Retirement…the word itself is likely to make you smile. After all, it represents a time in your life when you can finally prioritize things according to your wishes, rather than squeeze what’s important to you around the edges of a demanding work schedule.
The retired life calls to mind peace and quiet, more time with family, not having to answer to anyone, and the freedom to shape your days based on your interests and passions. Of course you’re smiling!
But for some couples, this idealized vision is just that: a vision. While many couples do ultimately enjoy settling into a more relaxed lifestyle, the worker-retiree transition can place undue stress on a marriage or relationship. And with any major life change, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about potential problems so that you can better weather them down the road.
Marriage and Retirement: 3 Retirement Pitfalls to Avoid
1. Expecting a smooth transition
Life is a series of transitions, and the passage from employment to retirement is one of the most major. Because we tend to arrange our lives around long-standing routines and activities, any change (positive or negative) can be disruptive. For a significant portion of your life, you shaped your days (and part of your identity) around work, whether you liked your job or not. To undo this pattern can be emotionally disorienting.
This disruption intensifies if you’ve enjoyed your career—for many people, work imbues life with meaning and importance. And suddenly not having work can feel like a huge loss for you. Understanding the impact these changes are having on you (and your relationship) is key to adapting to this next stage of life.
Assuming that retirement “should” be a smooth transition, and believing there’s something wrong with you or your marriage if it isn’t, 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 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 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 demands as s/he fights to hold onto personally meaningful routines. Power struggles are likely to arise as the retired partner attempts to change the relationship dynamic while the other partner attempts to maintain the pre-retirement status quo.
Another common discrepancy couples face comes when one partner believes retirement should involve lots of “doing” (i.e., travel, volunteering, new hobbies, structured activities), and the other has been looking forward to the time when s/he could blissfully and consciously do nothing at all.
Without effective communication and a mutual understanding of what is unfolding, and without the desire to negotiate different mindsets (instead of fight them), resentments and conflicts are likely to intensify.
3. Drifting without a plan (unless the plan is to “drift” as a couple!)
The fact is, some of us don’t do well when faced with large chunks of unstructured time. And we may not realize this about ourselves until we’re at a loss for how to occupy days that suddenly feel quite long.
One goal of retirement might be for you and your spouse/partner to find shared activities and friendships that bring meaning to your life—for some people, without this plan in place, retirement can start to feel like a chore instead of an exhilarating, well-deserved stage of life.
Creating a retirement-plan with your spouse/partner can be enriching and can give your relationship the direction it needs to keep moving forward.
Most couples plan financially for retirement without planning for how retirement will impact the marriage/relationship. It’s important to remember that retirement is much more than a financial plan.
The couple-retirement plan that you and your partner create should include time for you each to pursue your individual interests and, of course, time together to create opportunities for growth and emotional bonding. In this way, you mutually shape your present as well as eagerly anticipate your future.
Retirement is full of potential for couples. It’s important to remember that realistic expectations and effective communication can help you and your partner navigate the terrain of this new and exciting phase of your relationship.
Here’s to a joyful retirement!
Richard Nicastro, PhD Licensed Psychologist
1006 Rock Street, Ste 101 Georgetown, Texas 78626
(Richard Nicastro, PhD is a licensed psychologist in Georgetown, Texas with over twenty years’ experience. He specializes in marriage/couples counseling and men’s issues.)
(Featured photo courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)