcefulness you've been developing all your life into play and use your wisdom.

And I don't doubt that your husband must have a hook, if you've been able to hang all those negative projections on to him.

Your husband has just left school. He could've become institutionalised there over 60 years and he'll need time for his arrested development to catch up, so that he can find out what he wants to do with his life. Since the striving for outer goals has been achieved, he needs time to adjust to experiencing life in the present. Like a dog locked up at home, he can become destructive and chew the legs off the furniture of his life: housekeeping, the bills and even your children's marriages.

So, release him from the shackles of your projections, and that includes what you want him to be, and give him the freedom he now has to become who he really is. And prepare to be surprised by the new: he mightn't turn out to be the man you married, but, then again, he'll be the man you love and who loves you, and that can deepen. In other words, be wise, which is the goal of this time of life.

What you wanted was exciting holiday plans and enjoying days out together. Is there any reason why you can't pursue those dreams and get your fun, interesting and go-getting life back on track? Set out on that long road in the eternal present, and maybe the old dog will come along for walkies as well.

And by the way, God has nothing to forgive you for!

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