March 30, 2015

Adjusting To Time Together After Retirement

First posted three years ago, this continues to be an vital part of a satisfying retirement and is worth a re-post.

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? 


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 own 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.

A partnership only works if there is a sense of sharing, the good and the bad. That sharing becomes even more important after retirement. Take the time and make the effort. 

16 comments:

  1. Point well taken. But in my case I got divorced when I was 53 and still working. I wonder if the marriage might have lasted were it not for the demands, the stress, the anxieties that were accumulating on my job. Guess I'll never know the answer; but I am sure of one thing -- now that I'm retired, I'm a happier person who's a lot easier to get along with.

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    1. My wife and I are about to celebrate our 39th anniversary. We joke that we have only been together for half of that since I was on the road for most of my career. But, seriously, we had to develop a way to make things work well when I retired and we were together full time. There were (and continue to be) many adjustments and compromises. It was almost like being newly married again.

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  2. Some great points here! Since I've worked at home for years it has been an adjustment having the whirling dervish around full time. But, we're doing just fine.
    b

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    1. Moving gives him something to occupy his time! Glad to hear you and Dave are doing fine.

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  3. Hi Bob,
    Great article. I would like to add two additional points that my husband and I discovered when he retired. Before he retired, we shared office space. I still work from home, and couldn't stand it when he was in the 'office' during the day. When we moved from LA to Prescott, we made sure we both had separate space. My office is currently in the traditional dining room area. The other point is everyone needs their space that is theirs alone. In our friends home, he had a private office in one of the bedrooms and she complained that it wasn't decorated to her taste, not clean, etc. Men often don't feel comfortable in their own home. As you stressed, communicating about these issues is key.
    One final thought is retirement will not heal a broken marriage without effort. Retirement forces a couple to look at their relationship. Retirement puts more stress on a relationship that many couples don't know how to heal.

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    1. All excellent points, Cathy. In our present and new home Betty and I have our own offices. We have found those private spaces are important.

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  4. The "alone and together time" is a good point. After five years of retirement, I have just learned that my husband needs two or three hours of silence in the morning while he reads the paper, works the puzzles, etc. I am FINALLY being silent and it helps. He needs a lot more alone time than I do.

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    1. Betty and I need alone time each day to pursue our own interests, too. I am probably closer to Art in that I do just fine with lots of silence.

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  5. I have seen it both ways. My parents got on each other's nerves when my father had a stroke and had to retire. The problem was that he was a Captain in the Merchant Marines and was used to giving orders. My mother was used to being a seaman's wife and handling things on her own when he was gone for months at a time.
    OTOH, Joe and I seem to get along just fine. We share some things and other things we go our own way.

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    1. My parents did just fine together after dad's retirement. 63 years of marriage never seemed to get old for them. Betty and I try to follow their example and are probably much like you and Joe: sharing and separate as needed. It works.

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  6. Ken and I worked together so being retired together and spending a lot of time together is not that big an adjustment.. it's way better to cook together, read together, play some tennis and have free time to go out with the kayak vs. dealing with WORK problems together!!!! We both enjoy lots of quiet and personal time, too.so we leave each other that personal space too. We gave up "home offices!!" We have a small desk in the room I use for a craft/art room. Ken usually goes in there to do paper work, a couple of times a week, and somehow we are never needing to use the room at the same time... I love having him around more without it being "work!!"

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    1. Things sound very pleasant after a year of retirement. Good for you. Working out that transition is the key to a satisfying retirement.

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  7. Bob,

    Thanks for this timely article. As my wife and I read it together it was as if someone knew what just happened in our household. I am 66 and my wife will be 65 in two weeks. She retired at 62. I had planned to work until 68, in the aerospace industry. To make a long story short, my company lost the bid for a new contract to a company that promptly laid off 40% of the workforce. So, Friday April 3rd was my last day. Not likely to get called back, especially at my age, so I am now retired. No financial or medical issues, just dealing with the fact I didn't quit working at a time of my choosing. The suggestions in the article will go a long way in answering several questions that will surely come up. Luckily we are both distance runners, something have in common and love. I am running in the Boston Marathon on the 20th. Neither of us have ever been to Boston before, so this will be a good vacation and a time to talk about our "new life" together on the long plane ride from Los Angeles and I am sure many of the items in the article will be discussed..
    Than you so much for all you do on this blog, very relevant subjects.

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    1. Like you, Bill, I "retired" much earlier than I planned (age 52). My company had been in decline due to massive changes in my industry. It finally got to the point where my wife and I decided it was time to be happy for all the good years it gave us, and move on.

      There were struggles and a boatload of anxiety for at least the first 18-24 months, but it has been the most satisfying 14 years of my life. And, after a career of being on the road for 150 days a year, being together full time has been a joy.

      Run together at the marathon and settle in for a joyous journey together.

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  8. I commend to your readers the book by Dr. Sara Yogev, "A Couple's Guide to Happy Retirement: For Better or for Worse . . . But Not for Lunch"
    Since the first edition was published over 10 years ago there has been a flood of books addressing the non-financial aspects of retirement, but this one stands out for its sensitive approach to dealing with the special relationship issues that the transition presents for married couples. As in many cases, communication is the key to avoiding and resolving issues, but structuring that communication requires first being aware of the issue and then having tools to make your way through the various elements that affect it. It is in this area that the book really shines. The exercises in each chapter, done thoughtfully by the partners, will be invaluable in creating awareness and bringing clarity to an honest discussion of potential stumbling blocks and also identifying areas of great growth potential."
    I had the privilege of using the first edition of this book as the basis for several workshops offered through our local lifelong learning institute in Colorado Springs (PILLAR). The format was a peer-oriented discussion of the topics in the book, organized into several sessions. Participants worked the exercises with their partners and then discussed any significant areas that they wished to highlight for the group. Everyone found this to be of great help as they sort through the complex transition into the "Third Age" as a couple.

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    1. I will certainly check out that book, James. Relationship problems and adjustments are as crucial as any other part of retirement preparation and adjustment. I am afraid too many folks think if their finances are set then everything else will fall into place. More likely, other things will fall apart without proper attention..

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