Retirement is one of the most impactful transitions in life. Referred to by many as the golden years, it cannot be that without learning to make adjustments, especially when one spouse is retired and the other is not. A majority of couples will face challenges such as decreased income, empty nest syndrome, and just too much spare time on their hands, providing an opportunity for increased marital conflict in even the happiest of marriages. Toughing it out just because you have made it this far doesn't have to be the answer. There are ways to enjoy marriage after retirement.
Create Common Interests Now
When getting ready for work and commuting time are factored in, working couples spend roughly 60 hours of each five day work week apart from each other as they pursue separate goals. Factoring in eight hours of sleep every night, that leaves another twenty hours for actual interaction. Those hours are miniscule compared to a full 80 hours plus the weekends. So much time together can be too much for couples who didn't take the time earlier in life to develop shared interests.
...couples who retire at roughly the same time report the least amount of marital conflict.
The good news is that it is never too late to begin pursuing shared interests. According to researchers, couples who retire at roughly the same time report the least amount of marital conflict. Time can be mutually spent pursuing individual interests while coming together to go on special trips, take up a new hobby, or buy that recreational vehicle.
When One Retires and the Other Still Works
The highest marital conflict is reported when the husband retires before the wife. Men seem to struggle more than women do with finding their identity after retirement and establishing their purpose in life. They become frustrated with not being able to pursue some of their retirement dreams because their wife is still tied to vacation days and early mornings.
When wives retire before their husbands, they are not as frustrated as men, and more able to pursue their retirement dreams, such as going back to school or even taking a part time job. Ironically enough, men report more marital content when their wives retire before them.
Importance of Good Communication
Communication is probably the greatest contributor to a happy marriage after retirement. Regardless of the timeframe in which couples retire, couples who have good communication before retirement will most likely adjust better to retirement and experience greater marital satisfaction, according to Ohio State University gerontologist, Christine A. Price.
Believe it or not, household chores are a common point of high tension in retirement marriages. Setting new boundaries with who does what and where the "territory" lines are drawn, as well as firming up roles reduces room for conflict to grow.
Creating a New Identity
Couples have to seek out a balance that works for them between individuality and togetherness.
Couples will often list growing apart or that they became different people as a reason for divorce. The couples who remain married are the ones that learn to grow together instead of apart. There will be a shift in identity for both retirees when work is no longer a part of the marriage. Couples who can understand the impact of this sense of loss and who respect the process each one must go through will be able to replace the loss with fulfilling alternatives. Couples have to seek out a balance that works for them between individuality and togetherness.
While the first half of the golden years are more enjoyable, getting out and doing things the couples always wanted to do, the second half is often when health complications catch up, and physical limitations require support in some manner. If couples take the time to plan for retirement, not just financially, but in terms of personal goals and relationship expectations, it will pay off with the sweetness that a long-term marriage brings when spouses need it the most.
Cullinane, Jan and Fitzgerald, Cathy. (September 12, 2007). Retirement and Marriage. Forbes. Available at http://www.forbes.com/2007/09/11/retirement-work-marriage-pf-ret-in_jc_0912soapbox_inl.html. Last Visited February 28, 2016.
Price, Christine. Marriage after Retirement. Senior Series, a Partnership between Ohio State University Extension and Ohio Aging Network Professionals. Available at http://psalmyguitar.webs.com/documents/Marriage%20After%20Retirement.pdf. Last Visited February 28, 2016.