by Sara Yogev, Ph.D.
For years, you and your spouse have been raising a family and working hard, saving, investing, and dreaming big with the goal of one day retiring. Oh, retirement—what a joy it will be! A chance to kick back and relax…to spend quality time with friends and family…work on your golf swing or perhaps, take the vacation of your dreams. To finally have the time on your hands to do everything you’ve wanted and when you care to do it.
However, retirement isn’t an extended vacation or a period of leisure—it can last a quarter of your life! People spend a lot of time and energy on financial planning for retirement, yet hardly any planning and preparation goes into the psychological aspects of this life stage. People are even less aware of how their marital dynamics will change in retirement. In the same way that a couple’s interaction changes after their first child is born, a similar transformation occurs in retirement.
Indeed research indicates the first two years after retirement are full of marital tension, and both men and women experience lowered levels of marital satisfaction. The” Gray Divorce” phenomenon (divorce among those 50 and older) provides a cautionary lesson. In 1990, only one in 10 people who got divorced was 50 or older; by 2009, the number grew to one in four. Similarly, the divorce rate among Americans older than 65 grew from 6.7% in 2000 to 9.7% in 2009.
To avoid that blissful state you’ve spent decades working toward turning out to be more nerve-wracking than liberating for you and your spouse, you can start preparing now. If you’re in the throes of early retirement or retiring soon, here are my five top tips to help you prepare—and put you on the road to happy retirement:
5 Tips to Prepare Your Relationship for Retirement
1. Share Expectations and prepare for mixed feelings:
It is important to talk openly with your spouse about your dreams for retirement. Discuss ways in which you can achieve these wants and wishes together so both of you understand what the other person wants and both of you will have a say in what happens.
Develop joint goals and be ready to compromise. Understand that retirement does not equal nirvana, but rather a new life stage that needs readjustment. Be understanding and allow time for both of you to re-adapt, a process which may take longer for one spouse than the other. With some effort and time, the retirement turbulence will smooth out.
2. Address your relationship with money.
Retirement comes with changes in the influx of income, which usually creates tensions at least for a little while. To avoid the havoc that this major change can cause, couples must prepare for it. Understand that both you and your spouse’s spending habits and attitudes towards money might change. Be ready for that, and keep an open mind.
3. Prepare for revised division of housework.
This domain seems trivial, but it frequently causes major conflicts. Some women expect their husbands to increase their participation in daily chores, particularly if he retires before she does. Yet men at times feel emasculated and resist increasing their share.
Or the opposite holds true: He wants to take on cooking and intrude on her domain. The increased time together makes people aware of each other’s troubling traits, e.g., the quality control engineer who organized the pantry after his retirement to help her become “more efficient.” Thus it is important to have frank discussion that takes into account both spouses likes and dislikes of chores to trade and accommodate.
4. Engage as you age.
Not only does mental stimulation directly benefit your heart health and overall wellbeing, but it can also take the edge off of some post-retirement relationship tensions. If both you and your spouse stay mentally active and engage in something external to both of you, you will have more opportunities to connect with each other and will find it easier to stay on the same page emotionally. It is very important to engage as you age in something satisfying.
5. Give each other physical and emotional space.
Sharing every second of the day with your partner can be overwhelming and exhausting, so be open to the idea of your spouse spending time away from you. Instead of becoming resentful and bitter, try to be as encouraging as you can. Bear in mind that spending time apart often paves the way for more quality time together.
No doubt, the psychological changes men and women feel individually as their lives mature—and as a couple—can be both surprising and devastating. While retirement will come with challenges, there are ways to prepare for these challenges as a team and with purposeful pursuits as individuals. With open communication and an open mind, retirement can be the dream that you’ve always imagined. Take on retirement as you’ve taken on other changes in life: It is new, it is exciting, and soon it will become natural to both of you.
About the Author: Sara Yogev, Ph.D., is the author of A Couple’s Guide to A Couple’s Guide to Happy Retirement: For Better or For Worse . . . But Not For Lunch (Familius, May 2013). Dr. Yogev is a psychologist providing individual and couples psychotherapy with offices in Chicago, Skokie and Evanston, Illinois. For the past three decades, she has also conducted workshops, written, lectured, and been interviewed professionally about a wide range of work-family topics. A former Northwestern University faculty member, she has been featured as an expert in Newsweek, Time, Money, and USA Today. For more information, visit www.sarayogev.com.