I’m nowhere near retirement, but my partner will do it this week. I feel a little nervous about it. How will he fill his time? How will I get my work done with him hanging around the house?
Retirement is often romanticized as a time for pursuing personal interests, but for many couples who are forced to redefine their relationship overnight, it can also be a time of stress. Your partner’s post-work life might look different than you imagined, and most likely, your dynamic will be different, too.
The challenges of retirement
“The average American spends 20 years in retirement, and many struggle to build a new, satisfying life outside of the workforce”, write Rob Pascale, Louis H. Primavera, and Rip Roach, the authors of The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire.
Usually, the retiree may have more free time and want to spend more time with their partner. Or, the retiree may want to spend more time doing activities they enjoy without their partner. Not to mention retirement also leads to a loss of identity and purpose. All of these factors can make it difficult for couples to navigate together.
I know I am not alone in this challenge. Because women typically live longer than men, they might be drawn—perhaps subconsciously—to partners who are a few years their senior. Our generation of boomers generally has been raised to have careers and to seek self-actualization. So, I guess having a partner who has stepped out of working life may add new challenges to these endeavours and to our home life.
I am very independent. As a lawyer, podcaster and writer, I work predominantly from home and I like my time alone during the day. My partner, on the other hand, worked every business day outside of the home and he does not seem to have a plan for what is next whilst instead, I am an avid planner.
He’s mentioned golf, and I’ve even bought him a fishing rod and the gear to go out on our boat from time to time. Neither of those activities, though, are things I particularly want to do. He is not a big reader, and I love to read. I would like to discuss books with him, but I doubt that would be enjoyable for him.
Will I cope with this new transition? Like all transitions, it will be bumpy but as Toltec shaman, Don Miguel Ruiz advises in his seminal book, The Four Agreements, no one can read another person’s mind and we will have to work this out together. We’ll figure out a new baseline of normalcy.
What to do when your partner retires
When one partner retires and the other doesn’t, it can be tricky adjusting to a new daily routine. Suddenly, you have different schedules and different priorities.
I have read about other people’s tension when their partners retired. Many of us got a taste of all-day togetherness during the pandemic. It was fun initially but felt smothering for some. I worry about that for us, but I’ll keep positive.
Research shows that shared activities increase the quality of marriages. Knowing we both enjoy dancing, musical concerts and hiking, I’ve subscribed to many outlets and groups that provide good ideas for such outings and the Internet is rich with resources. There are also many books on the market that provide terrific ideas for activities during retirement to do together, which I took inspiration from.
For instance, I’m planning some trips for us to take, though I enjoy travel more than he does. He enjoys some domestic travel and I prefer international travel. I will seek input from him, though I traditionally have been the organizer of outings for our relationship. Whatever the outcome, I’m sure we’ll compromise to get the maximum out of this chapter for both of us.
Communication is key when retiring
Having both been married before and learned lessons from those experiences, I know we clearly need to discuss expectations. Good friends and a good therapist may help.
According to psychologist and success coach, Dr Nicole Cutts, communication is key and the best way to deal with this situation is “communicating with each other about the upcoming changes, examining any losses connected with this change and planning how to address them“.
As the fear of change is related to loss, even when the change is positive, Dr Cutts recommends establishing some norms around the following topics (and in case- once established- to make adjustments):
- division of labour
- boundaries in the home
- how to stay connected
- what to do for fun
By spelling out what each wants from the other, you eliminate ambiguity. Partners can manage their expectations, establish the rules for co-existence, and minimize their disappointments. Such discussions can cover time spent together and apart, and even such mundane topics as household chores.
Taking care of your emotional health in retirement
There is no magical timetable for how long it may take to untangle these emotional kinks. For some couples, it may be a few months, or maybe a few years.
What I know, both of us must pay attention to our emotional health as well as maintain a sense of purpose in this chapter of our lives while finding a common ground that we each enjoy. Multiple studies demonstrate that people who have social support from family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health issues and live longer. I’ll make sure to cultivate these connections for both of us.
Actuarially speaking, we are in the final third of our lives. We need to make the most of it while respecting our boundaries and bandwidths. Neither of us is willing to give up on drinking fully from the cup of life.