Updated February 13, 2021
How has your relationship been over the past 20 plus years? Marriage problems after retirement have led to divorce rates doubling since the 1990's for those over 50. Remaining happily married for the older generation is no longer a given. Sharing half a life-time of working and raising children, some couples are shocked to discover how far apart they have drifted. They may have masked or ignored it, until one day they feel like strangers and gray divorce is a very real possibility.
Once you retire, it becomes a crossroad to where we begin the next twenty to thirty years of our lives. If your partner doesn’t share in your hopes and dreams, the matrimonial union will become unhappy. Each of us has our own expectations. Some envision traveling the world; whereas others prefer staying home living a quiet lifestyle.
1. Effective Communication to Avoid Marriage Problems After Retirement
Probably, the single most important predictor of a successful married life is open and meaningful communication. Especially in this new life stage, it becomes paramount to understand your partner’s desires and fears.
The problem is most couples have become complacent. They’ll chat about how their day at the office was. The weather or something else equally superficial. After retiring, they’ll be spending a whole lot more time together and soon be running out of things to talk about.
Just as important is active listening. Ever notice how we’re formulating a response before someone even finishes speaking? Especially us guys, we’re quick to jump in to “fix the problem”. In these instances, maybe she just wants to be heard as she works through her own feelings.
Lots of stuff will change after retiring further straining your relationship. It could be misaligned spending habits or trying to figure out what to do with all your new found free time. Then there’s the potential for more serious issues.
For example, if your husband was forced into retiring early, it’s highly probable he’s angry and might be struggling with a loss of identity. He’s going to feel vulnerable and resentful. This could lead to moodiness and lashing out for no apparent reason.
2. Planning and Preparation
Prior to retiring, you have ideally discussed and achieved some semblance of a game plan. Unfortunately, most people focus on financial planning with only superficial discussion on their expectations of what the future will look like.
This ties back to effective communication as the couple may be nowhere near being on the same page. One may be thinking of reducing costs and relocating closer to the grandkids. The other may be planning a grandiose world cruise. Everyone has dreams of how they want to live their Golden Years and there needs to be alignment.
3. Financial Freedom
Money is often cited as the “root of all evil” leading to marital discord and even divorce. And guess what, the day you retire, relationships are often strained by the shock of now surviving on a fixed income.
The underlying issue is our attitude and values toward money. For instance, one partner might spend more freely believing in enjoying life. Whereas the other might be more frugal and concerned about outliving their savings.
In extreme situations, this could lead to never ending conflict and hurt feelings. Surprisingly, even couples who have amassed significant wealth can be vulnerable to this. While there is no easy answer, creating a financial plan becomes key.
Further to minimize resentments, agreeing to a discretionary spending limit such as $100 can often ease things.
All those things you want to do in retirement, usually cost money. Whether it be a golf membership or taking a cruise. Your spouse may not be on-board with some of these activities. Maybe their preference is something completely different.
Each of you deserve a happy retirement doing the things you enjoy. Some activities will be together time while others will be pursuing personal interests. As money is generally the limiting factor, compromises may need to be made.
4. When to Retire
Retiring at about the same time or staggering it can also lead to unexpected stresses and challenges. Again, communication and working through any concerns is critical.
Some couples may desire to retire together, sharing more time together in this next adventure in life. This might include travel, spending more time with family, or participating in mutual activities.
As this is a major life event, they can support each other as they move forward on their journey. Instead of a busy work life, they can slow down a bit and enjoy each other’s company. The drawback is they might be together almost 24/7. This in itself will be a big adjustment.
If the wife had stayed at home, her entire routine will likely be thrown off. He might be wandering about trying to be helpful and driving her crazy. I recall the story of a well-intentioned husband with nothing else to do, so he completely reorganized her pantry. Needless to say, that went over like a lead balloon!
For more information see Why Should Spouses Retire Together.
More prevalent is when one spouse is still going to work while the other is at home. Perhaps the intent was to retire together, yet even the best laid plans can go awry.
So, instead of entering this new chapter of life together, one is still slogging away at the 9 to 5 grind. Some of the reasons include:
All these situations can become ripe for marriage problems after retirement. Unless couples take the time to discuss things, resentments can start festering.
For instance, what does the one staying at home do all day? They’re probably at loose ends puttering about. Maybe wishing they could be anywhere else and having some fun.
Or, maybe they’re out and about having a gay old time. Besides spending a bunch of money, your mate may become envious.
For more information see Why You Shouldn’t Retire When Your Spouse Does.
5. Time Together
The big day has finally arrived and you are both officially retired. Very few couples can actually spend all their time together without feeling stifled. It is important to understand that time apart becomes essential to maintaining a strong healthy relationship. Usually the woman has a more developed social network of friends and activities. Most men, in contrast, don’t have as robust a network and need outside interests to extend their friendships.
There will be activities you enjoy together. Happily married couples have fun and share quality time. Regular “date nights” consist of a romantic evening at home or getting out on the town. Socializing with other couples is another great way of keeping active.
6. Family Obligations
The influence of family often defines how and where we spend our time. Family can include adult children, grandchildren, aging parents, siblings, and nieces / nephews. While family is important, they can also become a source of on-going frustration if your spouse is not fully onboard. For instance, allowing yourself to become the permanent babysitter for grandchildren or the primary care giver for an aging parent can wreak havoc on plans in your golden years.
What if an adult child needs to move home due to unemployment or other issues? As noble as these intentions might be, they can drive a wedge in the relationship. Your partner may feel they have earned a good retired life and may have very different views on these obligations.
7. Health Issues
We are the most healthy and active in the early years of retiring. This is the time in life to experience all those things on your “bucket list”. We become more aware of our limitations and the need to do things while we are still able. Your spouse may not be interested or have completely different things they desire.
What if your partner constantly complains about their aches and pains? They may legitimately be in pain; however, very few people will stay in such a negative atmosphere. This also become an unwelcome reminder that we are getting older. For some, this can lead to a midlife crisis. In their minds, they justify that being with someone younger will make them feel younger.
Remaining aware of the seven most common marriage problems after retirement happy and vibrant. Planning and preparation, discussions on how you will spend your retired life and other future obligations should be discussed to make sure you know each other's expectations and hopes for the future.
Communication is the answer. Talking to your spouse and making sure you are both in alignment and agreement will go a long way to making sure conflicts are stopped before they even start.