May 7, 2012
My Time, Your Time, Our Time: A Vital Retirement Balancing Act
This is one of the topics that is critical to a satisfying retirement. I can't quote specific figures but there are plenty of indications that one of the major causes of divorce among retired folks is the inability to reach an agreement on time use. I see comments about this problem as well as receive emails on a regular basis. While I have addressed this problem before, it is worthy of another look because it is so important.
The Heart of The Problem
The core of the issue is really simple: when two people are together, full time, how is time managed? Unfortunately, the solutions are much more complicated than stating the question. Why? Because there is the need to blend two separate personalities and lifestyles together in a way that each person gets what he and she needs from that situation.
Let's start with a common scenario: a stay-at-home wife is joined, full-time, by a just-retired husband. Of course the reverse can be true, but this arrangement is more likely so permit me to use it as an example. Alright, what is the problem? Isn't it a good thing to be able to spend more time with a loved one? Haven't both partners looked forward to the day when hubby no longer has to leave each day for a job?
Well, yes and no. The stay-at-home partner has established a routine and a system that usually works well for that person. House cleaning and maintenance, shopping, cooking, time to pursue interests and passions, lunches out with friends, even quiet times, happen with some predictability. That person is the master of her (or his) domain.
The Effects On A Relationship
Suddenly, the retiring half of the couple doesn't leave the house or disappear into a home office for 6-8 hours a day. Now, the schedule and predictability that have worked so well are thrown into turmoil. This other person starts making demands on the stay-at-home's time. It is not unusual for a newly retired person (usually a husband!) to try to reorganize the household schedule to make it more "efficient." There is a loss of autonomy and control. Precious private time is suddenly lost or curtailed.
The opposite effect also causes problems. The new retiree spends the day in a chair watching TV or relaxing, using the rational that time to do nothing has been earned from years of employment. Too often there is an expectation that the wife now cook three meals a day and continues with the house cleaning and laundry chores. In essence, her "retirement" never begins.
Full time retirement can also expose weaknesses in a relationship that began well before the last paycheck. Sometimes, after the children leave home there is little to talk about and few shared interests. Other times, a particular personality trait that was almost endearing in small doses becomes a deal breaker when it must be lived with all the time.
Is There A Different Reaction?
On the flip side, for many couples the time together comes as the payoff of too many days and years apart. The ability to be with each other more often, to develop shared or new interests, and to learn more about the other half of your life comes as a tremendous blessing. Couples can become almost inseparable when the pressures of a job or child-rearing are removed.
Even then, there must be some caution applied. Too much of a good thing isn't necessarily a better thing. Each of us still has the need for some private time and separate interests. The happiest couples are those who realize that and work to make it happen.
I have been married almost 36 years (June) and retired for just under 11 years. I worked from home for the last ten years of my career in radio but was traveling half the year so it was almost like I worked away from the house. In these retirement years Betty and I have struggled at times with this issue. Until I discovered a passion (or two) and figured out how best to spend my day I was guilty of too much hanging around. I am a control freak so getting things done efficiently was one of my first "goals."
Over time, I have learned that these shortcomings were not building a satisfying retirement for either of us. We made some changes. We are still making changes. Betty, in particular, is at the stage where she wants to readjust her time management and spend more time on her needs. I want to shake up our routine a bit with RV travel or cruises.
What To Do About Time Management and Retirement?
So, what words of wisdom can I offer you? Let me list a few.
1) We must have "Me Time." Betty tends to allow her "me" time to be taken over by others. She will tell you she struggles with being a pleaser, often to her own detriment. I tend to dominate, so I will grab her "me" time and add it to my "me" time if there is something I would like to do together. There isn't much of a discussion so "our time" is probably 70-30% made up of things I'd like to do.
This is not a good arrangement. As I noted, Betty is seeing the effects of this time division and is realizing she must be more assertive in protecting what she wants to do. My challenge will be to accept this evolution as important and long overdue.
2) "Our Time" cannot be just watching a movie together or sitting in the same room while we read. It requires a sharing of each other's time, space, and attention. One of the reasons I think we are both becoming increasingly interested in RV travel is the confined space will mean we can't be separate - together. There isn't enough room. RV living requires a more active participation in doing things together.
3) "Your Time" must not be treated as less important than "my time." After all, for the other person that is "my time." Respecting time apart, accepting separate interests, and allowing for different allocations of time and resources are essential commitments you make to a healthy relationship.
Now, all of us would benefit from your feedback. How tough has it been to adjust to full time retirement? What about your partner drives you up the wall? Do you relish when he (or she) leaves the house for a few hours? Have you found being together most of the time is a real treat? Are you excited about what the future holds together?
If you feel open enough to share something on the negative side of this discussion, please feel free to choose the anonymous option instead of using your name if you would rather remain unknown. That is just fine. Of course, if you want your partner to shape up, use you name and show him (or her) this post!
Final thought: I was watching my three grandkids a few days ago as they attempted to figure out sharing things along with separation of needs and interests. It struck me that, as adults, many of us haven't advanced much in these skills since we were four years old. Hopefully, it is never too late to start.