You've dreamed for years of finally retiring and enjoying the rest of your life with your spouse. Little did you know at the time that your relationship would experience friction that you could have never imagined. Would you believe that couples who have "made it" thirty or forty-plus years would need to work on their marriage even when it lasted this long? Yet, it may not be until couples retire that they wake up to the reality of their relationship. This is all the more jarring when one is "forced" into retirement. The impact on mental health, especially for a man, can complicate the matter even further. Here are three reasons why retirement can provide such an unexpected shock to a relationship and what you can do to make the transition smoother:
1) Relationship Auto-Pilot
Life is hectic and between having children and raising a family, working and hobbies, you may have neglected your relationship. How much time did you really have to focus on each other as a couple? While you may have had your annoyances over the years, you were probably too busy for them to seriously harm your relationship. Even if you survived being an empty nester, now you are home alone with your spouse all day, not just when you return from work. Your spouse may not even resemble the one you fell in love with years ago. While you may feel this is cause for alarm, view it instead as an opportunity to fall in love again and rededicate yourself to your relationship. Begin to get curious and learn about the person you have been living with for the last three plus decades. Make time to have new experiences with each other, such as attending a class together or adopting a new hobby. As you engage in new activities together, you will refresh your relationship and your love will increase.
2) Your Retirement Vision
You may have both dreamed of retirement, but your dream may be your spouse's nightmare. After years of working hard, you may want to spend your retirement leisurely, sleeping in late, playing cards with your friends or watching tv. Your spouse may have been eagerly awaiting the time when he/she can finally focus time on hobbies and community service. When those visions conflict, tension can arise. The most important thing you can do is to discuss your personal visions of retirement and then craft a shared relationship vision, a road map for how you envision your relationship in this new stage of life. While you do not always need to agree, it is helpful to be on the same general page. Retirement is an opportunity for you to stretch and be receptive, understanding what it is you both wish to do with your well-earned time. Instead of forcing your vision on the other, strive to find a more inclusive approach that meets both of your needs.
3) Role Reversal
What happens when your husband begins to take over your kitchen? What if your wife decides she is going to manage the finances? Retirement can bring about role confusion. This is especially the case if one spouse was used to being the provider and now shares a home that was under the dominion of the other spouse. Who is the boss? Are responsibilities now shared? There may be the expectation that if one spouse suddenly now has time on their hands that he/she should shoulder more of the burden of household chores. Know that it may take time to transition into a setup that is optimal for both parties involved. Communication is the key to articulating expectations and wishes. False expectations and mind-reading usually result in disappointment. By being clear, there is less room for ambiguity and more opportunity to establish roles where both of you can thrive in the golden years of your life.
If you have worked your entire adult life, you deserve to have a pleasant and relaxing retirement. The tension that may come along with this transition can be an opportunity to reinvigorate a relationship that may have been on autopilot. Getting curious about each other's interests, crafting a vision and outlining your expectations of this phase in your life are great ways to help you fulfill your life-long dream.
If your marriage requires more immediate assistance,download your free copy of Rabbi Slatkin's book, Is My Marriage Over: The Five Step Action Plan to Saving Your Marriage