August 30, 2017

Maintaining Your Balance In a Retirement Relationship


 A reader posed an interesting, and important question to me a few weeks ago. She is wondering about retired couples whose desires aren't always in alignment. What can be done if one half of a couple wants to go in one direction, while the other person doesn't.

She cited travel as a good example of this type of conflict. One person really has his or her heart set on seeing the world, or at least someplace farther away than the local shopping mall. The other is a homebody and resists travel requests. Why? Health issues, financial worries, fear of uncertainty,....there are all sorts of reasons why travel is a turnoff for someone. 

This type of disagreement is important to resolve. Travel may be one obvious point of contention, but  probably not the only one. In a post a few weeks ago, I wrote that loosening the purse strings is difficult for many of us. Downsizing or moving to someplace with a different climate, eliminating or adding possessions,  redoing the budget, cutting back to one car (or maybe none in an urban setting), even interactions with other family members, are other possibilities for differences of opinion.

Virtually any aspect of a human relationship can become magnified during retirement. Being together full time and maintaining a healthy, supportive relationship takes some compromise. It requires each person to be able to listen to another's concerns without becoming judgemental.

So, what to do? How does a couple maintain a balance between different wants and points of view? It certainly isn't healthy for one person to always dictate what is done. Maybe I can present a few possibilities for you to consider.

Each of us must accept the legitimacy of the other person's point of view. While we may disagree, it doesn't help to dismiss something as silly or wrong. By definition, an opinion does not have to be based on facts. But, that doesn't mean it isn't very real to someone.

I can't stress enough the importance of compromise from both members of the relationship. If you don't accept the other person's view of things, you will have to develop the ability to find a way to blend their approach and yours. It isn't likely to be a 50-50 split; sometimes you will get more of your way and sometimes you won't. If you can't accept this, the long term health of the relationship is in doubt.  

Understand that we don't lose our individuality when we form a bond with another. Even as part of a couple, there are times we need to do what is important to each of us. That doesn't diminish the power of two, it accepts the fact that there are two separate human being involved. That means each of you need "me" time to be happy when together. 

I know couples who require individual time apart, either for a few hours, or even longer. Several years ago when my travel schedule was hectic and home life was a bit tense, Betty suggested I take a two week vacation, alone, to my favorite place in the world, Maui.  After I got over the amazement of the generosity of the offer and her ability to know what we both needed at that time, I spent a glorious 14 days, alone, decompressing, shedding most of my tensions and concerns. I returned grateful, in much better condition to carry on with life, and with a scuba diving certificate!

A comment already added to this post reminded me that Betty also took a 2 week "sabbatical." After I returned from Maui, she headed off to Wisconsin for a 14 day drive around the state, doing what she loves best: staying in B&Bs and taking lots of movies and photos.

If I leave you with just one thought it is that a couple committed to each other will resolve these differences. Accept that both of you are equals, each view has validity, and there is a way to blend all ideas into a workable plan. Also, feel free to think outside the box. A two week trip, alone, to Maui or Wisconsin, certainly broke most "rules," but was exactly what was needed at that time.


19 comments:

  1. At retirement I can say that we had some trepidation on how we'd do with all the extra time spent with each other. We retired within 2 months of each other so it was the "big bang" approach but it has worked out surprisingly well.

    We didn't move to another town, both our daughters and grandchildren live close by in the same town. We didn't downsize as we had never upsized in the first place and still live in the same 1200 sq ft house we raised our daughters in. After a year or so we did get rid of one car, with no work commute to we are driving a fraction of what we used to so we gave the older car to our married daughter when their 2nd car died. Up front change when we retired has been minimal and we are now closer than we've ever been, a real bonus of retirement.

    About the only thing that has changed is that we are travelling more. My wife is a bit of a homebody, I often say to my wife that if it weren't for me she'd never go anywhere (she agrees). I saw the early retirement years as a chance to see things and do all that travel that work commitments never allowed us to do before.

    My wife is always anxious as we are preparing to leave and there always seems to her to be some reason we shouldn't go but once we actually are on the trip she really enjoys herself. We've sort of accepted that this is just how it is, I still plan the trips and she will be anxious but then has a great time. We are off to Portugal next week so another new experience for us.

    Perhaps that is part of the reasons for our success, a mix of the familiar with the new. My wife defaults to the familiar, and mostly that's we do, but I like to try new things from time to time and encourage (but never pressure) my wife to join in. Just like me, sometimes she takes to it and sometimes not, but it always adds to our retirement experience. Maybe I was just lucky when we met almost 40 years ago.

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    1. Your relationship sounds not that dissimilar from ours in that I am the partner that is always looking for new things to do, new restaurants to try, new sights to see. Betty likes my choices (most of the time!) but prefers to let me be the explorer.

      Both of us tend toward being homebodies, which is why buying an RV 5 years ago was such a big step for us. It was the perfect way to put us in different environments and force us to be together in a small space for weeks at a time. The decision to sell it last spring was a joint one; the prep time before and after each trip as well as the age of the RV and potential expensive repairs brought that chapter to a close.

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  2. Great post.. have been through all this! Have had to regroup more than a few times during our long marriage,it's just what you have to do! Retirement is another cycle of life which brings so much change, that a complacent, or orderly life where most of the decisions have been made already, is upended!! Old routines are blown away and so many new ones are possible! Takes a lot of thought and kindess! And, ability to experiment a bit and change course. Ken and I have always done some vacations together and some on our own. I'll be at a yearly lady's retreat soon for 10 days..I know Ken loves the alone time to putter as he pleases and even experiment in the kitchen a little.And he and Andrew are planning dive trip for 2018.Right now Ken is camping at Woods Canyon and called and says its so beautiful he needs another night there!! I'm good with that.. we know that when one part of the couple if refreshed,BOTH sides benefit!! Betty is one smart lady!!!!!

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    1. Separate vacations or experiences apart can be quite important in relationship-building. That seems somewhat counterintuitive, but it works. It is crucial we don't lose our individuality when we become a couple, and that requires occasional steps away from each other.

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  3. Love the Betty/Maui story. I just think she should have gotten her own two weeks in Hawaii when you got back. :D

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    1. She decided she wanted to spend two weeks in Wisconsin. She flew to Milwaukee, rented a car, and made her way round every part of the state, filming as she went for 14 days before flying home. She had as good a time as I did.

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  4. Time apart is very important I think. Although my husband is not retired yet, I can see that we have different approaches to time off. I like to be home in my studio. I have always maintained a studio practice for my art and must continue that. My husband likes to shop. Believe it or not. He is always running off to the latest sale. He also likes to look at art which I do too. So when he shops I stay home. if he wants to go look at art, I will go with him. I realize that when he finally retires he will need to find other things that don't cost so much money. Shopping all the time would be bad. LOL

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    1. Shopping all the time will quickly fill your home with stuff and probably punch some serious holes in your budget, too!

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  5. We have occasionally taken separate trips. Often it was work related but, not always. I think it can be refreshing to take a breather, especially when you are together 24/7 in retirement. Absence can make the heart grow fonder.
    b

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    1. If approached with cooperation and support, I fully agree.

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  6. Hi Bob! Another provocative post. My husband and I have worked together for most of our 40 years together so we just see any retirement time as more time we get to do what we want rather than putting in hours at work. We do consider each other best friends and companions so this won't be an issue for us. We have taken just a few weekends away with "the girls" or "the boys" which were fun, but when you're married to your best friend it seldom gets better than that. HOWEVER, I also know many married couples who aren't on the same page about travel or having fun and they seem to find a way to make it work. I think what this points out is that they have become accustomed to living together with many separate needs and desires that never become so apparent until they retire. And as you suggest, at that point learning to compromise and consider each other's needs for travel and fun (and just about everything!) becomes paramount. ~Kathy

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    1. Since those separate vacation many years ago we have not felt the need, or interest, in repeating those experiences.

      Being able to discuss what makes each half of the couple happy and satisfied is really the key. As you note, sometimes those differences don't arise until after being together full time.

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  7. Interesting thought provoking comments! My husband and I have been together for over 40 years. We have very few friends, quality over quantity. We were both at very different jobs for over 40 years (mine was administrative with a hospital/university, his as a machine operator with a building company). I retired over a year ago. Too much stress. He still loves his job and hopes to work there until 65. We are mostly homebodies but have traveled to a few places together over the past few decades. Just us. I plan and arrange the trips and he sits back and shares the experiences. We have always loved camping and recently bought a fully equipped hybrid camper to visit many of the parks and campgrounds we haven't been to for many years while we were raising our two sons. We've been grandparents for almost two years and I look after the little guy a couple of times a week. In the winter my husband and sons and friends often go snowmobiling for a whole weekend. I used to but now I stoke the woodstove, grab a good book or three and lots of hot chocolate and enjoy being coqy and warm at home. We are together a lot but are apart enough to be able to discuss what our day has been like, what our separate activities entailed. Early on we decided indoor chores would be mine and outdoor would be his. We enjoy our time together, relish it really as our parents and some siblings have not been fortunate enough to get to our age to enjoy being a couple. Our relationship has changed over the years and we enjoy each other's company even more now. We realize there just may not be decades ahead of us to be together.

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    1. THis is an important phrase from your comment: "We are together a lot but are apart enough..." That seems a good summary of what a solid relationship needs: me time and our time. The trick that some couples don't figure out is how to balance the two.

      I like your comment. It shows someone who is satisfied in her own skin and understands what makes a longlasting relationship work.

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  8. Great topic! We are in a second marriage for both of us and have been together for 20 years now. I was single for 12 years before that, and my biggest fear in remarrying was not having any alone time. DH was used to being hassled for his hobby (sailing) and couldn't believe I was OK with him going to the boat for the weekend without me (and taking the dog). I was still working and really need decompression time on weekends. Win/win!

    Over time, we have both realized we do better with alone time. He sold his boat, but has now gotten back into gold with a passion...alone, in a league, with friends, etc. And he has been gracious about my wandering off to weekend women's retreats, visits up north to family alone when he doesn't want to go, etc. We do travel well together and alone...neither of us are tour or cruise people, so over time we have come to appreciate more and more that we just like hanging out together. We're off to Italy this fall, which was my idea and he had to come around to it. Honestly, he flew a LOT while working and really hates what it's become. We all do, right? But I can't see any other way to travel internationally except by slow boat. ha! Anyway, he finally agreed to go (after several friends raved about Italy) and now he's as excited over the preparations as I am. That said, I'm the one who wants to go and I think he'd be as happy staying home, although he does have a good time once we go. I still have a fairly significant travel bucket list, and he usually agrees to go, so I have no complaints. :-)
    --Hope

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    1. Oops...he's gotten back into GOLF. Not gold...I wish. haha
      --Hope

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    2. I don't know...getting into gold sounds interesting!

      Your husband and I should share notes. I flew all the time in my career and am now sick of it. Flying is now a chore, not a pleasure. But, to get to Europe or Hawaii in a timely manner, that's what we are left with. Like him, I don't look forward to long flights but once I commit I get with the program. It is important to Betty and I figure once I get there I will be just fine.

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  9. As I have just retired whereas my husband has been retired for eleven years, we'll have to see how we do with this. He is used to me being away from the house most of the day, and he enjoys his quiet solitude. I am more of a busy bee, wanting to always be active and trying new things. We both enjoy doing long road trips and are very compatible companions. I want to do some long distance travel, but he is not very enthusiastic about it. However, once he got over his anxiety about travelling, he has loved the few long distance trips we have done. We will figure it out, bit by bit, as long as we are respectful and empathetic of each other's needs and dreams.

    Jude

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    1. YOur last sentence is the key to the entire process: respect and empathy for each other's feelings. With those in place, you will be just fine.

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