Relationship Connection: Navigating Marriage After Retirement

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My husband recently retired and we seem to be out of sync with each other. I began working after our last child left the home several years ago and now he’s frustrated that I’m not home as much. I plan to retire from my job someday in the future, but what can we do in the meantime to decrease the tension in our marriage?


First of all, be careful not to make any major decisions regarding your career until you’ve had a chance to talk about your goals for the future. You will want to make sure that you and your husband have a clear idea of where you’re headed before you become reactive to current circumstances.

Jan Cullinane and Cathy Fitzgerald , authors of “The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life”, state that “the first couple of years of retirement are comparable to the first two years of marriage or parenthood; it’s a time to negotiate (or renegotiate) roles and share ideas and dreams.” Couples who move into retirement assuming that the relationship will maintain the same dynamics are often surprised to learn that expectations have changed.

Ronald J. Manheimer, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, says the biggest challenges for men as they move into retirement include losing their status in the workplace, losing a large part of their social support system, feeling a loss of purpose, declining physical abilities, poor communication with significant others, and dealing with “boomerang kids.” For women who retire from working outside the home, their challenges include losing their identity, feeling responsible for their spouses’ social life and entertainment, experiencing a disruption of their established patterns, needing to take care of everyone, financial and health issues, and outliving their spouses.

Understanding these challenges can help couples have compassion for one another as they work to negotiate how they will spend their remaining years together. I encourage you and your husband to sit down and formally discussed the list of challenges men and women face as they move into retirement. Ask your husband if he feels a loss of purpose in his life. Tell him if you’re feeling responsible for his social calendar. This is a critical time to formally discuss how each of you is experiencing this transition.

The change in these previously established patterns can create uncertainty that often times makes us seek more comfort and reassurance that everything’s going to be okay. This may be difficult for your husband to express. It’s important that you both work to find a good mix of dependence and independence with one another.

You may find that you can continue working while your husband becomes involved in volunteer work or hobbies that he’s put off while he worked on his career. You may decide to scale down your work and devote more time to shared interests. The options are wide open when you recognize that the two of you get to decide how you want your retirement years to look.

If you both get stuck trying to figure out the balance of closeness and distance, I recommend you pick up a copy of “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson to help you learn how to talk about how to navigate these new demands on your relationship.

Marriage is always evolving. Someone once said that we have a dozen marriages within one lifetime of being married. The young married, the marriage with young children, marriage with teens, the empty nest marriage and the list goes on. This is an excellent opportunity to define this newest stage of marriage!

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