Making the Retirement Transition Work for You—and Your Spouse

Many of us found out that the way our parents raised their families wasn’t an appropriate blueprint for how we raised ours. So why should we expect that our retirement will look like our parents’ retirement?

Times have changed, and change is the only thing we can count on. During times of transition in our lives, such as the start of retirement, we may encounter drastic changes in lifestyles and expectations. Adjusting to retirement will most likely require a “learn as you go” approach.

As a psychotherapist, I have helped retirees work through these issues. Often, the impact has been greatest on their relationship with their spouse, the partner who they are now spending more time with than ever before. If the spouses’ expectations for retirement are not aligned, one partner (or both) can feel that the other partner is getting “too much of a good thing.”

Routines that developed over decades can be disrupted overnight. The spouse who had the house to herself all morning and afternoon doesn’t any more. The spouse who came home to dinner each night at 6 p.m. is now surprised at an expectation that he will make dinner regularly. The result can be a daily schedule that feels stifling, isolating, and unhealthy.

Addressing the situation should begin with communication. Yet expressing your feelings to your spouse isn’t always easy. All of us are fearful of these situations. Maybe you will hurt your beloved’s feelings. Maybe your spouse will say “No” to your request. A misunderstanding can blow up into genuine anger. And so on.

But the fact is that you need to take risks in your communication with your spouse, especially in your retirement years. Here’s how you might start a conversation:

Spouse 1: “Honey, I’d like to talk with you about some feelings I’ve been having lately about maybe making some changes to our schedules. Would that be OK right now?”

Spouse 2: “Sure. Now’s a good time.”

Spouse 1: “OK. I love spending time with you—our breakfasts together, our walks in the evenings—but I’d like to keep our afternoons on a more flexible schedule. Would that be OK with you?”

Spouse 2: “What would you like to do instead?”

Spouse 1: “Well, I’d like to just be free to do whatever I’d like to do, and not feel badly that I’m leaving you alone, or that you think I don’t want to be with you. I’d like us to be free to do whatever we want to do by ourselves or with friends, etc.”

Spouse 2: “OK, honey, I hear you saying that you love our time together and our little rituals and that you don’t want that to change, but that you would like to be able to design your time in the afternoon to include some of your hobbies, appointments, volunteer time, time with your friends, and that sort of thing. Right?”

Spouse 1: “Exactly! That’s what I want!”

Spouse 2: “OK. I’m glad you said something because I was thinking I’d like to do the same thing, but I was afraid I’d hurt your feelings. And, I’m happy you told me how you were feeling.”

Spouse 1: “Thanks, honey.”

The good news is that you can draw on your years of learning. You can think about what worked for you when you had difficult issues to resolve, and how you used your creativity to find a workable solution. You will find that you have a lot more tools and skills now than when you entered adulthood. You have wisdom.

Put that wisdom to good use by communicating with your spouse. Good communication can and should lead to a greater sense of intimacy for partners—the feeling of being heard and understood by the other person. The importance of that in a relationship cannot be underestimated.

And remember, when it comes to communication, risk-taking is a good thing, so don’t be afraid to say how you feel and what you want.

Karen Ferguson is a guest writer and client of BWFA. She started as a Psychotherapist 25 years ago and currently specializes in Wellness Consulting with individuals and couples. Contact Karen at 410-750-9293 or karsoninc@aol.com.