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.


  1. I'll be very interested in hearing commments on this topic. It is one of my major concerns as I near semi-retirement. I think I have some pleaser tendencies myself, as you said your wife does. However when I start to feel imposed upon I get a little passive-aggresive and resentful. I will need to assert my need for privacy and "downtime" in a more positive way.

    Just curious, do you schedule your time with your spouse and time with yourself? I'm imagining something along those lines in my life. Kind of a Tuesday is MY DAY to do whatever I want type of thing.

    1. Good Morning, Cindy,

      We don't actively schedule our separate times (me, yours, ours) except when it concerns meetings or things that require it. We use Google Calendar to keep a master schedule of appointments or church meetings so we can each see what the other person is doing. Then, normally on Sundays we discuss anything special we'd like to do in the coming week: see a movie, go on a picnic or hike, visit my dad, go to a free night at the museum, etc.

  2. Interesting situation for sure. Since I work at home it seemed like an invasion when Dave retired. As a writer and artist I'm sure it appears at times like I'm not really working at all when in fact I often feel like I'm never not working. I get inspiration from disparate activities and I'm always looking for the next subject to tackle.

    Dave has always been regimented...I've never been. Even when I had to be I fought it. That's not going to change. We enjoy each others company and always have fun together when we're out or working on a project together, but 24/7 is a lot to handle.

    He's getting involved in volunteering and church duties which allows for some separate time. We have both always enjoyed our 'me' time, now it's just a question of balance.

    1. Betty struggles to carve out enough time for her projects. Since one of our daughters moved back home after losing her job, Betty has also lost her office space. For an artist that is a source of frustration that she handles well, but the situation is not ideal.

      We are both organizers and like neatness so that hasn't been an issue. The bigger problem has been her making sure her time isn't given or taken away.

  3. I had been retired about three years when my wife decided to retire. I was glad to cede the cooking and cleaning (back) to her (most of it). More significantly, she no longer was so "weird" from the incredible stresses of her work (mental health clinic ass't director). Phew!

    Her time: knitting, computer scrabble, gardening (I do the occasional grunt work of lifting and digging), lunch with friends, grand parenting, reading......

    My time: bluegrass jamming, golf, occasional puppeteering gigs, reading, blog-reading.....

    Our time: regular walks, current events conversations, co-grandparent activities, teaming up on crossword puzzles, home projects, lots of laughing over silly things, common friendships that we pursue together...

    Most important is that we respect each other's pursuits (common and separate) and the meaning that they hold for each of us - as an extension of our respect for each other. We both extend and/or accept the limits of each of our worlds. Autonomy rather than just interdependence.

    A kind of a related footnote here: As I have recently mentioned to my wife, I am working hard not to become the stereotypical complaining, dissatisfied, resentful, old curmudgeon. And, at times, it surely is hard work - getting old is not for sissies, as they say. And my wife graciously thanked me for that effort. Sweet!

    1. Thanks, Steve, for providing a nice blueprint for others to follow. The respect concept goes a long way toward blunting many problems that develop from 24/7 togetherness.

      The tendency of older folks to become "grumpy old men (and women) is a problem that must be resisted. I'm not sure why we get crabby as we age, but it is reality. Let us know how that particular battle goes.

  4. To Cindy P: Open, honest communication prior to retirement is the best advise I can offer on this subject. When my husband joined me in retirement 6 years ago, my life was pretty much on auto-pilot and I liked it that way. He threw a wrench into things that I hadn't expected. He wanted to beach on the sofa, watch TV, surf the internet and rest... and he wanted me there with him. We had a bumpy ride in the beginning, but when I decided to understand his needs and he listened to mine we adjusted to being a couple again - separate but together. Life is very good for us right now and we have developed many shared interests. Some things that were important to me are not any more and he has developed interests that do not include me. We are not rigid about anything and if the balance tilts, we talk it out. It's all about communication and compromise.

    Bob, I enjoyed your perspective.

    1. Suzanne,

      Thanks for addressing Cindy's question. The adjustments and tensions you describe are quite normal. After all, we humans crave consistency and routine (that's why change is so hard for so many). When it is disturbed there will be problems until a new balance is found. You and Malcolm avoid rigidity and embrace communication; a perfect mix!

    2. Thanks Bob, this is a great conversation. I paid particular attention to Steve's last paragraph. Grouchiness is an easy pattern to drift in to. Here's to positive thoughts and gratitude.

  5. I can only speak to what I hope will happen, as my husband's retirement is still two short weeks away, but at this point I'm incredibly eager for him to join me in this retirement journey I started one year ago. I anticipate continuing the activities I'm already involved in, with my husband joining in on the ones he finds to be of interest, and I imagine him initiating activities he finds stimulating, which I'll be able to join in on as well. So at this point, again, still ignorant as what will actually happen, I see my world expanding vastly.

    I can speak to having a unified goal for how we envision our retirement, which is to make travel, primarily in our RV, the focus of up to 50% of our time. We are excitedly making plans for a series of long road trips through, at this point, 2014.

    And Bob, of possibly particular interest to you and Betty - I can definitely speak to being together in a fairly small travel trailer for extended periods, because we've already been doing so, as our vacation time allowed, for six years now. It works beautifully for us, because we have a fairly even division of duties, and a pretty set daily routine that meets both of our needs. I pretty much take care of all of the inside duties (expect dishwashing, which my husband does :-), and he pretty much takes care of all of the outside duties. We have a daily morning routine of coffee, talking and "quiet" time to do our spiritual exercises (everything from contemplative reading to meditation) move on to our shared activity of the day, enjoy another bit of downtime in the afternoon, then end the day with dinner, a game or DVD, and some talking around the campfire.

    The only time our RV boat gets rocked, so to speak, is if something mechanical goes wrong, because neither my husband or myself are mechanically inclined whatsoever. I'll admit I'm concerned about weathering this if/when it occurs (and chances are good it will, given how long we'll now be gone) and will need to work hard on maintaining my patience while we figure out what to do.

    I'm aware I'll also need to be sensitive to his desires on how to spend our together time, as I tend to take the lead and plan the heck out of our schedule. I like the idea of sitting down one day a week to discuss this issue and make sure both of our needs are being met.

    1. I'll second your thought of respecting each other's daily routine(s), particularly at the breakfast/morning hours. Whether it's a designated amount of quiet time, coffee, meditation, newspaper reading, or whatever, each starting the day on one's own terms is definitely a priority, as far as I'm concerned.

    2. Tamara,

      Please, this is an open invitation to come back in a few months and leave a comment about how the dual retirement is working. Most interesting will be whether your roles and responsibilities shift and how well your goals of together and separate times work out.

      Thanks for the feedback on the RV lifestyle. We are still looking forward to a "test" of the RV experience in September, probably to Flagstaff and maybe Santa Fe. We'll rent a 25 foot Class C and see how it goes. Bailey will come with us! I tend to lose my patience real quickly with mechanical issues, too. That is not a good character trait when traveling in an RV. I gather they have all sorts of issues, especially when using a rental unit.

      You guys have obviously given this a lot of thought. That alone puts you on the path to success!


      At the present our daily routine is a bit unsettled because of the puppy. She demands at least 15 minutes of full attention after being away from us overnight. Then, I tend to pull out the laptop and Betty does some reading or starts on some project.So, it is working well.

  6. We've been doing the "two retired people in a little house" thing for about eight years now. We have too many critters, not enough spare cash, and not terribly good health, so we're mostly stay-at-home types. We have survived pretty happily by making sure of three things:

    We share household chores. Not on a strict schedule or anything, but mostly by who is best at something, enjoys a particular task, or who is in good enough physical condition to tackle the heavy stuff. If neither one of us is, we work on them together.

    We both have hobbies that get us out of the house several times a week.

    We both have personal spaces--places to do things that interest one but bore the other silly, and/or places to get out of each other's hair. We're both rather private people, and need some time alone.

    Of course, we do spend time together and enjoy a lot of the same things, but neither of could stand living in each other's pockets all day long.

    Good luck with your RV experience in September!

    1. Thanks, Jean. That is an excellent overview of how to make it all work. Betty and I need time alone, too, to do what we want to do. Blogging doesn't do much for her, and the hours she spends editing the picture of a flower would drive me nuts. So, we are smart enough to go our own separate ways when needed.

      We had a good discussion this evening about the goals for the RV "experiment" in September. We were coming at it from different perspectives but in the end agreed on a common approach. I guess that is one reason we will celebrate 36 years next month.

  7. My husband and I had rather big jolts when we retired. He retired at 65 after 35 years in the Federal government. 6 months after he retired - in the middle of remodeling 2 bathrooms, he was rushed to the hospital and had a quadruple bypass. He was thin and fit, but you cannot outrun your genes. I took a month off from my last year of teaching junior high to help him recuperate. We loved the bathrooms so much, we hired the same folks to remodel the kitchen. I retired in May, scheduled a put off knee replacement for fall. In the middle of the kitchen, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Do not remodel and retire at the same time! So now, 3 years later, cancer free with a new knee, I love retirement. We cared for each other in illness and our 44 years together are just sweeter. We help each other - both cooking, cleaning, and gardening. We love movies, walking, all kinds of music. He is into books, photography and history. I also like to read, cook, quilt, volunteer with our church, and research low and fat low salt recipes. We live modestly and treasure our days. We schedule time together and apart. Maybe the fact we have lived happily together for so long is part of our contentment.

  8. Wow...maybe I should talk to Betty about all her projects. Based on your experience she may be tempting fate! Thank goodness you both are OK now and have what sounds like a very satisfying retirement.

    We read much too often of divorce and unhappiness. The comments left on this post so far tell a very different story...couples committed to working things out and having a tremendous time together.

    Bless you and hubby..may you have many years more of contentment and sweetness!

    1. Interesting topic this week, Bob. Thanks for another great area of retirement to consider. I have two short stories to tell that elucidate relationship dangers associated with leaving a career to retire and spend more time around the home with a nonworking spouse (with all due credit to the work that a spouse may do around the house). The first story is that immediately upon my father's retirement, my stay at home mother (children all grown and out of the house) announced that she was no longer doing the cooking and cleaning, two chores she always performed up to that time. If dad was retiring, she was retiring, too. This was a shock to him as he knew nothing about cooking and didn't have the money to eat out every day. Needless to say, retirement was not what he envisioned. The second story is my own. We had children relatively late in life and when I retired they were still at home, ranging from elementary school to high school. After 32 stressful years of early rising, traveling, and deployment in the military, I was looking to de-stress but my spouse announced on day one of my retirement that it would now be my job to get up every morning and take the kids to school. She had done it up to then and now it was "my turn". To make a long story short, I did this until all of them could drive themselves. The "honey do" list got bigger as time went on and both my children and my wife added to it until my life was barely my own. Ultimately, I went back to work doing something I enjoyed and in the process reclaimed my time a little and the children are now adults. I'm looking at retiring a second time within the next couple of years and I am wiser now about these things. As you have said in other posts, communication is very important and I am aware that I will have to negotiate my availability the next time around and perhaps even have to stand my ground a little more and not feel guilty about about taking the time I need for myself. Men particularly do not live as long as women and often they are older than their spouses, too. Actuarially, this means in a heterosexual marriage men have significantly less time left on earth than their spouses.

    2. Thank you for sharing those two stories. That is the flip side of a retirement adjustments that isn't often talked about: the basic refusal of one half of the partnership to continue under the old arrangement. That strikes me as just as unfair as the the more "normal" problem of the man retiring but not thinking about his wife's needs to have a break, too.

      Obviously, a balancing of chores and duties would end up with a much happier retirement and two happier people. Without knowing much about the whole situation, I would think what you described indicates there were deeper issues of communication that had existed for many years beforehand.

      In your case, I truly hope that your second retirement will produce better results and produce a more pleasant home environment for everyone involved.

  9. Bob, the only thing I would add as a single retiree who lived and worked at home with a husband who lived and worked at home part time is this....each person NEEDs their own space. No matter the living situation. So I ask you-is there not some alternative for you wife? Renovating the shed or creating another space?

    1. She completely agrees with you. We have carved out a small part of the master bedroom for her computer. The only other space in the house is to convert part of the family room but the light isn't good enough for painting. I've offered to share my office but we really need private space. So, these aren't good alternatives.

      We anticipate our daughter moving to her own place this fall so Betty will get her office/art space back then. If that doesn't happen, she may insist on renting a small work place somewhere nearby.

  10. Bob, my husband decided to take early retirement 3 years ago. During that time, we have been caregivers to his sick parents and our suddenly unemployed son and his family moved in with us until he could find a job. It was all hugely stressful and the time demands were nonstop. We are now empty nesters again and trying to figure out where to go from here to have an enjoyable retirement. My husband is a homebody, content with TV and books and likes for me to be here with him. But I am ready to get out of the house, try new hobbies, take short trips and just enjoy life while we're still young and healthy enough to do so. I really don't want to go through retirement living two separate lives.

    1. That's a difficult, but not uncommon scenario. Each of us must have the time (and support) from our partner to do what makes us happy. Marriage is about compromise. If we aren't interested in giving up some things to improve a relationship, then that relationship is going to be only a shadow of what it could be.

      The only answer to your dilemma is to have a frank discussion about the need for "us" time...time spent doing things together. But, here is the key and where compromise is essential: "us" time may be what you both want to do, or it might be what you want to do and hubby goes along, or the reverse.

      If you decide you'd like to spend the afternoon at a local park with him, then his compromise is to go along, with a smile on his face, happy that you care enough about him to want him in your life.

      Likewise, if he'd like to sit in the living room and read during your "us" time, then you can offer to sit nearby and read, too.

      Compromise implies that both of you may not be tickled pink with the choice the other makes for "us" time, but going along is part of the commitment to each other.

      Start slowly: pick an hour or two a week for "us" time and see how things develop. You are asking him to step out of his personal comfort zone. That is not terribly easy for a lot of us.

      Best of luck and keep me informed as to how things are going.

  11. Thanks, Bob. Retirement came suddenly due to circumstances that were suddenly thrust upon us. We were glad we could be here when needed, but retirement was always "down the road" and we thought we would have about a year before taking the plunge to plan how we would spend our retirement years. I will be checking your blog fairly often. I have also begun looking at websites for daytrips in our area. Another thing we have a mutual interest in is visiting national parks. It's a start!

    1. Yes, it is a start and sounds like a good one.

      Betty and I picked up a National Parks Passport. It is booklet that lists all the National Parks and historic sites in all 50 states. There is a section in the back to collect stamped entries that show which parks you have visited. We hope to fill the back of the book many times over with visits to as many National sites as we can.

  12. My husband will retire this coming August I still have 10 more years to go. Even though he is retiring with a good pension plan our income will go down to about half of what we make with him working. He is a professor and his full time load has him home every day between 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. We still have an 18 year old daughter that just started college (free tution for two years since he works at the college) but we will have to pay some of her next two years. I really don't see the reason in him retiring and have mentioned to him a few times but he insists that he needs it and is tired of working.

    Im going along with it because he has a right to make the decision. I hope we don't run into trouble when he finally does it and we start being a little tight with money.

    1. Speaking from experience, I can tell you there comes a point when you've just had it with work. You are mentally burned out. Continuing to work after that point does carry with health risks because of the added stress.

      Plan now for what you can spend based on the income projections. Making a plan instead of worrying is best for everyone. And, trust me, you will adjust to what you have to spend, and have a happier, healthier husband to boot.

  13. We've been retired for over twelve years. Most of this time we lived abroad as my husband wanted 'a project'. This meant uprooting us from friends and family and caused me a lot of suffering. He proceeded to busy himself to the exclusion of myself. He became more entrenched in his selfish pursuits and evolved a regular drinking with the boys pattern two or three times a week too. We recently returned to the UK and now my husband spends all his time doing odd jobs for my son in his business. He also goes out drinking with him twice a week and drinks on one or two other occasions, again 'with the boys'. I feel desperately lonely and neglected. He knows how I feel and yet pays no attention to me whatsoever. He even sleeps in another room, which he has donefor the past ten years. We're still only in our 60's and life seems to be passing me by. I feel I've lost twelve precious years of my family and grandkids growing up only to be left with this selfish and isolating man at teh time when we should be enjoying the fruits of our labours. I don't know what to do as I have few friends (they're all busy working) and feel so depressed.

    1. Based on what you have described, you need to make some serious changes. You must either stay married to him but just ignore what he does and develop your own life apart from him (which is what you are describing anyway), or divorce him to save your self identity and health.

      Your comment is filled with pain, hurt, and desperation. After 12 years, you are well past the time to save yourself.

  14. My husband and I retired suddenly a few years ahead of our plan due to a circumstance beyond our control. We are OK financially and I am ready to do some traveling but my husband is a worrier and is afraid to leave our properties and belongings here for more than a week at a time. Since we live deep in Texas a week does not give us much of range of travel. I wish I could get the travel bug to bite him, any advice?

    1. Is there something you can do to make him less worried about having a friend or relative check on the property? There are services, like property management companies or vacation house-sitting services that can keep an eye on the property, or even live in house while you are gone.

      We are about to leave for over 2 months. I had to develop a list of all the things to take care of before we leave - everything from shutting off the water and unplugging the refrigerator, to having the yard service do some extra trimming and having our mail forwarded. But, now that the list is done and I think I have covered all possibilities I have put it out of my mind and focused on the travel. We can't miss out on adventure out of fear that something will happen when we are gone. Heavens, someone could rob us while we are just out to dinner.

      Try to give your husband some things to do so he feels more in control, and then accept that life is to be lived. Honestly, if we come home and find someone had stolen our TV and computers, then we will look at it as a fresh start, and be glad we weren't here when they broke in.

  15. not yet retired but have been researching retirement heavily for at least two years - I'm ready to retire anytime, she's younger and would like to work at least 2 years more.

    Anyway I'm thinking we'll be OK - we give each other space even alone at home - she's on Facebook - I'm on other internet - so conversation is sporadic and appreciated. We aren't needy and poking each other all the time.

    Decades ago a girl invited me to visit her tiny bedsit in Paris - it would have been maybe 8' square including kitchenette - plus a shower/toilet - anyway I stayed a month and she was incredulous - she had never thought she could easily share a tiny space with another for such a long time - I let her do her own thing - quiet time - then we enjoyed time together - and it was lovely.

  16. My husband (53) is not "Retired," as he has refused to work for the last five years. For the last year, he has been at home, very much in the way, making no contribution to household maintenance or finances.

    There is now no such thing as Me Time, nor is there any hope of it.

    I'm writing thus to stress that those who are feeling imposed upon (justifiably) at least had the security and experience of a spouse who actually worked in the first place.

    I'm envious of all of you, and wish you well.