Does Retirement Change the Relationship?


Just about everyone past a certain age dreams of retirement … just you and your sweetie, holding hands on the deck, looking out at the sunset, not a care in the world. But are your retirement years together with your partner or spouse all wine and roses? Some of my retirement-age clients say the equivalent of “Not so much.”

You may have had a long run with your partner or spouse with many years together. You both may have had demanding careers, a family to support, a house, and a couple of pets. You worked hard for your newfound freedom – or your partner did, if they are the sole designated “retiree” in the relationship. The kids are grown and off living their own lives.

Now one or both of you may have more time on your hands than you know what to do with. Retirement is a major life change. It can affect your relationship suddenly overnight or gradually over time in ways you might not have expected.


Clashing Visions

Retirement can mean different things for each individual. Everyone has their own version of what retirement means … and different expectations.

You may see retirement as an opportunity to spend months traveling, maybe excursions to other countries; he/she may want to spend a lot of time basking under the sun on the beach or staying home to putter in the garden. She/he may want to spend more hours lounging in bed in the morning while you like to ‘get up and at ‘em.”

During your working lives, you had a system, a routine. You each had defined tasks, certain times for meals, grocery shopping, household chores. Maybe those duties were based on what worked best according to each of your work schedules, the amount of available time each partner had available and when. Now that they’re retired, do they expect you to continue as before or do they offer to pitch in?

The realization that you and your mate don’t see eye-to-eye about living a retired life can bring on conflict. You may feel pressured or coaxed into conceding to their desires. Sometimes there’s the expectation that your partner’s primary focus and attention should be on you … especially when you’re newly retired.


Is Your Retired Mate Driving You crazy?

Are you psychologically prepared for her/his retirement, yours, or both? Are you feeling angry or resentful about the realities of retired living? Do you feel pressured or expected to surrender more of your personal time than you’d like to? Do you need more space? Feel smothered? Is there too much “togetherness”? Are you finding excuses to make yourself scarce?

Are you ticked off that your mate is interfering with what used to be your exclusive domain … for instance household responsibilities, financial decisions? Maybe it’s out of boredom or maybe it’s a carryover from their role at work?


Retirement Aftershock

Some people identify so much with their jobs and career that they feel useless or unproductive, or experience a drop in self-esteem when they no longer have to get dressed and go to work.

Sometimes health issues crop up and plans and dreams of what you’ll be doing in retirement are dashed when one partner develops a health condition that changes that plan radically.

Financial situations may change. Maybe you’re now on a reduced or fixed income, have to get used to living on savings instead of earned income. Adding to that is the issue that you and your partner may have different attitudes about how and where to spend money and how much should be spent in retirement. Maybe you didn’t used to think twice about spending on luxury items before and now you do. This may put pressure on how you enjoy your retirement years together. All this breeds tension and division.



Retirement can be the ultimate compatibility test. Maybe you discovered after a couple months or so of retirement that you don’t actually enjoy the time you spend with your mate. Busy working lives may have delayed that realization. Maybe you’re discovering that you have little in common or once did and have grown apart?

It’s possible you’ve learned to cope with your mate’s personality or certain behaviors because you spent so little time together while you were working that you failed to see how unhappy you are now that work is out of the picture? What If you had relationship problems even before retirement?

You may have had many years together, have children and grandchildren, and a growing extended family. Should you remain together out of obligation to support the family, or to keep the family unit intact? Is it a better option just staying on opposite sides of the house and avoiding each other rather than divorcing?


Retirement Relationship Strategies

To most of us, the concept of retirement planning relates to practical matters, of getting your financial house in order. What many retirees and prospective retirees forget is that the relationship itself is a critical part of that planning.

I recommend advance planning, communication, schedules, and compromise to the retirees and retirees-to-be that come to my office.

·         Expectations. Understand and talk about what each of you expects and wants out of this new stage in your life and relationship.

·         Plan a “dry run” before either of you retire. Carve out some time to spend 24/7 with each other and see what happens. Then set some ground rules.

·         Have separate pursuits in addition to common ones. Don’t feel you must be “joined at the hip.” It’s smothering.

·         Set boundaries. Carve out separate “territories” in the house that are exclusively yours/theirs, a place each of you can go to be by yourself when you feel like it, when you need to think, plan, need space for when you get on one another’s’ nerves.

·         Plan time away from each other. Consider separate vacations or outings. Go on a cruise with the girls. Guys, plan a hunting trip, golf outing, motorcycle trip (If you haven’t watched the movies City Slickers or Wild Hogs, put them on your watch list). Time apart can clear your head. See how you feel being apart for a week or two. It can clarify your feelings for one another.

·         Have a schedule. It can be a simple routine. Nothing carved in stone, because that’s no fun. Adding some structure to your day or week can ground you and help you accomplish the things you said you wanted to accomplish in retirement – the fun stuff and not-so-fun stuff.

·         Plan household responsibilities. Decide who does what so there’s a clear understanding.


Happily Ever After

So what’s it going to be? Will you live happily ever after together long into retirement or will you wallow in misery wondering why all the hoopla about being retired? It’s within your power to make it a happy ending.