The Retirement Relationship Plan

Two white kissing swans on blue water. Birds represent heart as a wedding and love symbol.

Expert advice for a happy relationship in retirement, from Counsellor & Specialist Relationship Therapist Helen Rice.

Retirement is without doubt a major life change, whether it has been long-looked forward to, approached with ambivalence, or indeed with resistance and anxiety.

As well as changes to routine and day-to-day life, there are significant shifts to be made in thinking. There’s the ending of a rewarding career or job-role to be processed. Perhaps an evaluation of successes and failures in life. Heightened concerns about age, health, mortality. Loss of status and power, social isolation and dependence. And what about the major existential dilemma of ‘who am I now’ to my peers and colleagues, friends, partner, children?

Like any stressful life event, retirement is also likely to raise significant challenges for a committed relationship. So much so in fact that, when someone retires, it is perhaps best to consider this as a major life transition for both partners.

Strangely, while we are all urged to be responsible for securing our financial future, it is not so common to give thought to our post-retirement relationship plan. A bit like embarking on marriage or having children, there is an assumption that it will somehow work out; a general understanding that “we will retire together (or not too far apart), and then life will be wonderful”.

Yet in my experience, couples can find themselves in serious conflict when their separate expectations – particularly about how time and money is to be spent – are unspoken and misaligned. Some people may have long harboured desires to travel the world and assume their spouse will be only to keen to join them in the adventure. For others, retirement is for relaxing or doing the garden, taking a University course or focusing time and energy on the grandchildren.

Other issues that may have been happily managed for decades may need to be revisited; how will the housework be shared now that one person is home more than the other? How are decisions about expenditure going to be made now, and responsibilities allocated?

There’s also the amount of time each person wants to spend with the other. Close partnerships often involve a tussle between each person’s ideal of ‘time together – time apart’. Work can help to maintain a healthy balance, but what happens when there’s potential to spend every waking hour together? Even though research suggests that many couples rate their relationships and sex lives more favourably in the early stages of retirement, the honeymoon period often ends when closer has become too close.

Clear communication is therefore crucial if you want to avoid serious and lasting conflict. And ideally, talks about what is going to work for each of you should begin long before the leaving date.

Five Tips to Developing Your Relationship Retirement Plan.

1. Start With Your Personal Plan. Maintaining your own identity is essential in a healthy relationship, so start the planning process by getting clear on your vision for retirement. Do you want to maintain separate friendships, and with whom? Is it important for you to have a private space at home? Will a hobby take you out or away? Whether your version of the future looks similar or very different to your partners’, expressing what you want to achieve is vital for long term happiness and satisfaction. You may be surprised to find that you are more on the same page than you imagined, and if not perhaps a more serious negotiation is required.

  1. Share The Household Responsibilities. Regardless of your current set up, it makes sense to talk through and clarify how roles and responsibilities will be expected to change when one or both of you are at home more often. It may sound old-fashioned, but many couples do still distribute household chores along traditional gender lines, and this may mean there are certain assumptions about who does what even when to the other ‘it seems obvious’ that the chores need to be shared more equally.
  2. Who’s Boss? Research has shown that leaving a managerial position behind can lead to a grab for power at home. Being the boss at work, may have been what you were paid to do, but for the sake of harmony at home, how will you avoid offering un-sought advice and dominating decision-making arising from the need to be in control of something.
  3. Stay Connected. It’s important to stay connected with your partner – at least if you want to keep your relationship intact – and you might need some time simply to get to know each other again. It’s probably best not to try to do everything in the first month, or play golf/ tennis/ go fishing every single day just because you can! Leave time to do the unexpected or to just hang out together. Beginning each day with a walk for example could start a new habit for discussing what’s going on for each of you and sharing plans for the day.
  4. Plan For Change & Keep Working at it. Even if you do create a ‘Relationship Retirement Plan’, there’s no one to say this is set in stone. Be patient with yourself and each other as you work things out. Don’t sweat it if you agree to sleep without an alarm clock for a while and you’re still getting up at 6:30am. Don’t fuss if the dishwasher is still full at midday. This is retirement after all – so don’t forget to enjoy it!

Lots of couples run into obstacles so don’t worry if you have more than a few ups and downs in the run up to retirement and beyond. It isn’t necessarily a sign that there’s anything fundamentally wrong or your relationship is falling apart. Facing the issues early on when they’re minor annoyances is still the best strategy to avoiding major conflict. And of course if you need help to do this, you could try working with a specialist relationship therapist who can give you the support you need.

Helen Rice MA MSc MBACP is a Counsellor & Specialist Relationship Therapist working in private practice in Poole, Dorset. Helen works with individuals, couples and families to create great relationships. Call or email to arrange a free initial telephone or Skype consultation; Email: Phone: 0333 444 1009 (standard call charges)


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