Many couples look forward to retirement believing it will result in more time for travel, hobbies, and family visits. While most retiring couples adjust to this new life stage with relative ease, they may not always anticipate the ways in which retirement may change their relationship. Even couples who have a happy marriage can experience bumps on the road to retirement bliss.
Just as couples need to financially prepare for their retirement years, they also need to psychologically prepare to ensure their marital security in retirement. Research shows that there are several different factors that can affect life for couples after retirement:
- Timing of retirement. Deciding when to retire and who retires first can have important consequences for couples. Research shows that if one spouse retires too early, it can lead to feelings of resentment and regret. Couples who retire at the same time tend to adjust to retirement the most smoothly.
- Retirement goals. It can be a problem if one spouse wants to travel and the other wants to stay home and garden. Couples need to discuss their retirement goals and find a way to determine a plan that both are happy with. Negotiation and compromise are necessary.
- Household chores. Research shows that deciding who does what around the house can be very important to a couple’s happiness. Some people may resent that their newly retired partner is not doing more around the house, while others may resent having their partner invading their territory. Again, negotiation and compromise will be necessary.
These tips can help couples prepare for retirement:
- Communicate openly. Couples need to discuss their expectations for retirement from a personal perspective (goals, interests, dreams), as well as from a couple perspective (joint activities, mutual goals, issues of sexual and emotional intimacy). By having honest, open conversations, couples can avoid future conflict. It will also help if couples develop a plan together that is mutually satisfying and fulfilling.
- Set boundaries. A critical issue for many couples is establishing a balance between separateness (private time, personal hobbies, and time with friends) and togetherness (joint activities, intimacy, and socializing as a couple). Setting boundaries to protect personal and couple time also provides a sense of structure and control.
- Prepare for the loss of the work role. Loss of work can lead to feelings of depression, a sense of having no purpose, and loss of identity in one or both spouses. These experiences and emotions can have an impact on the quality of marital life. Couples, who recognize the significance of this loss, and work to find alternate roles and activities, can avoid these negative emotions.
- Designate household tasks. Rather than just assuming that old patterns for managing household chores will continue or that new changes will take place, couples need to talk about it and decide on a mutually satisfactory course of action.
- Goodman, M. (2011). Too much Togetherness: Surviving retirement as a couple. Bonneville Books, Springville, UT.
- Jamila Bookwala (Ed.). (2016). Couple Relationships in the Middle and Later Years: Their Nature, Complexity and Role in Health and Illness. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.
- Kim, J. & Moen, P. Couples’ Work Status and Psychological Well-Being in Older Adults, Session 4639, August 23, 1999, American Psychological Association.
- Yogev, S. (2012). A Couple’s Guide To Happy Retirement: For Better or Worse (2nd ed). McGraw-Hill, NY.