Retirement is a major transition for the individual in a couple. Challenges that might accompany retirement include loss of familiar routines and social networks, impacts on one’s sense of identity and sense of contribution and expectations of others now that a person is no longer working full-time.
If it is stressful for one individual, double that for a couple. A partner who retires may have an expectation that the other person, who retired earlier or who has worked in the home, will be available to them all the time. The partner who has been based at home longer can find the newly retired partner’s presence around the house all the time stressful. You’ve probably heard the old adage “For better or for worse, but not for lunch!” Even if a couple retires at the same time, it is a big adjustment.
In the past 25 years, the divorce rate for Americans over the age of 50 has more than doubled. Reasons for that include our heightened expectations of marriage and also our longer life spans. Many people are not longer willing to stay in a bad/boring marriage ‘until death do us part.’ The marriage a couple has after retirement is the marriage they had before retirement, only amplified. The issues that exist throughout the marriage will still be there but may be harder to ignore with the increased time together. I recommend marriage counseling if you find yourself questioning your relationship to this extent.
Often the conflict and stress come because each member of the couple’s vision of retirement is quite different. This is a situation I see a lot in my role as a retirement coach and mentor. Each member of a couple gets to retirement assuming “things” are going to be a certain way. Neither has shared their assumptions with their partners. Nor has either tried to find out if their partner’s vision is the same. They each thought things would be one way, and when they are not, they start the blame game. And that does not turn out so well!!
The key to a healthy relationship is communication. The best-case scenario is to compare notes about your expectations before you retire. But if you are already retired, the following approach could work well for you as well.
I advocate the “me”, then “we” approach to retirement planning. First, each member of the couple should ponder the questions below individually.
- When do you plan to retire?
- Where do you want to live?
- What will you do with your time? Thoughts on amount of time together and time apart? Work part-time? Volunteer? Old or new hobbies and interests? How much do you want to travel and where?
- Who do you want to spend time with both as individuals and as a couple?
Next, set aside some time to compare notes. You may want to limit your discussions to an hour at the time and have multiple times set aside to talk. Here is how I suggest you proceed…
- Share your answers one question at a time with the other.
- Have that person repeat back to you what they heard. Clarify if necessary.
- Then the other person shares their starting point answers and partner relays back what they heard. Give clarification if necessary.
- Briefly note similarities and differences.
- Go on to the next question.
The objective at this stage is not to come to complete agreement but rather to become more aware of the thoughts of the other.
Continue to have conversations targeting those areas where you have different expectations. How strongly does each of you feel about that area? Can you compromise or agree to disagree? Go as far as you can on an issue – then shelve it for a while.
This process can take some time but it will be worth it! Next month, tips from other couples on how to thrive together in this new stage of life. If you have tips any you would like to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.