My Husband Is in His 70s and Won’t Retire. Can I Make Him?


I have been married 50 years and love my husband dearly. We have raised two children together and have been working full time. I retired six months ago and hope my husband does too. He is a hard worker and has been working remotely since March 2020. His work is both unpredictable and transactional. The CEO of his company made unreasonable demands on him and his time, even calling him when we were on vacation.

Even though my husband seemed to be thriving through his important role in a successful private company, I was deeply disturbed by this toxic situation. His compensation has not changed in more than a decade, nor has he been recognized for his contributions to the company. I don’t understand why he’s willing to put up with this, and I’ve been trying to be patient with this situation for far too long.

Over the years, we have experienced many ups and downs. Now that we are in our 70s, I fear we will never escape the tyranny of my husband’s job. He refused to discuss his retirement plans or give me a timeline. Is it unreasonable for me to expect that he will respect my feelings and plan to make time for us to enjoy the rest of the years to come? While he’s a helpful guy, I think it’s selfish for him to insist that he isn’t ready to retire. Don’t I at least have the right to insist that he set some boundaries for his work and limit his hours?

We have been blessed with good health and financial stability, but I am so disappointed and hurt that we couldn’t agree on a plan for the rest of our lives. Do you think a spouse has an obligation to compromise on this important life decision? – name reserved

From an ethicist:

Compromise starts with communication. When you say you retired in the “hope” your spouse would do the same, you don’t mean that you discussed it with him at the time. If he promises you that he will retire with you, you’ll write an essay about broken promises. Perhaps you anticipated that the arguments you present now would prevail. However, in a relationship of equals and love, it’s best to make things clear up front—even if it just means you’re retiring, knowing he’s not going after him.

You give two reasons why he should resign. One is that his workplace is toxic: his boss is overbearing and does not value his contributions. What you report sounds really bad. Yet you also say that your spouse thrives on his work. Perhaps he lacks the self-esteem to stick with proper treatment. Or he may not see the situation the way you do.

The second reason you bring up is that your spouse owes you, and perhaps himself, to make time so you can spend the rest of your life together. At this point, it’s certainly understandable that you want him to put your relationship first. But his reluctance to relinquish his role in the company is also understandable. Many people derive so much sense of worth from their work that they dread the prospect of living without it. Depression is more common among retirees than among those of the same age who are still working, and retirees suffer from depression at significantly higher rates than the general population.

Also think about how retirement will affect your relationship. You have lived together for half a century but worked separately. This means that you are not used to spending so much time with each other. (Even if your husband has been working remotely, he’s likely spending hours in a home office or something, interacting with co-workers.) No matter how committed you are to each other, your spouse may not be drawn to the prospect of being together long-term , uninterrupted days.

Yes, any successful relationship requires compromise. However, what we properly call a compromise is not simply one spouse doing what the other wants. Compromise may be planning a vacation together, and he agrees not to answer calls from his boss. Retirement may be more attractive to your husband if you can show him that he would enjoy the activities you imagine doing together.

I wish he could talk to you better about what he wants out of life. Now, it’s as if that horrible boss is a third member of your family; I can see why you want to kick him to the curb. But it’s not something you can fix on your own.

“Happiness is death” is an ancient Athenian proverb: life must be evaluated as a whole. Yet philosophers who wrote about human flourishing—the central theme of classical ethics—mostly didn’t have much to say about the later stages of life. So keep in mind that the usual social scripts don’t work for everyone. If your spouse’s job gives shape and meaning to his day, you can’t simply tell him he’s wrong. You can encourage him to find other forms of purpose; you can encourage him to limit his work to working hours or transition into a part-time role. But Margaritaville isn’t for everyone.

The question for the previous column came from a reader who witnessed an incident of domestic abuse. They saw parents hit their then-infant siblings hard; the resulting injuries were attributed to falls. Our reader wrote: “Over the years, I’ve wondered if I should share what I know. I believe my parents carry a tremendous amount of guilt, but I don’t know if disclosing it will bring relief or shame. For my siblings, I wonder if disclosure will provide answers to their anxious questions.”

In his response, the ethicist noted: “The first question is what the consequences of your disclosure might be. I don’t know of an ‘answer’ to such a situation, even if the harm resulted in a lifelong anxiety disorder.” “In a medieval psychological thriller like this, uncovering a long-buried truth will bring healing, but clinical evidence offers no such guarantee. The only thing we can be sure of is that this revelation will destroy your family relationships. There will be Blame, anger, and pain. … Your sibling’s right to that fact is, I admit, an important consideration. But when it comes to what you call a one-time incident, over the past few dozen During the year, your priority should be to do what is best for your sibling.” (Reread the full Q&A here.)

i love forever Ethicists respond to these thorny questions. As a therapist, I feel that older siblings who witness their younger siblings being abused are themselves traumatized by it. I encourage the letter writers to first reflect more deeply on what this means to themselves and to better understand why they have been silent for so many years. lisa

letter writers should talk Start by telling their parents about the beating they witnessed. The responsible party must first be given a chance to take responsibility. Anything can happen: denial, confession, explanation, reconciliation, or a combination of all of the above. Then you can decide what to do next based on the situation of your parents. nell

this is an abominable event And it’s unlikely to be a single incident of abuse. Regardless, the siblings both suffered early life traumas that they remember physically, even if they don’t realize it. Sharing this truth is a moral imperative that may facilitate eventual trauma processing and reduce sibling self-blame. Jenny

Ethicists are dead wrong here. Anxiety in younger siblings is likely related to traumatic events they cannot recall. This kind of knowledge may not “cure” anxiety beyond the point and, frankly, not the trauma or the way to recover from it. Brothers and sisters should be told so they have a chance to learn the truth and begin the path to healing. Rachel

another important aspect The effect of this situation on the letter writer is obvious. They witnessed a traumatic event and have struggled with their reactions ever since. Please talk to your family about what you witnessed, including the perpetrator, and please seek medical treatment for yourself. Perhaps the only thing worse for a child than being abused is watching helplessly as another family member is abused. carol


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