‘I’m dreading retirement as I don’t really like my husband’
Tell Me About It: We’ve never been that close, that hasn’t been a problem up to now. He's about to retire and I am fearful of having him around the house
“We do not share any interests and have not been intimate in 20 years.” Photograph: iStock
I’m 65 and due to retire. I’ve been unhappily married for many years and retirement is going to happen very soon. I’m absolutely dreading it as it means that myself and my husband, who I don’t really communicate with, will be around the house a lot more together. I’m very fearful of what the space together might bring up in terms of our relationship.
We have been so busy that we haven’t really had to talk about any of it, but now that we’ll both be retired and have free time it will be much harder to avoid these issues. We’ve never been really close, but that hasn’t been a problem because we’ve been busy rearing our kids and working really hard. I’m afraid it’s all going to go pear-shaped when we retire.
I watched his parents do the same thing: live together but with conversation limited to the practical basics
To be honest, I’m not sure I like him very much and I am wondering how I’m going to cope with his silence and resentment. I know that I am also not very nice around him and I tend to be resentful, too. We do not share any interests or hobbies and have not been intimate in 20 years, so there is no hope for any romance in the relationship.
I watched his parents do the same thing: live together in the same house but almost in different rooms and with conversation limited to the practical basics. This will drive me insane but I’ve managed not to think about it, and now it feels like a freight train coming at me.
What is really interesting is how long you have let this go on, which points to a wonderful capacity to avoid what is in front of you. The difficulty with constantly putting off the thing in front of you is that eventually it does come at you like a “freight train” and then it is much harder to deal with it. Let’s start with your future: look at five years’ time and what do you see? Is it more of the same with a growing similarity to your husband’s parents lives or do you want to create something different for yourself? You sound like a capable woman with a successful career and successful parenting behind you; you are not in the same position as your in-laws were when they reached your stage of life and can thus choose and create your own life.
Resentment can poison the person who experiences it. If you continue to resent your husband, you will have ongoing suffering with the mistaken belief that he had the capacity to fix it by meeting your needs. With a 20-year history of emotional distance, is it not time for both of you to address the situation? The issues you need to address are: communication, future planning and taking responsibility for your own lives.
Communication can begin by one person trying to understand the other. This might be a good place to start. There are more options available to you than realise: you could choose to live as housemates and negotiate the rules together, you could separate and be supportive of each other or opt for divorce and complete separation. The tension in the house is due to the lack of talking, and if this were tackled, perhaps the options would naturally open up for you. Of course, your husband may not want to talk, or your history of avoidance might make the pattern of not talking hard to break. In that event, you can seek a mediator or family therapist to facilitate a conversation without taking sides. The argument that your husband will not participate in conversation should not stop you from taking charge of your life. If he chooses not to talk, you must accept this and carry on with your own plans.
Take charge of your own future and understand that it is your responsibility to make that future worth living
This brings us to future planning: what do you want your life to be like in five years’ time and what are the first steps to making that a reality? Retirement is a hugely important time in our lives, and there is a likelihood that you will live healthily for another 20-30 years. This is not a time to whittle away in resentment and self-pity. Take charge of your own future and understand that it is your responsibility to make that future worth living.
There is a pattern in your life of not seeing what is coming, and it will be difficult to take on this responsibility for yourself. Doing the hard thing is often what brings us success – we tell this to our children – and so now is your time to tackle and change the life that you have created. Trust in your resources and capacity and offer your husband the possibility of joining you in facing the reality of your lives together.
- Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist and the author of The Challenge of Retirement (2014), Orpen Press. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into