My husband retired last year... and much as I love him... I'm finding him quite a handful. In the past he hardly ever noticed things but now he notices every little change I make around the house and he resists them all. He wants everything to stay the same, and he can be a bit cantankerous at times – which is unlike him. He has no hobbies and no interest in the garden. He’s not good with his hands, I've always been the one that changes the light bulbs! Recently he is becoming obsessed with the church and the changes in it. His argument is that we have to go back to everything as it was in the past..... He cuts out articles from papers and magazines and he’s building up a collection of such stuff. I'm getting worried about how far it will go. Can you suggest any way of getting him to ease up and be a bit more relaxed? Thank you.... Ann
As you see, I omitted most of the detail – we don't want to give ideas to anyone who may be focused in the same way as your husband!
Yes, I can see that someone who resists change is going to have problems – because everything in the world is changing. Even the person resisting change is changing. There’s nowhere to go from change; we just have to get used to it.
You didn’t really say how long your husband is retired. ‘Last year’ could be a month ago or a year ago. He may not be used to this new phase of his life yet. Could it be that retirement represents as much change as he can cope with at the moment? If you can help ease him into retirement you may be helping him to cope with change in other ways too. It is too late now for a pre-retirement course, but there must be similar courses for people already retired. Such a group might just save him from sliding into a world that doesn’t exist anymore.
But the first hope for him is you. It is much more common for men than for women to slip into this fixation. It may be because men have a tendency to live in their heads – to live through their ideas of things rather than through the reality of things. Don’t go along with his obsession; keep recalling him to sanity. Without a doubt you have more leverage in that matter than anyone. If you go along with his obsession you lend it credibility. No matter how tiresome and repetitive it may seem, keep on asserting common sense. If he were an unmarried man, there would be little hope for him – as there is little hope, for example, for clergy who get into this groove. You are his redemption.
What a strange obsession it is: resistance to change. But we have to believe that it makes some kind of sense; otherwise there is no way of understanding it and therefore no way of alleviating it.
How do we attempt to understand it? A little girl asked me once how old I was, and I told her I was 200 years old. Children can be very literal about some things, and he didn’t believe me. But it was true in terms of the amount of change I have seen in my lifetime; we (of a certain age) have seen about 200 years’ worth of change. It is too much for some people. In our younger days the world offered us more certainty and security than we wanted. So we looked for change in everything; and generally we got a lot of it. It is easy to see that for some people it was too much, and so they now long for old-time security again. Your husband isn’t alone in his obsession; I have met others of similar mind.
Yet if that partially explains it, it doesn’t alleviate the obsession. You have to find a way of helping your husband. Don’t be afraid to administer medicine that goes straight to the ego centre. What he has is an ego-fixation, and there’s no nice way of treating that. I've heard it claimed that many older men, being generally less active than younger ones, get their adrenalin (which the brain needs) by being cantankerous! When he is being especially difficult, why not tell him to get his adrenalin by some other means, such as golf or hill-walking…or even backing horses!
Only you know what approaches will work. A suggestion from someone on the sideline: Why not take him aside and tell him you want to sit down and have a serious conversation with him. Not now, tell him, but this evening. That should take his attention off certainties for a few hours. Then when you sit down together tell him you are worried about the change that has come over him in the past year! And push him on the subject. That at least would change the direction of play. Maybe you can help him see that blind resistance to change actually brings about greater change in the end. And don’t forget to remind him that everything was not rosy in the past. Even people who long for the Church of the 1950s wouldn’t survive a week in it now.
How easy it is to talk from the sideline! I wish you luck, Ann.