Dear Esther,

Retirement was never something I thought much about. But about a year ago, I suddenly got an offer to sell my business that was too good to refuse. Without taking enough time to realize what this would mean to me in the long run, I impulsively went through with this amazing deal. I went from working long and hard to not working at all.

At first, the thought of being able to do my own thing was exciting. I’d finally be able to do all the things I had put off for most of my life. I joined the gym, tried applying myself to hobbies I thought would interest me, and hoped to fill my day in a fulfilling way.

I also thought that my wife would be there for me as much as I wanted her to be. I didn’t know what my wife did all day, as I had been so busy working–traveling for my business and spending long hours away from home. I knew that she had a small part-time job that she enjoyed and that she liked to meet friends for lunch, and somehow seemed to easily fill up her day. She never complained to me that she was bored and never seemed to mind that I wasn’t home much. She seemed supportive of what I had to do and was able to occupy herself just fine.

Now my days seem to be never-ending! Despite the few things that I’ve found to occupy my day with, there are still many unaccountable hours that I don’t know how to fill. I thought this would be a good time to travel a lot, but my wife says that even though her job is part-time, she can’t just pick up and leave whenever I ask her to. When I ask my wife to go out to lunch, to the movies, or just hang out, more often than not she tells me she has plans. Whether it’s work, a canasta game, or her yoga class, there always seems to be something going on that is more important than spending time with me. I’m bored and find myself calling her a few times a day. Often she doesn’t take my call, or sounds a little irritated with me for calling so often.

I’m feeling annoyed at my wife–and maybe even downright angry. Last week, I confronted her with how I feel. I told her that I believe it is rude of her to not take all of my calls and that I don’t like that her activities take precedence over spending time with me. Her answer was that since I never bothered calling her all that much during all the years I was working such long hours, and didn’t seem all that concerned about how she occupied herself all day while I was totally involved in work, I can’t expect her to now suddenly drop everything and be at my beck and call now that I’m retired.

This attitude is causing a lot of stress in our marriage. I’m feeling used and taken for granted. I say to myself that because of my hard work and success all those many years of our marriage, my wife was able to spend her time doing exactly what she liked. If I hadn’t worked so hard, she wouldn’t have had the luxury to do all the things she loved doing and continues to do now.

I feel that now that I’m retired, my wife should put me first and we should be spending our time together doing the things we weren’t able to do for most of our marriage. But my wife has other ideas. She thinks I’m being needy and should look for a new business or some job so that she doesn’t have to give up all of the things in her life that she enjoys so much. That doesn’t make me feel important to her. I’m feeling like a second fiddle!

I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this subject–whether I have a right to expect my wife to change her lifestyle now that I’m retired. I’ve told her to quit her little job. The money that she earns from it is so small and inconsequential that there is no reason for her to continue. She found this suggestion insulting. I’m not sure why. Do I have a right to expect her to answer my calls, even if I call several times a day? This is all new territory for me and I’m uncertain whether I’m behaving badly, as my wife has said, or whether my wife is behaving badly and not caring at all about me and what’s important to me.

I’d appreciate your objective opinion. Thanks.

Retiree

 By Esther Mann

Dear Retiree,

It sounds as though your retirement came out of left field and was not something you thought would happen for quite some time. But you were offered an opportunity too terrific to ignore and suddenly found yourself entering a new stage of life that perhaps you were far from ready for. No doubt, that’s the biggest problem here. Yes, we all tend to crave what we don’t have. Working so hard, you surely fantasized about whirlwind vacations and sleeping in most mornings. But in reality, your career probably fulfilled you in ways you didn’t even fully acknowledge. My guess is that right now, even if your wife took every call from you, and agreed to make herself available to you whenever you requested her company, you would probably still be feeling at a loss.

So my first suggestion is to think about how to use at least some of your time in a way that is fulfilling and meaningful to you. Maybe there is a job you might be interested in. Or perhaps volunteer work would fill at least some of the void you’re experiencing right now.

I suspect there are other issues at play here. It sounds to me as though your wife may be harboring some long-seated resentment toward your behavior during the years you worked so hard. Perhaps she felt you weren’t tuned in to her life as much as you should have and could have been. According to her, during your busy days, you failed to take a few moments to call her and check in. And though she clearly learned how to compensate for your lack of attention during all of those years, this may be “payback” time, and she is not willing to suddenly jump and take each of your calls. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

And finally, it sounds as though you don’t respect how your wife spends her days. From her job to her personal interests, you seem to view them as dispensable and of little value. Whether or not she earns much money from her job, clearly it’s important to her. You’re not getting that. And just as important for her well-being may be her yoga class and, believe it or not, her canasta games, which most women understand enables them to bond in a special way.

While you weren’t paying attention, your wife carved out a meaningful and enjoyable life for herself. It’s unfortunate that before you decided to retire, the two of you didn’t have a conversation about what your future together could look like if you retired. That would have been the right move because then, together as a team, you could have discussed what your expectations were and your wife could have discussed what her life looked like; together you could have negotiated a new normal. Instead, you assumed she would drop everything and be there for you. And possibly that is part of what she is resenting right now, because clearly she is also not a happy camper.

Hopefully, it’s not too late to have this conversation. I think your wife needs to hear from you that you respect her lifestyle and that you wonder where there is room for the two of you to carve out time to enjoy during this special stage of your lives together. It probably also wouldn’t hurt if you validated the many years of your marriage that she seemingly felt that you weren’t very concerned about what she was doing all day while you were busy at work.

I believe that working together in a respectful fashion, the two of you can come up with a plan that fills both of your needs. But don’t expect your wife to suddenly drop everything and become your full-time playmate. Rather, try to create a healthy balance for yourself that includes satisfying time spent with your wife and alone time that also enables you to feel relevant.

This stage of your lives together should be a wonderful time if you both approach it from a supportive and well-meaning place. Collaboration and mutual respect are the keys. Good luck to you both.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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