Retirement does strange things, straining even the most rock-solid happily married couples. At greater risk are all those marriages neglected over the years.
They drifted apart and other than the roof over their heads, often have little in common. The day they retire unleashes a whole new set of challenges for many couples.
To retirement proof your relationship requires addressing the following areas:
Failing to address the above points can lead to an empty shell of an unloving relationship. I can’t think of anyone who wants the frustration and feeling of growing old alone like that.
Instead of living your golden years in abundance and happiness, your retirement may be filled with feelings of aloneness, sadness, and even misery.
How Retirement Affects Marriage
In western society, we marry for love believing we’ve found our “soulmate”. Yearning for the fairy-tale story of living happily ever after.
Not long after the honeymoon period, disagreements may arise with disillusionment setting in.
The cold hard truth is almost half of all marriages end in divorce. Moreover, Dana Adam Shapiro’s research suggests only about 17% of married people are happy.
“Happiness” is highly subjective and I find it hard to believe only 17% of marriages are happy. Without a doubt, most of us could improve our relationships.
The Battle of the Sexes
Open honest communication is key to any good relationship. In its absence, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and ultimately, resentments arise.
The root cause is some couples are unable to openly express their feelings or actively listen to their partners.
For instance, when something is troubling me, I want my husband to listen and understand me. I don’t want him to interrupt and “fix my problem”.
All his years in the corporate world trained him to be objective and solution oriented. On top of that, his father was “the strong silent type”.
He’s actually pretty good at emotionally supporting me which makes me love him all the more. I appreciate him so much for being able to open up and show vulnerability.
The Average Marriage at Retirement
Life is full of challenges and the average couple does their very best. To their credit, they’ve managed and held everything together.
Retirement is looming around the corner, supposedly the best years of their lives.
While we all want to be happy, for many couples this isn’t how they measure their relationship. They’ve grown complacent and become content with peacefully coexisting.
Careers, children, and all the other duties and obligations have kept them busy. Rather than growing together, they’ve grown distant.
This may be compounded with perceived slights, unresolved conflict, and simmering resentments. For them, it’s safer to overlook and pretend all is well.
How do you think that’ll go in retirement?
More Time Together
On the surface, sharing more time with your partner should be a good thing! Even happily married couples were caught off guard during the lockdown phase of the pandemic.
This created high stress for many due to lay-offs, furloughs, or working from home. Being together 24/7 wasn’t always a good thing.
According to the Legal Templates, divorce agreements soared by 34% over the summer! How was it for you? In some respects, this could be considered a trial run for retirement.
Improving Spousal Time Together
After retiring, you’ll be spending a lot more time with your partner. Quality time together involves doing something together that you both enjoy.
This could include getting together with friends, date night at the movies, or having a romantic meal. It’ll help retirement proof your relationship.
It’s also important to understand each of you needs some personal space.
Household duties may need to be shifted. It’s not fair when one partner is responsible for all the chores such as cooking, cleaning, and picking up after the other.
For instance, we both love to cook. When hubby concocts one of his master pieces, I happily do up the dishes afterwards. And, vice versa.
After all, this is supposed to be a partnership, not maid service!
What’s not healthy is squabbling over silly things that don’t really matter. Personal habits like leaving the toilet seat up or putting the toothpaste cap back on should have been resolved years ago.
It used to irk me my hubby leaving his dirty clothes on the floor when he came to bed. Our compromise, he picks them up the following morning which I’m fine with.
More thoughts on improving spousal time can be found in Retirement for Couples: A Helpful Guide for Your Marriage.
No More Paychecks
Money is generally considered the number one reason for divorce. Guess what happens the day after you retire? No more paychecks!
Typically, you’ll be living on a reduced income from your savings. The situation is ripe for conflict. Seldom does each partner have the same views on money.
For example, let’s say she wants to enjoy her retired days. This could include dining out, going to the theater, and even some travel. All this can quickly add up.
He, on the other hand, is more frugal and concerned about what the future might bring. Instead of having fun, he frets about every nickel spent. That’s not going to lead to happy, carefree days.
Resolving Money Issues
I’m going to argue the real issue isn’t money, rather your differing values pertaining to finances.
Your spending patterns will impact the quality of your retired life. In fact, Fear of Retirement and Outliving Your Savings reveals how much this can influence behavior.
To retirement proof your relationship you’ll need a budget you both agree to. A sustainable income supporting you the next 20-30 years.
The DIY Approach to Creating a Retirement Financial Plan provides a template to achieve this.
Everyone has expectations for their retirement. Don’t assume you both want the same things.
For instance, your dream retirement might be relocating to a 55+ Florida community where you can play endless golf in a sunny climate.
Whereas your partner might prefer staying put near friends and family. Now what?
Another factor to consider is what you really want. All too often we’re influenced by external sources such as our parents, friends, or the media.
For instance, an acquaintance loves their retirement complex and the brochures look fantastic. Is that the lifestyle to fulfill you?
Aligning Retirement Expectations
Obviously, this is something to discuss and explore together. If you’re thinking of downsizing or relocating, it’s worthwhile spending some time and checking out if this is where you’ll both be happy.
One of the greatest mistake’s retirees can make is a rash decision on where to live. For more information on this topic see What are Your Retirement Expectations and Pros and Cons of Downsizing Your Home.
Unresolved Marriage Issues
Over the course of years, it’s inevitable conflicts will arise. Sometimes, these don’t get resolved and become a source of on-going arguments or withdrawal.
In short, you’re not on the same page creating tension and diminished trust for your spouse.
Unresolved issues come in all shapes and sizes rearing their ugly heads whenever the occasion presents itself. They can be as trivial as a personal behavior that drives you crazy.
For instance, why won’t he put the damn toilet seat down? Do they just forget or take secret delight in hearing our wailful cry of dismay in the middle of the night when our butts hit the cold water!
The problem is nothing was resolved. In fact, future conflicts might still be rooted in the past issue even though you’re arguing over something else.
Almost impossible to resolve when you lose track of what you’re fighting about. To maintain some semblance of peace, one partner may disengage.
Dealing with Unresolved Issues
I share the “great toilet seat debate” partly in jest, but also to highlight how such a small thing can get overblown. The healthiest way of dealing with it is having an open, non-threatening conversation. Don’t make this a personal attack.
Rather, share your feelings as to why it bothers you. Listen to their side of the story as they may have a perfectly valid reason for their behavior.
Or they didn’t realize it bugged you so much. Together work towards a win-win compromise.
Your partner should be the most important person in your life. Always treat them with trust and dignity.
It’s in both your best interests to focus on improving your marriage. Major issues are much more difficult to deal with and may require professional assistance.
These could include infidelity, substance addiction, or physical / mental abuse. These cannot be ignored and, unless addressed, can result in divorce.
Closing Thoughts on How to Retirement Proof Your Relationship
Most of us assume retiring will be great without considering what will change in your marriage. Some of the greatest challenges include:
By working through these together, your marriage will not only survive it will thrive!