Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Life And Marriage Not About Staying Busy

September 19, 2005

I received these responses to my article about older men in their retirement years spending their time buying things or devoting their energy on expensive hobbies or projects.

I read your article on marriage problems with older farm couples. A couple doesn’t have to be a farm couple to experience this situation.

Here is my dilemma. My husband and I have been married for over 30 years. Recently, we had to give up our small business because it was not financially feasible to run it any longer.

The first few months my husband didn’t seem to know what to do with all of the extra time he now had. He started to clean out the basement but got bored with that, left it unfinished and moved on to projects outside which he got tired of and left unfinished.

Now he is "looking" for a job and is presently working part time with a farmer. I am at my wit’s end trying to be patient with him. Now in his mid-50s he can’t seem to figure out what he wants to be "when he grows up".

In my opinion, he is keeping himself occupied with all this busy work so he doesn’t have to face the reality of losing our business. I’m not sure what to do anymore. I’ve talked to him about it but it just seems to lead to a dead end.

In your article, I think all the men described by their wives are doing the same thing. They can’t bring themselves to realize that they no longer have to work so hard to maintain their livelihood. If they didn’t take time before this to start a hobby or find time for their wives, they probably won’t do it after retirement starts. As long as they "stay busy", they don’t have to deal with these situations.

"Staying busy" by making up outlandish projects to do and spending money on them is an avoidance mechanism. I empathize with the wives in this article. I understand their frustration.

At a life-altering time of their lives - which is what retirement can be as well as losing a business - their husbands can’t or won’t see the possibilities which lie ahead for them and their spouses.

When we owned our small businesses, it was nothing to put 60-70 hours a week into it. We weren’t making a living doing this nor did we have time or money to enjoy any other fun activities in our lives. All there was time for was work.

I presently am the breadwinner in the family and its getting old really fast. I barely make enough money to cover monthly living expenses. My husband doesn’t understand that we don’t have the luxury of time and dollars for him to run from one project to the next trying to "find himself".

I am sure counseling would be a benefit, but he doesn’t want to do this either because it would then mean he is part of the problem. Right now, I am not sure what the answer is. I wish the wives in your article a lot of luck. Sounds like they will need it as do I. Thanks for being a sounding board.

Farming as a hobby. My husband helped his father farm. Because it was a small farm, he also had a good job off the farm. I feel I raised the children mostly alone. He worked nights so he could farm during the day. I helped when I could but with small children I spent most of my time at home alone with them. He didn't want me to work outside the home.

When the children left home and his father died, he retired from the job and started farming full time. It's a small farm and every year it's nip and tuck if we'll have enough money for the next year. He gets a pension and we have good insurance.

We talked about traveling when he retired and we even bought a camper. Each year for the past eight years I have waited for him to rent the farm so we could start doing things together.

In the meantime my health has gotten worse. I don't think I could travel like I wanted to earlier. He thinks we need the farm’s income so he just keeps farming. We spend no time together off the farm.

He has no time for us to have fun. In fact he's not any fun at all. He never talks about any thing but the farm. He only sees other farmers. He won't let me go anywhere alone and wants me to go with him to get parts and or to look at farm equipment.

He wants me to agree with him on every thing or I'm wrong and I'm fighting with him. Everything is my fault and now I'm lazy and don't have a job. He tells me I'm dumb and never listen. So I've quit talking to him.

I have to be careful what I say around him or it sets him off. So I don't talk to him unless I have to. Needless to say there is no tenderness between us any longer.

What a way to live the rest of our lives. I know he will be there if I got sick - for a while - until it gets hard or it interferes with FARMING!