By Megan Giles, Retirement Transition Consultant. This article first appeared on the Over 60 website [Link: www.oversixty.com.au].
Jane* retired before John* did. There is nothing particularly unusual about this as the research shows that women tend to retire earlier than men. Jane retired and soon got into the swing of life after work – spending more time with her grandchildren, taking up painting, going to the gym three times a week, and checking some big ticket items off the to do list, such as clearing out the spare room!
Jane had a rhythm to her week that worked well for her – she had the week days to herself to do the things that she enjoyed (as well as some of the ‘need to dos’ such as the grocery shopping) and time in the evenings and on weekends to spend with John and pursue shared interests.
John retired two years later and given the busyness of his role hadn’t given much thought to what life after work might look like. As such, his transition into retirement was bumpy. For the first few weeks retirement was blissful, Jane and John had time to have leisurely breakfasts, to talk and make plans for upcoming holidays and John went along on shopping trips, helped to look after the grandkids and pottered in the garden.
Then the honeymoon period ended. Jane found that they were spending all of their time together, more often than not pursuing her interests rather than any of John’s. John followed Jane as they shopped, went to the gym and sat on the exercise bike while Jane did a PT class, and would ring to find why she was late if Jane got caught up talking to someone after art class. They were living out of each other’s pockets and to Jane it felt overwhelming. She had no time to herself and felt that she was losing her sense of independence. Despite the good intent of wanting to spend more time together, it’s not surprising that Jane started to toy with the idea of going back to work – simply so that she could have something in her life that was hers and hers alone!
Does this sound familiar in your relationship? Interestingly this challenge is more common than you might think. But before you rush back to work, assuming that is the only option to save your marriage, I would encourage you to explore what is really going on and what you can do to create a retirement lifestyle that is truly enjoyable and fulfilling to both of you.
Struggling to navigate the transition into retirement as a couple is not a reflection of the strength of one’s marriage. The key to successfully moving past this bumpy patch is communication and understanding each other’s experience and perspective.
- Sit down and talk about the challenges that retirement might be throwing at you. Be open about how you are feeling, e.g. that you are feeling claustrophobic –don’t assume the other knows. And let them know what it would look like if things were different
- Articulate and agree what activities it is important that you do together and independently and ensure that there is a mixture of both on your list
- If your significant other finds they are at a loss, encourage them to take up a new activity and help them to take the first step. We all know that it can be daunting to join a new group or meet new people and sometimes we need a gentle and loving push
- Re-negotiate the household responsibilities. Just as working arrangements change, so should ‘who does what’ around the home to ensure no-one feels they carry an unfair burden. For the partner retiring later they do not always know what their new role is in the home environment
- Create some common language - how you’ll communicate to the other when you need some ‘me’ time in a way that is respectful and doesn’t feel as though you’re nagging
Retirement signals the start of a new chapter in life. Take the time to understand what it means to you and your partner and find your groove. This is more likely to set you up for a satisfying and enjoyable life in retirement than the quick fix of returning to work.
If you approaching retirement or starting to think about it, and worried about the "what's next', wondering:
- How you’ll stay relevant and connected to people
- What to do with the amazing skills, energy and ideas you have
- How to prevent slowing down too soon and getting old before your time
You may also be interested in the following blogs; Retirement and marriage - Two peas in a pod or not… and How do I stay connected in retirement?