I can tell you that that retirement magnifies the quality of a relationship. Retirement is a stress test for marriages; good relationships get better and tough ones get worse. Part of this is simply due to the amount of time spent together. Both spouses have concerns about how they will spend their time. Moving beyond work obviously impacts a person’s daily schedule; use of time was taken for granted due to structured commitments, now everything is a decision. This is great for most, when we are working most of us look forward to the day when our schedule will be our own. Many may find this reliance on themselves for structure to be worrisome many. The spouse who has run the home may feel intruded upon by a career driven partner at home and the work oriented spouse may have limited experience with enjoyable non-work activities.
Problems can also arise for a couple when changes in personal priorities shift from being career driven to being self driven. This may feel to the person their spouse that their partner is becoming selfish. In some ways they are. Focus on what a person wants helps them to find direction or purpose in life, while it also helps to shine a light on what is meaningful. This can create a balance between what the person wants and what is important to them, like their spouse. It is one reason why so many people entering retirement find that they want to have both purpose and meaning in their life.
Most partners in a marriage are initially challenged by the sheer force of the shakeup experienced by such a major life change. This is not marriage specific; a person’s priorities change dramatically as they move beyond work and they naturally re-examine all parts of their life. My advice to couples who are preparing for or just entering retirement is to recognize that many thoughts and feelings will surface during this major change in how they live their lives. It takes about six to 18 months to settle into this new way of life. Be prepared to talk with each other about what is not working, and more importantly, what is working. It takes time to adjust, use it well.