February 22, 2012

Adjusting to Retirement: Being Together Full Time

The goal..but it takes work
What is one of the most important questions about a satisfying retirement cannot be answered until it happens? "How will my home life change?" If you are the person leaving work, you are wondering about managing your time and staying busy. If you happen to be the person already at home you are wondering what is going to happen when your partner is around the house 24 hours a day.

Figures that specify the divorce rate among retired folks are a little hard to come by. But, for married people over 50, the divorce rate has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Some lawyers report up to 25% of their clients are men and women over 65. Certainly there are lots of reasons for a marriage to end. But, severe strain on a relationship can occur when at-home routines are disturbed by a newly retired spouse. Also, the reason for retiring can affect what happens at home. Being forced from work leaves a much different taste in one's mouth than voluntarily ending employment at a particular job.

Some of the problems that often arise when a newly-retired spouse is suddenly home full-time are well documented:

  • The retiree has lost a major source of self-identity. Especially for men, so much of who we are is defined by our job. When that ends there is a shock to the ego and we can feel cut off from society. Men have to find a new way to define themselves outside of work or activities.
  • When the blush of sleeping late wears off, there is the realization of diminished income. Suddenly, expenses that were not questioned can become points of argument.
  • Seeing your spouse all day, everyday, can quickly wear thin, if the partners do not have a healthy relationship. . After building parallel lifestyles for decades, their time is suddenly shared with just one other person. Folks discover they have little in common and very little to talk about.

Dr. Larry Anderson wrote a personal look at his impending retirement in the on-line magazine, IMPOWERAGE, and made a point that I discovered in doing some basic research for this post.:"there has been much less investigation of women’s retirement experience. It is reported that, as working couples age, men report greater marital satisfaction than women. Comparing men and women’s retirement is somewhat like comparing apples and oranges. For instance, women are more likely to work part time.  Women may have more interests outside of work and thus have less of an adjustment when retiring."

I would speculate that younger generations will produce more meaningful data in this regard. As women continue to be a significant part (if not the majority) of the work force, there will be instances when the husband has retired and is at home, while his wife continues to remain employed. When she stops working, how will the dynamics change?

What Others Are Saying

The good news is there are definite actions that can be taken before things reach such a critical state. 

Communicate Openly. Communication both before and after retirement is essential. Guys are generally less likely to want to "talk," but in this case self-interest dictates that they do. It is important that couples discuss
their expectations for retirement from a personal perspective, such as interests, goals, even long range goals. In addition, discussions from the couple's point of view are just as critical. What activities will be shared, what goals are the same, even intimacy issues.

Setting Boundaries. We all have different needs for "alone" and "together" time. To ignore that reality is harmful to the relationship. There must be a balance between "separateness" (personal privacy, pursuing individual hobbies, spending time with friends) and "togetherness" (participating in joint activities and socializing as a couple).

Don't forget to discuss time spent with family and friends, both his and hers. Women tend to have a stronger social circle of female friends while guys don't. Men can get jealous if his wife is busy with friend activities while he sits at home.

Obviously, that is his problem to solve by making friends, taking on new activities, and building an interesting life outside the home. But, just because he is the one with the friend deficit doesn't mean both partners shouldn't discuss the issue.

Prepare for the loss of how you have defined yourself. The end of work can lead to feelings of depression, or of being worthless. Couples need to recognize this can be a serious problem. Working together to help each other  feel a sense of fulfillment through other activities is important. This is where hobbies, interests outside the home, volunteering, or discovering a new passion become so important.

Designate household tasks. This is one of the biggies. Deciding the role of each partner in keeping a household functioning more important than many couples realize. A common source of conflict for retired couples involves the division of labor in the home. Will the division of chores that existed before retirement still work? Will the retired spouse be expected to divide tasks more equally? This needs to be discussed. Making assumptions can spell big trouble.

The number one complaint from women whose husbands have retired falls into this category. Assuming they operated with a "traditional" division of chores before retirement, the wife gets unhappy very quickly when suddenly she is expected to prepare three meals a day, plus do the shopping, laundry, and housecleaning like she did when he was gone 8 hours a day. Hubby is perceived to be expecting to waited on hand and foot as a just reward for working all those years.

That attitude will not fly. Younger men are much better at handling their fair share of the chores even before retirement. But, for some reason social expectations are that the female continues to be responsible for the "inside" stuff while the man will take care of maintenance and outside chores. The problem is obvious: there isn't nearly as much "outside" work on a daily basis. Plus, as we age we are more likely to hire someone to do repair and maintenance chores, so the husband's responsibilities disappear.

Not me, but you get the idea
Just for full disclosure, I have done my laundry my entire married life. I plan and cook half the dinners each week. My wife and I rotate house cleaning chores every two weeks, as well as who empties the dishwasher and makes the bed. At least in this area, we never have disagreements. Guys...it is worth it.

There is a lot of information and feedback about women and the adjustment to retirement. I'd like to hear from those who are already facing this situation, or have it coming up soon. What are your fears and plans?

Guys, there is very little about all of this from the man's perspective. You could help communication between the sexes tremendously by chiming in. Remain anonymous if you want to, but let us know how you propose to deal with these issues.


  1. Wow, I love your division of chores, Bob! My husband is retiring in a year or so and always tells me that when he's retired, he will do his half of the household chores, whereas now I do most of it. Actually, he is very good around the house and has always pitched in on laundry, doing dishes after dinner, etc. I love to cook but frankly, if he wants to vacumn I'll be glad to let him-lol

    I do worry about my own loss of freedom during the day. I'm used to silence and I have my "schedule" which includes going to exercise classes, working on the computer and other things. I'm not used to having to tell another person what I'm doing or where I'm going.

    Right now our computers are in the same room and a friend whose husband recently retired told me, "Put your computer in another room first thing!" It's disruptive to be working and concentrating and then having someone behind me saying, "Hey, look at this!"

    I know, time to set some boundaries!

    1. I agree completely about the computer separation if you have the space. Even after 10+ years together full time we each must have computers in separate areas.

      Adjusting to another person will take some time and compromise. I had to learn that Betty had done quite well managing the household without me for 25 years, so she wasn't desperate for my "suggestions' on how to do it better.

    2. I agree also. Separate rooms for computer. My wife has her hobby room and I have my study and never the twain shall meet :) And we both enjoy it that way. For one thing she can keep her messes and I can keep mine. One person's mess is another person's organization.

  2. After much discussion with my husband, I will be cutting back my work hours next year, full time 40 hours to hopefully 20. I'm not quite sure what my income/hours will be yet, a lot will depend upon my current employer and if my work load can be adapted/shared and I can stay on here as a part time employee. That could be a story in itself, the desire of an employer to retain an employee when they wish to work fewer hours.
    My greatest concern in this upcoming change will be my loss of income. I have worked full time since high school. I have always had my own paycheck and other than the household budget my funds have been mine to do with what I please. Now I am pretty frugal and have always saved a large amount of my income, paid for my cars, funded a lot of vacations, etc. But the idea of not having that paycheck, or a much smaller paycheck, scares the heck out of me.
    I'd love to hear something from women who have always worked full time, how they adjusted to not having disposable income, having to perhaps ask her husband for money (he will continue to work full time for at least 3 more years), etc.

    1. Good questions, Cindy. Female readers....Cindy would like your feedback!

      My wife was either a stay-at-home mom when the kids were growing up, or worked part time for several years after that so we don't have any experience to share like yours.

      Let's see what other readers have to say.

  3. Bob,

    A female friend of mine was on the receiving end of some "helpful" suggestions from her recently retired husband, a former construction foreman. She said that was the most difficult time of their married life. Fortunately he found other interests to occupy his attention, and their marriage survived.

    I'm a female reader, not retired yet, and I'm also interested in the discussion about finances because money is always such an emotional issue for people. But I don't think I can offer any helpful feedback. My significant other and I have been together for 10 years, and were each well established in our financial planning by the time we got together. We aren't married, although we may be by the time we retire.

    I suspect we will always keep separate finances, to some degree, although we usually act as if we have some sort of joint ownership of our combined assets. I always tell him that we're "an economic unit" whenever we participate in some joint spending, so we don't have to keep accounts to make sure things are fair. For example, when we go out to a restaurant he usually pays, and I explain we don't have to take turns paying because we're an economic unit. :)

    1. Economic unit...I like that term.

      My wife and I keep everything together since we are living off investments and there are no separate sources of income. We both get an amount of WAM (walking around money) each month that is ours to spend or save as we want.

  4. I'm single so I didn't have to deal with the type of relationship adjustment you describe, but I did still go through the identity shift and grieving. I started making that shift before I actually retired. During my last year of work, I realized that when I met people I started identifying myself in ways non-work related. I was already recreating my identity. And I was sad that year, thinking of the things I was doing for the last time.

    My sister and brother in law went through a transition closer to what you describe here when he retired some years back. It was hard for her to have him around the house all day because he wanted to keep engaging her in conversation when she was trying to do her artwork. They have sorted things out now, but there were some bumpy times.

    There are so many things we can anticipate, but then there are those things that take us by surprise, as you discussed in a recent post. People often assume that retirement will be a happy time in a marriage because of all the time you have together to do things you enjoy. But, as you point out, boundaries are our friends!

  5. I am in a similar situation to both CindyP and CB, and I have all the same questions, but no solutions yet. I found myself in a "pre-retirement" stage recently when I had hip surgery. I had been considering leaving my full time job in May or June anyway, and now it appears that I will never go back. I have to remind myself that this is not going to be what retirement will be like for me, because right now I am unable to do much of anything for myself. It has been hard enough to ask my husband to "fetch" things for me; I can't even imagine how it will be if I have to ask for money once I retire! Like Cindy, my husband will continue to work for 6-8 years since he is younger than I am. And like CB, we were both established when we married five years ago and have always kept our finances separate. I raised my two children alone, and have my car and bills paid off. I would also have the money to pay my house off (we are living here, and renting his), but then my monthly retirement income will be small. It's always been something I've thought about - I hope that someone responds to your post who has some insights and solutions. Very interesting reading, as always, and I'll store away your ideas on handling situations once we both retire!

    1. You have added a lot, Jan, to this discussion. You have identified the same concerns as others and laid out the specific circumstances you must adjust to.

      Keeping some of the finances separate seems to be part of the answer for several folks. I would also add for you, Cindy, and CB the absolute importance of a budget. Adjusting to a budget isn't all that tough, but importantly it gives you a sense of control. When your income drops, it is easy to panic. But, if you have a plan and have worked out what you can afford, then things aren't quite so scary.

  6. We have all written a lot about this situation...I am still laughing about the time my husband switched all the kitchen drawer contents ariybd. He just had better idea. But really it is no laughing matter. It takes a lot of respect for your partner and patience from both people.

    I think posts like this are so helpful. We all know that a "support group" is a good thing in that it lets us know that we are not alone.



    1. My wife spent last weekend rearranging the kitchen. Now i can't find anything. It isn't where it "belongs." See, it works both ways!

      We are definitely not alone.

  7. My husband and I retired at same time 7 years ago. It was the most difficult period of our married life. Totally unexpected. We kept thinking we had to create our "retirement" together. Not true. Just too claustrophobic. But we have been married almost 50 years now and we've adjusted... and it's all good. By the way, I can't find retirementlover on twitter anymore. Where are you?

    1. Your last question first: my Twitter account was hacked into a few days ago. I am giving the spammers a few days to go away and then I'll try to reactivate the account with extra protection. Look for Retirementlover to reappear soon!

      Too claustrophobic is a good way to describe the feeling a lot of married couples have in that situation. Luckily, most manage to adjust after they discover the right balance between together and separate time. Thanks, Judy.

  8. This article raises such important issues! All these issues do rise up when you spend more time with your spouse even before retirement. The whole loss of one's sense of identity upon retirement is huge for many people. Naturally, there can be big shifts in the relationships too. I find the divorce statistics sad. It's clear, most of us are not prepared for these changes. It really helps to have articles like these that give us some basic tools for surviving and even thriving through the transitions.

    1. Like you, Sandra, I am surprised at the divorce percentages of older, retired folks. The stress of establishing a marriage, possibly raising children, balancing a career and household, financial pressures....after getting most of that behind them I'd think couples would be much less likely to split up.

      But, what all that indicates is how critical relationship maintenance is throughout the entire marriage. Retirement places a whole new dynamic into the picture that must be resolved, one way or another.

    2. Steve in Los AngelesFri Feb 24, 12:14:00 AM MST


      After reading all of this, I decided that I probably will be better off if I remain single. I have a pension AND I do have retirement account investments. I certainly am not going to risk my financial well-being by getting married. Marriage most of the time is risky. Marriage and being retired is even riskier.


    3. I can't remember a time when I wasn't married and wouldn't ever change my status. For Betty and me it is about much, much more than money. But, that decision is the ultimate personal choice. I have friends who are happily single and want to remain that way.

      The real problem is people enter into marriage without understanding what that type of commitment really means. Then, when things so off kilter a bit, they want out.

  9. Divorce? I think as the baby boomers get to the age of it being "all about me" again, they feel they can do it alone. I actually see more of my female friends filing then men! They have a pension and investments. Judges split 401Ks if the woman has a smaller IRA. Big family home is sold and off they go. Crazy! I am with you. The hard part is behind us now!

    As far as loss of income at retirement, all money in has always been "ours". I pay the bills and we have always had an equal "allowance"(which is generous). We also have gift, eating out and clothing allowances that are in shared envelopes.He always assumes I will travel where ever family is . I assume he will always buy that cool piece of wood to make something with. The allowances make that possible.

    During our careers we traded back and forth who makes more or even works outside the home. I stayed home with infants. He stayed home with high schoolers. There is never an argument on "who put in more". Envelopes stop the "asking the person making more money for money" situation. I HATE to beg- so does he.

    My husband has a pension. Most of the other investments are in my name. We decided that long ago. He will always be able to survive retirement without me (well, survive the $$ side of retirement). I will need investments if he should leave the scene early for the other side. It helps me with my bag lady syndrome. It relieves him from having to listen to me be scared.

  10. Janette...smiling at "the bag lady" syndrome. I wonder how many women have had this fear through the years? I know I have some big mental adjustments coming up in the next year and I'm happy to hear how others have worked and are working through them.
    My husband and I have never had a budget. We've always been on pretty much the same page as far as our spending styles.We are both fairly frugal, save a good percentage of our incomes towards retirement. We do not have any children. If we want something expensive (over a couple hundred dollars) for our home, like a tv, new computer, etc, we chip in for the purchase. Cars and our home are the only thing we've ever had to go in debt for. Our home is paid off and right now both are cars are paid for. We both contribute an equal amount to a household account to pay for taxes, utilities, insurance, etc.
    I think a budget is something that I am going to need to work on for myself just for my own peace of mind. I want to be able to continue to contribute to the household budget as long as I am working at all.

    Thank you Bob and everyone for contributing to this discussion.

    1. You are very welcome, Cindy. I'm happy the greatest readers in the world chipped in with some thoughts to help you work through this transition.

      Even if only for your own piece of mind, work up a budget. It makes everything less scary.

      I have learned something, too. I think my wife and I need to increase our personal allowances a bit (our WAM). We can afford it and it will give Betty more feeling of freedom.

      We just spent $3,500 on a new refrigerator and stove that she has wanted for quite awhile. We agreed the time was now, she found what she wanted, and we bought them together. Sharing goals and respecting your partner is what makes it work.

  11. Thank you to all who commented. I have taken away a lot of great ideas that will diminish my fears as I navigate this transition into retirement.

  12. I guess it is only fair that I should provide some input since I have gotten a lot of great ideas and new perspectives from sites like this over the last7 years... :) I realized 5 years ago that I really needed to decouple myself from my work identity. So I started working part-time in the summer (apr-oct). I had not realized how important that was for my wife (stay at home) to adjust to me being at home. I did that for 4 years, and I think we have finally gotten to the realization that both of us have to adjust to my pending "full time" retirement. Our alone time was one of the biggest issues that needed compromise, more of me staying out of her hair during her scheduled home/craft periods. And her to realize that I will also be home doing things... :) And one comment on budgets. I think they are very valuable before and after retirement. Apparently, during my wife's childhood, budgets had a bad connotation in her family. So we have always used a "business plan" to track our progress along financial goals... :)

    1. There you go...call a budget a name that doesn't cause a problem but still accomplish your goal...good solution!

      During the last 15 years of my working life my office was in our home, so Betty was already used to my strange ideas of running a household. But, because I was traveling 150-170 days a year the impact of me full time didn't hit until the summer of 2001. Even with the partial at-home "training period," it still took us a few years to understand what worked best for us.

      Thanks, Hardwire, for leaving your thoughts. Guys need to realize we have an adjustment to make for retirement that is more than just not leaving the house every morning. It sounds like you and Mrs. "Hardwire" have gotten it done.

    2. I'll let you know how it turns out later this year.... I told her "I think I am ready, are you??" and she said "go for it" :)

      Thanks again for all the information that you and others have provided!

  13. My wife retired 12 years ago and I retire today. On my 3 days off a week, I did all of the shopping, cooking, dishes, garbage, yard work and house maintenance. I'm hoping that this retirement will just be a continuation of our job-sharing.

    1. There is no reason why it shouldn't (and couldn't) be. Welcome to retirement!

  14. I read the above retirement comments and find very little in common with my experience. In 2000, I had to stop working because of a disability but found a way from home to create my own small business... In 2008, my husband came home one day and said his company closed down and he had no job, he was 61... He eventually found two part time jobs and just this january 'retired' from one and started collecting his pensions. We have always been low income and at time below the recognized poverty level, but we owned a house and got by... now into retirement, we are not so poor! our pensions and our almost paid off house is making our retirement years quite comfy, compared to the previous 40 yrs - we still don't travel or have two cars, or even smart phones, so money for us is not the issue... The issue is too much of each other. We have established separate bedrooms and separate interests -- he sleeps, I have my social and hobby interests... i don't particularly like him anymore, so at this point we are not happily retired but because of our finances one or both of us would suffer even more that we ever did before if we ended our relationship. I am still looking for ways to keep interesting elements in my life... I don't know if he is...

    1. Thank you for adding a different perspective to this post. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to a satisfying retirement in the relational transition that occurs. Being together full time is not easy. In many cases the partners make adjustments to account for each other's needs and interests. But, if that doesn't happen, then there are problems.

      Over time I hope you and your husband can work together to develop a relationship where you enjoy time spent together and shared interests. But, if that doesn't occur please realize your situation is not unique. Struggles like you describe are all too common.


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