Sage: Husband retired three months ago:
How do I handle this character now?
My husband retired three months ago. We took a two-week trip right afterwards, and then the frustrations began. He claims he’s joking when he criticizes me if I miss a spot with the vacuum or the kitchen mop, but it’s getting annoying. He complains that I’m buying the wrong peanut butter for his lunches. He turns on the TV at 7 a.m. and sits around watching cartoons and soap operas. When I go out for the day and I ask him to do the laundry, he mixes the colors with the whites and leaves them dripping wet in the washer all day, so that they smell as if they’ve just come out of the New England Patriots locker room. I have to push him to get up and do anything. He says he’s just taking some well-earned time off after 45 years of working. How do I deal with the love of my life now that he has morphed into this freeloader?
-- Frustrated in Frostproof, Florida
Dear Frustrated: Ah, the age-old problem that affects tens of millions of households eventually: A husband or a wife retires and sits around the house as if he or she owns the place! You need to take this by the horns and indoctrinate your better quarter in the new reality – the updated rules of loving togetherness!
First, though, please keep in mind that both of you should be prepared for an adjustment period – and show sympathy for each other’s psychological and emotional well-being, changing identities, and new needs for self-fulfillment and self-esteem.
To start, Dear Hubby should discover a passion and a sense of purpose outside your relationship – something he gets up for each morning, an activity that he loves. It could be volunteer work, a part-time job or a hobby, such as model railroading, reading, gardening, dining out, bridge, or starting a collection of shoe horns. Some people turn to crazy stuff, like learning to blow up balloons through their noses or joining the National Pig-Grunting Team or the Whack-a-Mole World Cup, but your guy isn’t there yet!
He might consider charity work, such as United Way, Make a Wish or Meals on Wheels. How about golf or tennis? And then there are countless organizations, such as church groups, the Loyal Order of Moose, Kiwanis, or the Rotary Club. And the opportunities for learning new skills is virtually limitless, whether it’s woodworking, painting, sculpture, piano or language lessons, or community college courses.
Right now, you two might try a little separate time. You, also, should get out often and become intimately involved in similarly fulfilling activities that work for you. If hubby balks at any of this, the Sage humbly suggests that you help guide him along this journey. Buy him a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, put it on a couple of giant sheets of plywood in the garage, and tell him he’s welcome to come back in for lunch once he has finished it. After he’s done that, if he still grumbles, you will likely have to prod him further in developing more refined expertise in peaceful coexistence. Try proposing that he attend an enrichment program. There is an excellent course titled The Joys of Silence, put on by the Trappist Monastery in Shutchutrap, Idaho, that lasts until each individual has mastered the concepts of quiet diplomacy – usually two months to four years, depending on each retiree’s level of determination. The good news: They all get the point eventually!
And if that doesn’t work quickly enough? Suggest foreign travel! For his birthday, give him a rewarding six months of fun camping in Siberia with Mistress Helga, the coach of the Russian National Women’s Wrestling Team. He will learn once and for all to listen to reason, and your laundry will come out spotless and wrinkle-free.
Meanwhile, unplug the TV and get him on an exercise regimen. He should avoid weight gain and self-defeating activities that can lead to depression. Experts recommend that you both come up with a realistic budget and live within it … divide the chores somehow … develop separate friendships as well as socializing together with other couples … create havens in your home where you can each retreat for some privacy … and generally just be patient with, and supportive of, each other.
Honest communication is the key. And if that doesn’t work, Mistress Helga will be thrilled to welcome him back for more camping!