As wonderous as retired life can be, it also introduces changes which can strain even the happiest of relationships. Improving your marriage in retirement could prove to be a challenge.
During their working years, most couples managed a comfortable routine full of daily responsibilities. For the most part, everything was smooth and predictable.
The days and years flew by and, in many respects, their relationship was on cruise control. Going to work, taking the kids to their activities or running the normal errands.
No marriage is perfect. You’re, either, going to grow together or move further apart. Now’s the time to roll up your sleeves and get to work making it the best it can be. The better your marriage, the happier you’ll be in this next stage of life.
What Changes in Retirement?
After years of scrimping and saving, it’s like finally crossing the finish line. Something to be celebrated and a brand-new beginning.
All those pressures and stresses dissipate and the future looks bright. And that, unfortunately, is when the problems begin.
Retirement can be the most challenging period of any marriage. You and your spouse will need to discuss and find ways to come up with compromises as required.
Let’s be completely honest, the choices made (or not made) will impact your marriage and future happiness.
The complete guide to improving your marriage in retirement identifies the common stumbling blocks with thoughts on how to transform your relationship.
1. Open and Honest Communications with Your Spouse
Effective communication skills are the bedrock of every healthy relationship. Usually, it’s all the previous interactions over the years which can undermine open and honest communications.
This in turn, can lead to misunderstandings and resentment. When your partner isn’t open to discussing things, it’s going to be an uphill battle addressing any concerns.
In addition, three factors can further contribute to a reluctance to discuss anything:
None of this bodes well to make these the best years in life. Improving your marriage in retirement requires effective communication skills.
The Art of Listening
There’s an old saying, “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak” (Epictetus, Greek philosopher). Isn’t it funny how we go against this statement on a daily basis?
While we all like to believe we’re good listeners, most of us have a long way to go. We tend to jump to conclusions and have often formatted a response before someone even finishes speaking.
Even worse is when we proceed to interrupt them and share our opinion on the matter. Not only is this disrespectful, it also shows you aren’t paying attention.
Effective listening is more than hearing what’s said, it’s also understanding the intent behind the words. Very few us listen with our full attention when someone is speaking.
You hear an overview while you’re preparing a response to the clues they pick up. Confusion or anger could set in if your answer totally missed the gist of what they were talking about.
It’s very important to set time aside to have a deep, heartfelt conversation about whatever’s bothering you. Try to make sure there are no distractions (like a phone or other electronics) so both of you can focus your full attention on what’s being said.
And asking clarifying questions as appropriate. You want to ensure you’re really understanding the issue. This helps create an atmosphere of trust and respect.
Not only will your partner feel valued at being heard, there’s a better chance they’ll open up about what’s really bothering them. They may feel vulnerable, which is why it’s so critical to listen without judgement.
What You Say and How You Say It Matters
Just as important as listening, is what and how you respond. Words like “You never” or “You always” imply blame and a sure-fire way to put them on the defensive.
Also, your tone and body language often speak louder than the actual words uttered. It’s helpful to begin the conversation with “I” and clearly state your concern. For example, “I feel hurt when you...”.
The main thing is to be supportive and encouraging of each other. By doing this, an atmosphere of sharing and caring is created. It removes any hesitation about expressing their true thoughts and feelings.
Be open, honest and vulnerable. The truth is way easier to keep track of and you’ll be clearing some issues out that may have festered way too long.
Dealing with a small problem before it becomes huge will go a long way to strengthening your relationship.
2. Fight Fair
There’s a lot of wisdom in the expression “fight fair”. It’s just a plain fact, you’re not going to agree on everything. And, really, healthy conflict is perfectly normal and helps both of you understand each others perspective.
However, if it deteriorates into a shouting match, this becomes non-productive. When the disagreements happen, always fight fair. Don’t cheapen it with low blows or veiled threats.
This leads your partner to believe you’re trying to manipulate or shame them into capitulating. In the long run, it’s not going to go well adding unnecessary stress, drama and strain on your relationship.
Take ownership for your own behaviors and apologize when you mess up. No one’s perfect and we all make mistakes. What’s most important is addressing the matter and moving forward.
Unresolved issues are like a cancer lying dormant under the surface. Any perceived slight can erupt into a full-blown fight. This leads to hurt feelings, mistrust and growing apart.
3. Show Kindness and Respect
Traditional wedding vows state “Until death do us part”. When you think about it, this sounds more like a prison sentence! After so many years together, many couples have become complacent.
In other words, they’ve become so comfortable they take each other for granted. The very basic human need for respect and kindness have fallen by the wayside. In some relationships, the dog gets more attention than the spouse.
One of the best ways of improving your marriage in retirement is to be a little kinder and treat your partner with the respect they deserve. They should be the most important person in your life.
You’d be amazed how much mileage you can get out of saying “please” and “thank you”. Or telling them you love them. In fact, showing appreciation is one of the easiest ways of showing how much you care.
There are many ways of showing appreciation and it doesn’t need to be big grandiose gestures. Often, it’s the little and unexpected things which matter the most.
For instance, every now and then, hubby whips up Sunday brunch or picks up Popeye’s chicken (my favorite). His thoughtfulness makes me feel special.
For my part, I’ve never seen a man who so loves his chocolate brownies! I get as much pleasure seeing his face light up.
4. Align Retirement Expectations
One of the major stumbling blocks is misaligned retirement expectations. Everyone focused on the financial preparations and neglected to share their individual hopes and dreams for retired life.
As we discuss in What Are Your Retirement Expectations, he and she may have very different views on what it'll look like. Often, our perceptions are influenced by the media and life experience such as our parents or other role models.
For instance, his parents may have had a miserable retirement. He has no intention of following in their footsteps and expects to work right to the bitter end.
On the other hand, she wants to retire early, spend more time with friends / family and travel the world.
Most couples have a basic idea of what they want and seldom are at such opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet, without working through the specifics, they’ll mostly be figuring things out as they go.
Compromise and Creating a Plan
Almost by default, we assume with enough money, everything will be wonderful. The truth is “money doesn’t buy happiness”. If you and your spouse aren’t aligned, the next 20 to 30 years may not be so rosy.
There’s going to be areas where you’ll need to just agree to disagree. However, you have to be on the same page for the big things such as where you’ll live. On less important decisions, every couple will need to negotiate and find some compromise.
Our article, How to Write a Retirement Plan, breaks down the many aspects of creating a plan to meet both of your expectations. Some areas to discuss include:
Ideally, you created a plan 3 to 5 years prior to when you think you’ll retire. Nothing is written in stone as things can change. However, aligning expectations and having a plan in place will make everything smoother.
5. What Do Retired Couples Do All Day?
In retirement, most couples spend way more time together than ever before. Yet, one of the most common complaints is every day starts to feel the same. Being together all the time grows old fast and the relationship stagnates.
It’s important to have some common interests and share quality time. By livening things up, you’ll both have fun and the relationship will prosper.
Examples could include fitness activities such as walking or swimming, dining with other couples, dance lessons or attending cultural events.
Regardless, it should be something you both enjoy. Our article, 33 Ways to Rekindle Your Marriage, provides more ideas.
Equally important is developing separate interests to pursue individual passions. This could be getting together with friends or an activity you look forward to. An added bonus is being able to share your experiences at the end of the day.
Pursuing Separate Interests
Standard retirement advice is finding a hobby or interest which is usually easier said than done. What they fail to mention is the social aspect or group interaction is often what makes it feel worthwhile.
In addition, this process tends to be one of trial and error. For instance, an interest in learning to paint doesn’t necessarily translate to becoming a passion. This is when it's time to move on and try something new.
Finally, we all need variety and more than just one thing to do. Our article, The Ultimate Guide on Things to Do When Retired and Bored, expands upon four areas to consider:
Thus, quality time together plus meaningful separate interests combine to strengthen relationships.
6. Equal Division of Household Chores
In our modern enlightened age, one would expect to find an equal division of household chores. This isn’t always the case as many men still perceive the kitchen and household duties to be the wife’s domain.
Almost by default, the meal preparation, cleaning and other household duties fall upon her shoulders. Although some husbands help out more, in general, she’s tasked with everything within the house.
From the male perspective, they typically take care of the outside things such as mowing the lawn, snow removal or taking out the garbage. Thus, feel they’re contributing and, in their defense, doing what they’ve always done.
When this situation isn’t addressed, it can lead to growing frustration and resentments.
Embracing Changing Roles
There can be a genuine lack of awareness of all the things that need to be done. Even worse is when he gets so involved in a new-found interest / hobby and any thoughts of helping out disappear.
Dealing with this situation requires tact, reminding him of all the tasks which require doing. Make and share a list and encourage him to identify which tasks he's willing to help out with.
One example might be taking turns cooking meals. If nothing else, this'll add some spice to meal time. Crack open a bottle of wine and celebrate your new culinary experiences.
Most of all, be supportive and acknowledge his contributions.
7. Intimacy in Retirement
Most of us grew up in an era where the “birds and bees” were taboo topics. Certainly, my parents weren’t comfortable discussing it. In fact, they left a book out for me to learn on my own.
Thinking back, it raised more questions than answers. Of course, my classmates filled in the blanks with whatever they knew. Misguided and misinformed, one might say baby boomers ushered in the sexual revolution.
This was made possible with the introduction of birth control and relaxation of social norms. All these years later, we also happen to lead all other age groups with the highest divorce rate.
Seriously, it’s not all about sex. Emotional intimacy is just as important, if not more so, than the physical stuff.
Improving Emotional Intimacy
Improving emotional intimacy heightens feelings of safety and security in your relationship. Also, knowing and trusting your partner has your best interests at heart and will always be there for you.
Deepening your relationship takes time and the best way to start is becoming more aware of each other’s needs and wants. What makes them feel happy, loved and safe.
On a daily basis, show you care with an understanding smile, a gentle touch or just taking the time to listen. Start a new ritual such as a hug / kiss in the morning or some form of affection between the two of you.
Other signs you’re emotionally close are a sense of playfulness, feeling you know each other on a deeper level and trusting you can turn to your partner with any problem or challenge.
8. Stopping A Retired Spouse from Overspending
It’s not surprising that money is one of leading causes of marital stress. One partner spends freely while the more frugal one frets. More often than not, the root issue is a difference in the value of money.
Let’s be blunt, has he/she always spent like a drunken sailor? Maybe in the past this hasn’t been such a big deal, but now things have changed.
That described my stepfather to a tee. Every time he drove past the dealership, he was eyeballing the latest models.
Alternatively, after working hard all their life, they intend on enjoying retirement. As we discuss in The Five Stages of Retirement, spending tends to be higher shortly after retiring.
This is when you’re still healthy and able to travel and do all those things you never had time to do. As you can see, two totally different scenarios.
Regardless, you’re probably terrified they’ll spend their way into the poor house dragging you with them! With inflation, rising healthcare costs and volatile markets; there’s lots that can go wrong.
This can create fear, uncertainty and doubt with what the future will bring. How to Deal with Fear of Outliving Your Retirement Savings captures the greatest retirement fear and how to deal with it.
Tips on Managing Spending
The first step is openly discussing your concerns with them. If you’ve previously agreed to a budget, is it realistic or need to be adjusted? More so than ever, a team approach is required to rein things in.
Controlling spending can be a whole different matter. One thing which works for us is having a discretionary limit of $100.00. Anything above that amount, we discuss it first. In addition, each month we review our expenditures.
Tax season is another check to ensure we’re still on track. Admittedly it’s not fun to realize how much is paid in taxes, yet allows us to check our overall financial health.
9. Retired Husband Is Driving Me Crazy
As a general rule, men appear to struggle more than women when it comes to adapting to retired life. Traditionally they were the bread winners and devoted themselves to their careers. In fact, their self identity often intertwined with their position.
And we know work provides a sense of purpose, daily structure and social interaction. Understandably your husband may feel at loose ends which is perfectly normal when you consider he likely never really thought about how retiring would affect him.
Some of the annoying behaviors women report include:
The list could continue on, the point being retired husbands are driving their wives crazy! Our post, What to Do with a Retired Husband with No Hobbies, goes into greater depth.
Handling An Annoying Retired Husband
First off, he might be completely unaware his behavior is disruptive. He might have the best of intentions and just doing his best.
In all fairness, after all those years of toil he has every right to relax and coast for a bit. Having said that, if he’s really getting on your nerves this needs to be discussed.
Our article, Handling a Retired Husband Who Micromanages, goes into more detail on how to broach such a topic. The majority of the time, he needs a gentle nudge followed with lots of support and encouragement.
Another aspect is setting some boundaries such as personal space. You’re not tied at the hip nor should you be.
This is a good way of ensuring time is carved out for you to explore things you value such as getting together with friends. It’s, also, going to provide an escape, especially if he’s really driving you nuts!
For clarity, these insights are for handling an annoying husband. If the relationship has become physically or emotionally abusive, professional assistance should be considered.
Closing Thoughts on Improving Your Marriage in Retirement
Retirement is a game changer which will test even the best of marriages.
Leaving work behind introduces massive change impacting both partners. They’ll likely spend way more time together, have less income and be forced to deal with personal challenges.
This is a transitionary period during which some relationships will grow stronger and thrive whereas others, not so much.
One of the keys to success is maintaining open honest communications and being there for each other. Together, working through and adapting to this next stage in life.
This is a journey and undoubtedly, there’ll be difficult conversations and compromises that need to be made. Bon voyage!
Related Post: Retirement Proof Your Relationship