Retirement and the relationship with your spouse (Part I)

By April 3, 2019 Retirement & Work

When you retire, you switch bosses. From the one who hired you to the one who married you. As someone said, marriage is like a fine wine, if tended properly It just gets better with age.

As you reach retirement, you have probably been married for almost three decades. You understand one another well and yet both of you have been so busy with your respective careers that you have not really had the time for one another. Through your married life, you have respected one another’s right to privacy and stayed out of one another’s way, brushing tough issues under the carpet. Now you are looking at the prospect of spending 24 hours a day with your partner of three decades and you are left wondering if you really know the other person as well as you had thought you did.

For many unhappy couples, the problem starts when they don’t have the same expectations of retirement and then it gets further 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 not drive each other crazy, couples need a mutually acceptable game plan for the future. They need to think about and discuss how they want to spend their time, including how much time they want to spend together. These talks should begin between both of you long before retirement.

Marital strife is very common in the first few years after retirement. The stress in a marriage is likely to be more intense if one partner retires before the other. Marriage is an institution that needs to be worked on throughout one’s life and not put off till retirement. Many retired couples spend their remaining year’s together, miserable because they cannot adjust with one another. There are so many of our friends who have chosen to lead separate lives or seek other partners once their children have settled and they are approaching the age of retirement.

Even marriages that have been relatively good during the years of employment often struggle somewhat when husbands and wives spend most of every day with each other.

That’s because retirement changes so many aspects of married life and adjustments must be made.

“Retired Husband Syndrome” (RHS) is a much discussed subject in America, Europe and Japan and several papers have been written on the subject. Some Japanese women describe their retired husbands as “Sodaigomi” or “oversized garbage”. American and European women must have similar words. Life changes for both when the man retires and serious adjustments have to be made in the early years post retirement.

It is not uncommon to see couples who have been married through their working lives decide to have a “grey” divorce post retirement. Problems that would normally have been swept under the “blanket of work” now surface since there is much more time available and couples find they have no choice but to confront these problems.

If you want a quick measure of how compatible you and your spouse are, try being together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The chickens will come home to roost. That’s the test that couples usually take immediately following retirement. The years that a husband and wife have spent creating independent lifestyles comes back to haunt them on that day, because they are faced with the fact that they have little in common. Throughout their married lives, they failed to create common interests – they did nothing to create compatibility. Rather than building a relationship based on mutual respect and sensitivity, they ignored each other’s feelings, missing out on a lifetime of marital happiness.

As a friend who had just retired commented “Before marriage my wife would ask me to help and I would do so reluctantly. Now she tells me what I should be doing because I have nothing else to do and I resent her telling me this.”

From a woman’s perspective, the saying “After your husband’s retirement, you’ll have twice as much husband, and half as much money” is putting it mildly. As one old lady said “Sometimes I wake up grumpy. Other days I let him sleep”!

One of the biggest challenges I have seen with friends who have retired is the time that they now have to spend with their spouse. For most people who would have been married for a little over 3 decades spending time with one’s spouse was first with children till they went away to college or work and later between the two of you but with the comfort of spending time over a cup of tea in the morning and over dinner at night. Remember that after almost three decades of marriage, neither of you is in a position to try and change the other persons thinking!

The thought of spending the entire day at home is a challenge that would seem insurmountable. How would both of you go through 24 hours a day in the same space and yet try and give sufficient space to one another.

“I wonder how we will survive post retirement” is a common statement I have heard from both husbands and wives.

Making this adjustment between the two of you is a challenge that needs to be overcome. If your spouse has been a working spouse and has not yet retired, you will need to accept that you may have to take on more work responsibility at home. If your spouse is not a working spouse then you will have to start to share some of the work at home that you have normally not done in the past. Couples discover that they were not as compatible as they thought with one another as they start to get in each other’s way throughout the day!

My wife said, “What are you doing today?”

I said, “Nothing”

She said, “You did that yesterday”

I said, “I haven’t finished yet”

Psychologists assert that being socially connected is essential for mental health. More often than not happily retired couples have active social lives with lots of friends. Women seem to grasp this and they are generally more socially integrated, having more and stronger emotional ties to friends and family. Men tend to find retirement more difficult than women primarily because they have not bothered to invest deeply in relationships, early enough in their lives. Men may also become over dependent and possibly over demanding on their spouse to keep them socially connected post retirement.

Through your working lives you would have both been preoccupied with your work and with the children. The first change you will notice will be when your children leave home to study after school. Whether they go to college in your country or go overseas, they have started their flight out of your home and their journey that will make them soar in their lives. This will be the first adjustment that most couples have to surmount as they are faced with the prospect of becoming “empty nesters”. However with a busy work and social schedule, both of you are able to handle this change reasonably well.

The second major adjustment happens when you retire. Suddenly both of you are now at home and while you try and make adjustments, both of you need space in your relationship. Forget all the issues you may have had between the two of you and look at your spouse as your companion for the rest of your life. Finding another companion who is willing to accept your idiosyncrasies and your faults and continue to live with you under the same roof will be very hard.

Plan, but don’t over plan or over schedule your daily routine or the time with each other. Leave time to do the unexpected or to just hang out.

You may actually begin to enjoy having your retired spouse around and look forward to their companionship for many more years ahead!

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