When the Honeymoon is over… again: How to Transition into Retirement with your Spouse
Shortly following my wedding, I attended a networking event where I saw several friends and colleagues for the first time since my recent nuptials. After being the subject of many well wishes and platitudes, a well-respected business woman, about 20 years my senior, pulled me to the aside, and said “So, how is it really?” She went on to share how difficult the transition had been for her many years prior and commiserated over the fact that even in the best of marriages, the adjustment is a huge deal. I remember feeling so relieved.
As she prepares to retire with her wonderful husband of many years, I wonder if we may have that same conversation someday soon, but in reverse. As a retirement planner, one of the themes that I pick up on again and again, is how hard the transition can be, even in the best of marriages.
Consider the following scenarios:
Joe and Ruth
Ruth was a homemaker and the queen of her castle. She kept the house, family and schedules running smoothly while juggling a social calendar of volunteering, time at the club and her weekly tennis game. For as long as they were married, Joe worked 40-60 hours a week, got to the gym daily and played golf with his buddies every Saturday morning. Weekends were spent with family and friends and they vacationed several times a year.
Now Joe is home… all the time.
Bill and Anne
In addition to raising their children, Bill and Anne managed two fulfilling careers. While they derive much of their purpose and fulfillment from their work, they have also prided themselves on a healthy work/life balance, and have a shared love of travel, a robust social calendar and several separate hobbies.
Now they are both home… and it feels like something is missing.
While retirement is an exciting time and often a lifelong goal, it does bring with it a period of adjustment. This typically comes after the initial period of retirement bliss (sound familiar?!) and can be difficult for an individual who is trying to figure out how to feel fulfilled, how to fill his or her days, etc. When you add another person in to the equation, there are now two people who are navigating this adjustment period together (but not necessarily in sync) which adds an additional layer of complexity.
What do you do to avoid feeling like the “Honeymoon is Over?!”
Hopefully, if you are this close to retirement, you have already done a comprehensive financial plan. But have you done a lifestyle plan? The lifestyle component of retirement planning is frequently overlooked but is nearly as important. The key (surprise, surprise) is communication.
Have the Conversation(s)
Just as you would counsel a young couple to plan for the marriage, not just the wedding, you need to plan beyond the retirement party. Have the conversation, over and over again. Start with pie in the sky retirement dreams. What would retirement look like for each of you if you had no restrictions? Will you work, travel, help family, volunteer, etc.? Will you move or stay in your current home? What aspects of those dreams are realistic and implementable? Where are there differences and similarities in your visions? Can you tweak them to create a shared vision? Get specific and start to drill down to what each day will look like. Keep a shared calendar so you can manage joint activities, but also so you can respect each other’s individual commitments.
Date Each Other
“Wait,” you may be thinking, “more time together?” It seems counterintuitive that the answer to having a lot more time together is even more time together. However, as you settle into your new routine, you may find that it begins to feel a little too routine. Introducing a date night, where you do something that you love doing together or try something new, may be just what you need. One retired couple I know does four to six “Surprise Date Weekends” each year. They rotate planning it, with each surprising the other and it has added a new level of excitement and romance to their relationship.
Create Your Own Space
Whether literally or figuratively, you’ll want to be sure to create your own space. Perhaps it means a dedicated room in the house, or space within a room, for each of you. It might just mean scheduled “me time,” but it’s important that you maintain some individuality.
In the case of Ruth and Joe, Ruth might feel overwhelmed by Joe being home all the time in the space that was traditionally hers alone for a minimum of forty hours a week. Joe, on the other hand, might have difficulty figuring out where he fits in. When they talk about it, they can determine that Ruth has certain routines that she needs to maintain for her own peace of mind, but there are some changes she can make easily to make Joe feel like less of an outsider in his own home.
Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Now that you are both home and not managing work schedules, commuting, etc., it may be a good time to review all of the household/family responsibilities and change things up. You may even discover new talents and interests.
For the duration of the marriage of Anne and Bill, Anne was responsible for preparing dinner. For a myriad of reasons over the years, Anne was typically home earlier, so it just made sense for her to assume this responsibility. When she complained about being bored with the monotony of cooking every night for so many years, Bill offered to take over. It turned out that not only was he very good at it, but he truly enjoyed it too. In fact, his passion for cooking was so contagious, that many nights, Bill and Anne enjoy cooking together!
Most importantly, understand that this adjustment is a normal part of the retirement process. Give yourselves time to adjust and have patience as you work through it. Be sure to communicate your feelings and talk about how you are settling in. You may not be on the same page right away, but at least you’ll be on the same chapter!