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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Dependence is not love

Dependence and love are different. This is one thought that often occurs to me when I'm in my consultation room.

Perhaps some of you are surprised by the suddenness of this comment. But what I'm talking about specifically are older couples where the husband has just reached retirement age. I often have female patients who say they can't sleep. However, if I really listen, I find that in many cases there is a "husband problem" lurking in the background. The husbands described by these women all seem quite similar. They were diligent when they were working, but after retirement, the guys find they have nothing to do and end up watching TV all day. They have no hobbies and few friends.

These women are active themselves, often out and about pursuing hobbies, volunteering, and meeting friends for a chat. When they leave the house, the idle husbands complain or make sarcastic remarks, like, "Hey, you're going to be home by dinner, right?" or "You sure seem energetic for someone who has a cold." Even if the women have a fun schedule planned, it becomes hard to enjoy it with these bitter comments ringing in their ears. A gloom descends, and the women worry that their husbands are getting into a foul mood alone at home.

Some women act on these worries, hurrying home to prepare dinner and apologize for going out, and end up eating a wordless meal with their sullenly silent spouse.

These men probably do not in fact feel disinterested or cold toward their wives. Rather, they are dependent, thinking that they cannot live even a single day without their company. However, though his wife is so essential to his existence, this kind of man is incapable of imagining what might be important to her, or how she might as an individual unto herself want to lead a fulfilling life. And so he talks to his partner as a child might his mother, asking her to not go out often and come home early when she does.

From the women's perspective, perhaps it is impossible to take these kinds of comments as true thoughtfulness. They likely think, "If you really care about me, then let me do what I want," or "After you retire, I want us to live forward-looking lives together." For a man to insist his wife never go anywhere and stay home to look after his needs doesn't seem like love to me, but merely dependence.

Among the women who have come to my practice to talk about these things, some have later invited their husbands out with them, finding hobbies like hiking that they can enjoy together.

However, such happy cases are few and far between. Most end up saying that they've "given up" on their partners, telling them in no uncertain terms, "I'm finished taking care of you," and simply live life as they please. That outcome is a little sad. Before circumstances get that far, I call on the men reading this column: Don't depend on your wife. Please think about what love really is.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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