Relationship Help: 3 Mistakes Retired Couples Make

Retirement…the word alone is likely to make you smile. And most people you ask will have a general idea about what their retirement is going to look like. One common theme for many couples who have retired (or are near retirement age) centers around having more control over one’s life. 

This anticipated Eden usually includes: Peace and quiet, more time with family, not having to answer to anyone, being able to shape your days and weeks based on your whims and desires. Sounds wonderful!

But for some couples, this fantasized Eden isn’t easily realized. While many do end up settling into a more relaxed-fun lifestyle, the worker-retiree transition can place undue stress on a marriage or relationship. Let’s examine three reasons marriage/relationship problems can arise at this stage of life. 

Relationship Help: 3 Mistakes Retired Couples Make

1. Expecting a smooth transition

Life is a series of transitions, and the worker-retiree passage is a significant and, at times, challenging one.  Any change (positive or negative) can be disruptive for the following reason:  People are very adept at adjusting to, settling into, and arranging their lives around long-standing routines and activities. So for a significant part of your life, you’ve shaped your existence (and part of your identity) around work (whether you liked your job or not), and to undo this long-standing pattern can be emotionally disorienting.

This disruption intensifies if you’ve enjoyed your career and if work brought particular meaning to your life—for many, meaningful work imbues life with meaning and importance. This can be a huge loss for you, and you might even experience grief during this transition. Understanding the impact that these changes are having on you (and your relationship) is key to adapting to this next stage of life. Believing that retirement “should” be a smooth transition can prevent you from dealing with these issues in an effective manner.  

 2. Clashing Views of Retirement

Too many people make the error of assuming that they share the same vision of retirement with their partner—without ever discussing what their expectations are as a couple. In my marriage/couples counseling practice, I’ve seen the following pattern play out for many retired couples:

The newly retired spouse/partner starts to place greater demands for time and attention on the other partner, expecting him/her to now forgo his/her long-standing routines, hobbies and friendships in an effort to create a new life together as a “retired couple.” The other spouse/partner resists these changes (and demands) as s/he fights to hold onto the routines that have become central to his/her life. Rather than understanding this need to hold onto parts of one’s pre-retirement life, resentments and conflicts may result. 

3. Drifting without a Plan

The fact is that some of us don’t do very well when faced with large chucks of unstructured time. The goal of retirement is for you and your spouse/partner to find activities and friendships that bring meaning to your life—without this, retirement can feel like a never-ending void that swallows the relationship.

Creating a retirement-plan with your spouse/partner can be enriching and give your relationship the direction it needs to keep moving forward (yes, even in retirement it’s vital that your marriage/relationship have momentum to keep it alive and fresh). A retirement is much more than a financial plan (most couples plan financially for retirement without planning for what their retirement will look like for the marriage/relationship).

This plan should include time for you each to pursue your individual interests and, of course, time together to create mutual opportunities for growth and emotional bonding.

Retirement is full of potential for couples. It’s important to remember that effective couples communication can help you and your partner navigate the terrain of this new and exciting phase of your relationship.

Here’s to a wonderful retirement!

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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