The Art of Retirement…Tips for Couples in Retirement

As promised in the October issue, here are some tips from other couples on how to thrive together in this new stage of life.

Tip numbers 1 &2: Pursue some of the same interests but also pursue some of your own interests. Enjoy some of the same friends but also maintain some separate friendships. Marie retired from an all-encompassing career that left no room for the pursuit of outside interests or hobbies, so her wish-list of what her life would look like in retirement was a mile long. Her husband, Ron, was already long retired from a career that had afforded him lots of time for outside interests and pursuits. He was waiting for her to retire so that “they” could enjoy retirement together. And so, they began their new life in retirement. Together they played pickleball, rode bikes, practiced yoga, and swam. Marie said “yes” to EVERY volunteer opportunity (plus took weekly piano and German lessons). After about a year, she had never been happier, but her husband was miserable. Ron often felt bored and lonely when she wasn’t with him. So, Marie cut back and then they were both miserable. It took a few more years for them to realize that they both needed individual interests and individual friends in addition to all the things they do together. Slowly, Ron started connecting with other men: classmates from high school and men from the church. At the same time, Marie narrowed her interests to those causes that were really close to her heart. Now they are both much happier.

Tip number 3. Establish separate territories in your home. The Wall Street Journal has been running a monthly column written by a couple in their first year of retirement chronicling some of the issues they face. The July issue was entitled: In Retirement, we each need a cave at home to call our own. Steve’s cave is his workshop. Karen’s cave is three floors up under the eaves of their home. The couple reports that they love to do things together but also have found they need some time apart. In their caves, they can be as messy or neat as they please as they pursue separate projects like bicycle repair and making comforters. They rarely enter each other’s space. If they need each other, they often just text!

Tip number 4. Periodically renegotiate how you divide household chores. If one partner retires before the other, that person generally takes on the role of primary homemaker. When the other person retires, the responsibilities may shift again. In marriages where one spouse was a homemaker and the other was the sole worker this advice is particularly relevant. The worker may feel that he or she has earned a retirement that is free from any work, without considering that the homemaker will effectively never retire. My husband and I use this technique. 1. Make a list of all the chores that need doing. 2. Make two columns one for each of you. 3. Take turns picking from the list and checking off in your column. 4. Sign and date the “contract” and always put at the bottom: “this contract is open to renegotiation and any time by either party!”

Tip number 5. Manage yourself and your day but avoid trying to manage your partners. In cases where one partner had a supervisory role at work, he or she could fall into the trap of trying to supervise the other partner’s household work. That rarely ends well.

While writing this article, the words of Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet kept running through my mind. The Prophet was written in 1923 – one hundred years ago – but it still applies to couples today who wish to thrive together during their retirement years.

Then Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master?
   And he answered saying:
   You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
   You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
   Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
   But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
   And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

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