Marriage. That it solves some problems while causing others is hardly news. The problems it solves – loneliness, a drastically declining national birthrate – are forefront nowadays as marriage declines, a victim of economic and social trends unfavorable to it. So many young people who want to marry feel they can’t, hobbled as they are by insufficient income, job instability and the lack of opportunities to meet significant others, that already roughly a quarter of young singles are considered likely – whether they like it or not – to remain single for life. The percentage is rising rapidly.
Most single people, polls consistently show, would marry if they could – but would they be happier if they did? Or merely unhappy in a different way?
Marriage tends to be covered from one of two opposing perspectives. There are those who long for it, and those who are imprisoned by it. To Shukan Post (May 27), the prison is a narrow cell indeed, the fact that it’s shared making it less, not more habitable.
Things come to a head when the husband retires. While he’s working, the marriage may be intimate or chilly or downright hostile; in all three cases the amount of time spent together is limited, which refreshes the intimacy and slackens the tensions. Post-retirement, there’s simply no escaping each other.
Within a year of retiring, “Mr. A,” 66, was a nervous wreck.
“Every day my wife would be after me for the most trivial things,” he tells the magazine. “If I don’t put the toilet seat down for her, she tells me to pee sitting down. If I open the curtains, I never seem to do it quite neatly enough. If, trying to be helpful, I do the laundry, I get scolded for causing her more trouble than if I did nothing, because she has to do everything I do over. It got to the point I was waking up with heart palpitations; I was suffering shortness of breath; at her mere approach, I’d break out into a sweat.”
This sort of thing can send a man to hospital – in fact Mr. A checked himself into one briefly.
Medical experts Shukan Post consults cite a combination of psychological and physical stress factors. Psychologically, retirement, however long looked forward to, brings with it the shock of lost status – a man is not the executive at home he was at work; on the contrary, on the home front, the wife tends to be boss, the husband a subordinate – if not a downright intruder. That takes some getting used to.
Physically, as one doctor explains, many men of retirement age are going through the male equivalent of menopause – swelling prostate, diminished (if not lost altogether) libido. That too can be hard to accept gracefully.
Two pieces of advice emerge from the discussion. One: limit the amount of time you are physically in each other’s company. Five hours a day is too much; three is about right. Two: sleep separately. That needn’t mean – in fact has nothing to do with – an end to sexual relations. It’s simply a fact, specialists say, that different people require different sleeping environments – window open versus window closed, and so on. Sleeplessness due to being in the wrong environment is not conducive to the amiable spirit of give-and-take that marriage demands under even the best circumstances.
Shukan Post raises a third point as a kind of postscript. Men in their 60s, having grown up under different mores, tend to be rather brusque toward women in general, and toward their wives in particular. Women no longer stand for that. It’s worth noting, if you want your post-retirement “second life” to be what your first life probably wasn’t – restful.© Japan Today