It is complicated enough to think about retirement for ourselves, but it's even more challenging for couples to plan this transition. What defines your ideal retirement may not be the same for your spouse or partner. To have a successful retirement lifestyle, each person in the relationship needs to communicate, compromise and cooperate. This requires a lot of understanding and empathy of each other's situation and acknowledgment of the fact that this major life change affects not just us individually, but those around us as well.
How much is too much togetherness?
Often retirement throws two people together who previously had little interaction during the work day. Suddenly, weekdays can change from time focused on individual schedules to 24/7 marathons of togetherness. And, as they say, there can be too much of a good thing!
More typically, it is the husband who retires from a structured 40-hour-a-week schedule, and without proper planning for life after retirement, he may turn to his spouse to fill the void. Consider this from the wife's perspective. She has been on her own during the work week, with her own schedule, for perhaps years or even decades. Suddenly, her husband is home as well and there's uncertainty about how they will spend their time together. Her reaction may be one of resentment, because her long-established ability to plan her own time has vanished. The free time that one or both of them used to look forward to is now compromised.
I like the saying, "I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch." This may in fact be the wife's reaction when feeling her established schedule is being encroached upon as her husband retires. And, in receiving this type of negative response, the husband may further feel the loss of his established work life and that he now is only a participant in his wife's world.
It i human nature to want some space for ourselves and it doesn't mean that we love our spouse any less. It just means that you need to find that healthy balance of time together and time apart. With proper retirement planning, these retirement 'pitfalls' can be avoided and a couple can arrive at a mutually rewarding retirement lifestyle.
Why retirement planning is so important
A Cornell study done on this life stage revealed that married couples tend to experience significant conflict during the first several years after one or both spouses retire. Neither is prepared for this significant adjustment. Instead of enjoying blissful togetherness, both may struggle to understand their new lifestyle and end up feeling lost. I've heard countless stories of retirees aimlessly seeking new order in their lives; they reload the dishwasher, move furniture, and try to figure out what there're supposed to do because they have lost their old job description. Meanwhile, their spouse tries to maintain a normal schedule while being worried about their retired spouse. The burden of this responsible can be overwhelming.
The key is in connecting
So how do you ensure you don't end up like one of these lost, frustrated couples after retirement? The key is in being able to connect with one another.
I have always been a fan of Barbara Streisand. I like the lyrics in her song, People: "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world." Going through life with someone that you love and trust is much better than going through life alone, especially in the retirement stage.
Research shows that couples who reported that they were happily married were able to balance their alone time and time together in a healthy and constructive way. They respected each other's need for privacy and space. While a spouse is working in his or her career, this time is built in. In retirement, it has to be created by the couple. Pay attention to how you currently use your time and who's in charge of scheduling your time. Try not to rely on your spouse to plan your social life and take equal responsibility for some of those activities. Make sure you are developing your own activities now that you'll enjoy separately as well as those that you'll enjoy together. What have you always wanted to do and never had time to do? Make a list of activities, hobbies and dreams and then get started pursuing them.
If you are like most married couples, you have already successfully transitioned through various stages of your life together; dating, getting married, having children, pursuing careers, among others. Hopefully, with each transition, you have found ways of learning more about each other and creating a stronger bond that has sustained you. You have learned to be more attentive to each other, respectful of differences, and patient with each other. You have developed more independence and autonomy while protecting the bond that you have. This next stage in life is just one more transition through which you can deepen that connection.
Remember the love
As couples retire and grow into the changes that are associated with this transition, they can discover a renewed love and commitment.
Successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. - Mignon McLaughlin.
Remember that Love is a verb. Loving your spouse requires much more of us than just feeling and emotion. It takes action. With Valentine's Day this month, it is easier for us all to keep this in the forefront. But, we can sometimes lose sight of it in times of challenge. In the transition to retirement, we need to keep our love strong and supportive in our relationship. It requires more words of appreciation and affirmation to be spoken, and more acts of love and kindness.
To know me is to love me. - Unknown
When two people are willing to be vulnerable, honest and open with each other, accepting the good along with the character defects, you have arrived at mature love and intimacy. Share with one another your needs during retirement. Compare what your ideal retirement looks like. Find new ways of spending time together, and respect each other's need for time apart. And, most of all, never forget the love.
Love well... but have lunch out!