Retirement is both an exciting and a confusing time. Many aspects of your life are totally rearranged — especially routines, roles, and responsibilities. Add to that spending a lot more time with your partner and the potential for problems skyrockets. When a couple does not talk about their expectations for the big and little areas in their new life, tension and resentment often challenges their relationship.
You may have a relationship that was running like a well-oiled machine. Then one or both of you retire. All the changes impact what you want and need in your relationship. It is a wonderful opportunity to enhance your relationship. But it requires you to renegotiate the “rules of engagement.”
What needs to be renegotiated? Nearly everything. Odds are your old roles and responsibilities have been working just fine for some time. But now that the amount of time you have available has changed, it’s time to reexamine who does what around the house, how much time you are going to spend doing things together, and how much time you will do things separately.
Even how you make decisions might shift. If you were used to making decisions yourself in your area of your former life, it might be necessary to look at how you are going to handle the increased number of decisions that now affect both of you.
I worked with a couple who had retired about a year earlier. When Jim retired, Sally assumed that he would help her with household chores like the laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, and running errands. After all she was retiring too. Jim didn’t offer. Her annoyance and resentment started to build. She asked him for help several times but he always had something else he had to do. She didn’t understand why he was being so thoughtless.
On the other hand, now Jim had time to pay more attention to the bills and how they were spending money. Jim assumed he should take over that part of the household responsibilities. Because they had not discussed this, Sally interpreted Jim’s actions to mean that he was second guessing her and micro-managing the things he used to praise her for doing so well.
Before they knew it they were fighting much more than they ever did in the past. The fighting was eroding their trust that their relationship was an emotionally safe place and they began to pull away from each other. Fortunately, they sought help before they let the conflict ruin their relationship.
Sally and Jim could have avoided falling into that pitfall if they had renegotiated their rules of engagement earlier. It’s pretty easy. Just make a list of the important areas in your lives, talk about what each of you need and want to happen in each area, and agree what you are going to do.
Since we are changing and growing all the time, it is a healthy practice for all relationships to review expectations periodically even when you are not in the midst of a big life change. It will enhance your relationship by minimizing conflict and drawing you closer together.
Couples who are transitioning into retirement can prepare for this new life stage by considering the various opportunities and challenges that come with it.