How to not live ‘unhappily ever after’
“For better and for worse, but not for lunch!” This often-heard lament from wives of newly retired husbands can take on new meaning as the realization of endless togetherness begins to sink in. We’ve all been led to believe retirement is the ideal stage of life where stress and worry are replaced with peace and joy. And it usually is … for the first couple months. Once the “honeymoon” ends, reality comes creeping in, particularly for couples who haven’t discussed how retiring at the same or different times will impact their life together. Many long-married couples take it for granted that when one of them retires, the other will retire at the same time, or soon thereafter, and their lives will be wonderful and fulfilling. Yet studies show less than 20 percent of couples retire in the same year. This means many are out of sync right out of the gate.
Check your expectations
The problem starts for many couples when they don’t have the same expectations of retirement. Then it gets exacerbated when they don’t talk about it. For some people this is a long-awaited time for new adventures, new or deeper connections with loved ones and discovering a new purpose. For others it means a lot of time relaxing, in the hammock, at the computer or on the golf course. To keep from driving each other crazy, couples need a mutually acceptable game plan. They need to discuss how they want to spend their time, including their time together. These talks should begin long before retirement. For retiring men, marriage is a good thing. He has a ready companion, a source of emotional support, and some continuity in a disrupted life–if his marriage is good. If it’s not, he and his wife might find that retirement challenges their relationship even more.
Stress in good marriages
Even in a good marriages, two people spending day after day in close proximity can be stressful. Retirement can often make men feel lost, lonely, and over-dependent on their spouses to keep them socially connected. On the other hand, many women worry about losing their personal time and space, having their spending restricted, or being constantly questioned about where they are going or what they’re doing. Not only that, but some husbands, having held supervisory positions, try to get involved for the first time—you might say interfere with—in household management, which can be sure to ignite angry sparks in the relationship. However, building a comfortable relationship in retirement that’s fulfilling for each partner can be done, with a bit of work. Here are some suggestions: As discussed, understanding what each partner expects of the other can ward off disappointments. For example, discuss joint and individual activities, and keep a calendar of these so there are no surprises. Pursue your own interests and maintain some separate friendships. Along with ensuing emotional well-being, the time you spend apart gives you something to talk about when you’re together. Establish separate territories in the home so you don’t keep running into each other. If you have your own pursuits and hobbies, do them in your own rooms. Without individual space, you and your partner are much more likely to feel as though you’re intruding or being intruded on, and as a result are more likely to get on each other’s nerves. Finally, know you’re not alone. Lots of happily married couples run into obstacles–and being aware of it adds a sense of normalcy to the event. If it happens, it doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is falling apart, but it should alert you that it’s worth the effort to face all issues early. It’s better to deal with them when they’re minor annoyances instead of letting them fester and become major sources of conflict. As the needlepoint pillow on one retired couple’s sofa says, “Retirement is not for sissies.”