November 6, 2021

Two People At Home: Not The Simplest Arrangement

Part of the post, Passionate about the Possibilities and Honest About the Realities, dealt with adjustments to marriage after retirement. Certainly, the same problems can exist in any committed relationship, married or not. For single folks, I would suggest there are just as many pitfalls that have to be faced. Let me address some of the situations most of us will face upon leaving work. I know, because I had to deal with almost all of them.

What is one of the most important questions that cannot be answered until it happens? "How will my home life change after I retire?" 

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. If the couple is like Betty and me with both people retiring together, these potential stumbling blocks definitely appear.

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 25 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, a 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 or partner is suddenly home full-time are well documented:

  • The retiree has lost a major source of self-identity. Especially for men of my generation, 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 that other person all day, every day 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.
A quote I keep in my files for use in posts like this comes from Dr. Larry Anderson: "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's 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 workforce, 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. Some of us are generally less likely to want to "talk," but in this case, self-interest dictates that we 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. One or both partners may have health limitations that must be dealt with.

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 is 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.

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. 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.

Retirement is a major life adjustment. Take the time to think about what will happen. Then, take the steps needed to make your time with another person one of joy and contentment, not one of turf battles and resentment.

Single folks: Communication and setting boundaries apply just as much when there is one person at home. How you spend your time will be tested by requests from friends, volunteer organizations, even your own family. Be firm in how much of yourself you are willing to parcel out to others.


  1. It makes me so very sad that divorce is occurring at such a high rate over age 65. I'm sure part of that is generational but also, failure to communicate through marriage.

    We've had a division of duties on the home front for many decades. This did not change when I retired. Hubster still cleans 1 bathroom, vacuums and does the dishes that need to be handwashed. I'm fine doing everything else even though to many, it would not seem 50/50 we are equally satisfied-which is the definition of 50/50 to me.

    We had a trial for the first year of Covid. He was work-from-home. We both survived. I went about my usual day, continued to prepare dinner M-F and 2 meals on weekends. He continued to make his own breakfast/lunch. I would on occasion make his if I was hungry at the same times he likes to eat, but it was not assumed on his part.

    Indeed it was an adjustment having him home for work. We realized though, that we are ready when he decides to retire.

    Communication is key. But isn't that the key in all aspects of this gig called life?

    1. Thanks for mentioning the enforced Covid changes for many. The lockdown periods and working from home could be thought of as a trial run for full retirement. As you noted, patterns of living and interacting underwent major changes. How smoothly (or not) things went can be helpful in planning for full time together.

      Even though we have breakfast and lunch together, I have always taken care of my own meal preparation, while usually working together on dinner. That particular division of duties has worked well for us.

  2. Just picking up on two items ... you gotta develop a few of your own interests, and you gotta have a friend or two of your own. But otherwise, everyone's different. My wife gets mad at me when I do my own laundry.

    1. Too many clothes done in hot water that shrank?

      Shared interests are important, but you are correct: each of us is different enough that something you like may not engage your spouse, partner or best friend.

      Over the years I have found that each of us begins to find some enjoyment in the other person's activities or passions. Being open is probably good advice. If it happens, it happens.

    2. "The retiree has lost a major source of self-identity. Especially for men of my generation, 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."

      This was my husband multiplied by 5 times. We were retired for 11 years before he passed away and he never adjusted, which was further affected by health problems. I liked retirement but I was more social and perhaps I just didn’t get what he was going through. Yet when someone becomes critical and controlling and you begin to lose your self esteem, it is just no good. Now I’ve been single for 8 years and while I get lonely at times and wish I had had a better final years to my marriage, I would now not give up my freedom and re establishment of my self esteem.

    3. Your story is sad, tragic, and too common. My guess is that younger generations of men will have an easier time adjusting. Multiple employers and a better sense of life-work balance will help. Covid also taught everyone some lessons about what is really important in our lives.

      I am happy you have rebounded and are now in a good place.

  3. Thank you for such a thoughtful post on the reality of post-retirement relationship/marriage. When my teacher colleagues found out my husband (Community College Dean) was retiring, they were surprised to find out that I was not retiring. My response was, "My husband is used to a staff of 200-250. If I retire the same time as him, I will become his staff of 200-250." 😉. By the time, I retired 1-1/2 yrs later, he had his golf friends, his fishing buddies, etc.
    Ours has been a challenging marriage in the 43 years that we have together. We have been retired for 11-12 years. Our roles have changed to more of a care-giving/care receiving relationship as my husband's health has declined. This has been a very difficult period for him, myself, and our relationship. I am thankful for our family, our church family, and a faith that tries to follow God's purpose in this path we are walking.
    I am taking special note of Mary's comment above…about the final years of her marriage. Her comment (and your post) spurs me on to really engage in these final years, while also making sure I take some self-care time. Actually, I am too good at that!
    So much food for thought for my heart and soul. Thanks for your transparency and your community of readers.

    1. You can't imagine how good it is to know that these pages have helped you in this trying season of your life. Balancing a promise of caring for another while protecting yourself is hard work. Self-care is absolutely necessary if you are to care for another.

    2. In retrospect, I wish I'd have done retirement with my husband this way, Charlene. I was slightly older than him, though, and hadn't really wanted to work at all (despite working outside our home for 30 years), so I was determined I was going to retire first! lol If I'd kept working a little longer perhaps he'd have figured out ways to occupy himself without me...

      If you know anything about the five love languages, he's very strongly a Quality Time person, which means he wants to be with me 24/7/365. As an introvert whose love language isn't Quality Time, this is very, VERY hard for me. I never get enough alone time to recharge. Ours has been a challenging marriage (46 years) also.

      Since retirement three years ago I feel as if I'm continually being drained (especially because my 92-year-old mother lives with us half the year and also requires my time). I've tried to discuss this with him, but seeing that he's on the autism spectrum, he just doesn't get it and I can't seem to get through to him. He's focused on routines and if I don't go along with them he's gets even more anxious than usual. Because of the autism his needs take precedence, which (unfortunately) seems to be a necessary part of an at-least-mostly happy marriage, i.e. when you have strong differing opinions, one person has to acquiesce to keep the marriage from breaking apart. Actually, we limp along okay most of the time, I just have moments of resentment here and there. ;)

    3. I hope this open, frank sharing of of some of the real hurdles involved in a longterm relationship and retirement gives others a feeling of a shared experience.

      It is too easy to believe someone's problems and feelings are unique. Mary, Charlene, and Sus are three real life stories that should give anyone else living with with similar feelings an understanding of the struggles so many feel.

      To the three of you, you are doing a tremendous service to us all by allowing your stories to be told.


    4. Sus…you are generously candid about your situation. I must share that I’m learning to be more nurturing as the consequences of my choices not to be, don’t always yield a long term positive gain. When my husband is at his maximum health for his condition, we are in a good place. I’ve come to see his health as a team effort where sacrifices and strengths benefit the both of us. Like any relationship, the scales are not always balanced, fair, or even nice! Yet, our two sons see that I am caring for their dad. I believe they see and appreciate the sacrifices on both our parts. They, their wives, and the grandkids help out by staying in contact. Our marriage is always refreshed after these family times. All in all, I am thankful for God's grace and work on my heart. I apologize for getting "all religious" in my comment but it is the foundation that keeps me focused as imperfect as my status might be.
      Thanks for your honesty about your situation. I bet that we are not alone in our shared marriage challenges as retirees. As Bob says, let’s hope our transparency can help others.

  4. Bob,I am just like you working hard but not paying much attention to my wife and kids.We retired about 10 years ago and suddenly I saw what I didn’t do all those past years!I cannot change the past but I try to do as much as possible to please my partner.As a matter of fact I do the dishes laundry and everything she ask me to do.I am still working on a few shortcomings as cooking but I do want to practice that but I think she is scared to teach me.I might change the menu.Thanks for dreaming up very good posts!

    1. You and I came from the same school: work hard and provide financially for your family. Yes, that is important but only part of the commitment we made to another person.

      Retirement gives us a second chance to balance the scales. We can't change the past but can certainly make the future better for our partner, and ourselves.

      Thanks Harry.

  5. We never had a post retirement crisis and retirement has in fact drawn us closer together as a couple. We retired at just about the same time though I retired first, about 6-7 weeks before my wife retired, and we've never looked back. Maybe it's unusual as I was certainly the classic full devotion to the job type of guy but then again I also spent the 5 years before retirement discussing with my wife how we thought we'd like our retirement to be. I did a lot of research on the financial and more importantly the non-financial aspects of retirement. This was in fact how I came across this blog. From my perspective Bob, you have one of the best retirement blogs out there.

    Perhaps we are just lucky but our pre-retirement division of work has pretty much carried on into retirement (coming up on 7 years retired now). Basically my wife looks after all the inside stuff that makes life worth living--meals, cleaning, laundry etc. I handle the finances, bill paying, and outside stuff save for tending her garden which is her hobby and brings her great joy, though it looks like work to me, but here's no denying ours is a "traditional" division of labour.

    Actually I do the spring time heavy lifting in the garden but I'm just manual labour, she's the boss. Early on she had all this on-going garden work for me to do in retirement at her direction but after a couple of months I reminded her that gardening was her hobby not mine and for several years after that I hired a gardener to work alongside her once a month so they could be the manual labour instead of me. A couple of years ago I was able to get her to consider a lower maintenance garden which eventually she did and that has worked out well enough she no longer needs the gardener to help. Still, I do mow the lawns, trim the hedges, clear the gutters, cart the mulch around for her plus keep the patio clear and clean of whatever debris falls from the trees or blows in from points unknown.

    When I retired I did offer to take on more of my wife's household tasks but in all honesty she couldn't adapt to me taking over "her work" and she is a pretty much a perfectionist on seeing it done just so. Basically I couldn't do it as well as her (in her eyes at least) and she'd end up watching me like a hawk as I went around doing the work that she often would later redo. For us it was best to just let her get on with it. I think in any marriage every couple negotiates their own deal and there's no right or wrong way as long as there's agreement and not an imposition of tasks.

    I don't know if this tale of relative success is helpful to your readers but that's how it's worked out for us.

    1. It is very helpful. All examples of how different couples handle the transition to and through retirement can be cautionary tales or encouragement, or even something new to try. All of us are in a constant state of learning what will work.

      And, I can't let your very nice compliment go without a sincere thank you.

  6. My single, living-alone social life revolves around friendships. When I retired seven years ago and moved back to live in Maine full-time, I had this idea that I would be spending much more time with my Maine friends. What I didn't take into account was that, while I had been living mostly in Pennsylvania for 25 years, they hadn't all been sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for me to get back to Maine; they had been living very full lives. My unrealistic expectations were followed by a rude awakening and a need to rethink my assumptions.

    1. Fascinsting observsation, Jean. I have had comments along those lines before but from couples who find moving back to their former home area leave them disappointed with how much has changed about the area.

      In your situation, you have the task of reinserting yourself into a almost closed world...not the easiest task at our age.

  7. Retirement proved difficult at first for my husband because it wasn't voluntary. He was general council for the American branch of a multinational company that was sold to another company with their own legal team in place. They didn't want to fulfill some contract requirements, so didn't fire him but rather tried to squeeze him out . . . not moving him when they moved corporate headquarters, for example, and leaving him sitting in a lone office in an operations building. He felt he had to stay on because we were, at the time, supporting a daughter who was a single mom and had just gotten devastating news about her infant. She needed to be available for multiple therapies every day in what she was told would be a very short life for her infant. (That infant is now a high school senior, doing well if dealing with some health complications.) Those last two years before the company decided to fulfill the terms of his contract devastated him and undermined his feelings about his competence. We'd long had a "when we retire" town in mind, and we moved here right away. Gradually, through a newcomer's group I insisted we attend, he found good friends who shared his interests in target shooting with bows, flying RC planes, etc.

    In retrospect, we should have waited to move. The town is as beautiful as we had known it would be, the traffic light, and the downtown shops on Main Street as quaint, but we didn't know that the community was one that would fight tooth and nail to keep a junior college from starting here, that community members would voice outrage and rebellion at having to pay school taxes when they didn't have children in school, or that a new, good friend of ours would get together a group of people to shout down our congressman trying to explain the new health care provisions back a decade ago.

    Sharing household time together has mostly been easy to do, although not always. I have always worked from home and kept working for a few years after he retired. We each have separate interests and are both introverts, me more than him, so we each have interests that absorb us, even during the pandemic. Early in our marriage, I had put him through law school, so we've always shared housework, and the sharing just happens organically. My biggest beef? Although I love cooking, even though I'm not a particularly accomplished cook, I've somehow become his sous chef! LOL. I better than to take the spatula or spoon from him, though, and to be grateful. Thank goodness, he feels himself incompetent in baking, so he does the sous chef thing when there's baking to be done.

    I like to talk things out. He doesn't, and that sometimes causes him frustration and me some truly sad moments. Yet, he matter of factly took care of me when an auto-immune disease hit and when another and a third did and then when I needed two brain surgeries. Now, as he's going through issues related to his diabetes and a back injury, I'm returning the favor and trying to portray the "of course we do these things for each other" non-guilt-making attitude he always adopted. Our daughters want us to move closer to one of them, but one of them is making plans to move out of the country and the other lives in an area we can't afford and is only an hour away now. We live in a small subdivision of about 55 homes, we know each others' names, we talk as we take walks in the open air, and our community page is peppered with comments from younger people about things they're willing to do for the "elderly" in our subdivision, especially during the pandemic. And they mean it. Two men went into our attic during the Texas freeze in February and assessed whether we could turn our water back on after a leak.

    1. The treatment of your husband by his employer was dreadful. That type of behavior is one of the reasons younger generations of workers don't form strong bonds with the companies they work for. They know that loyalty is usually a one way street.

      Your point about knowing more about a community before moving there is a good one. Trying to get a sense for the people and the political climate has become very important, something that wasn't as much a consideration even a decade or two ago.

    2. I always worry when people are asked to "move closer" by their adult children. Too many have done so and the children leave and they are left high and dry without the exact/only reason they moved. I also hear way too many stories of being new built-in childcare and I think that is wrong and an unfair expectation. Very different from "hey, I'd love to have the grands for the weekend, will that work for ya'll?"

      As my Mom was aging her only request of me was "please don't move me to B (my town)". If I need help I want to live in X assisted living complex". You and J and busy with your own families and lives." Dad preceded her in death by 14 years and all but the final 2 months were good years for her health wise and her friendships.

  8. We had a rough summer. Both of us had planned surgeries (him a laminectomy for six pinched nerves in his back, and me for replacement of a painful hip). We live in 800 square feet without a separate space for each of us. Neither of us was up to our usual pace, and I found myself being impatient more than I can ever recall (he's often impatient, so no change there). Now we're in Tucson for the winter, in another small place but with separate space, and both of us are recovering from our surgeries. I have many friends in our Tucson requirement community, not so many in Washington State.

    1. I am quite sure that if Betty and I didn't have some separate spaces we would become more irritated and frustrated with each other, too. One of the concerns we both have about moving to a retirement community will be when we have to go into an assisted living apartment...with much less than 800 square feet.

      You are lucky that you have a good friend network in Tucson. That can make all the difference. My best wishes to you and hubbu for continued recovery.