If you are reading this article, either you or someone you know may be about to retire from a long, and hopefully, fulfilling career in a field that was aligned with some kind of passion. Now the days of spending 40 hours or more per week at work, dealing with kids’ activities (hockey practice, homework, dancing classes, etc.) and navigating rush hour traffic with the morning and evening commutes are almost over. Leaving all of this behind may sound wonderful for some, but for others it can be an important source of stress, accompanied by a loss of a sense of meaning and purpose in one’s life.
This change in life stage can also have a significant impact on the relationship with your significant other. You probably met and chose your spouse at an earlier age and stage, and built a relationship with them based on common values and other shared goals and projects. For years, you and your significant other have devoted a significant amount of time to work, the kids, and all of the other responsibilities that life brings. Prior to retirement, how many hours per week were you spending with your significant other? Most couples lead busy, full, lives throughout most of their years together. For many, time spent together is limited to a few hours per day either before or after work, and on weekends and vacation.
Many people spend a significant portion of their adult life at work often with very rich and important connections at the office. Work can also be one of the primary places where we meet our social needs. This is very common. Work has been the place where we feel competent, develop our professional identities, socialize with colleagues and get a break from our home lives.
Retirement brings about some major changes and can be a big transition for those who have spent many years outside of the home focused on building and sustaining a career. On the one hand, you finally have time to travel, take up new hobbies and share new experiences with your spouse that you’ve never been able to find the time for before but have been dreaming about for years. On the other hand, retirement can bring a sense a loss of identity, the need to redefine and create some new life goals and sense of purpose, and bring you face to face with your spouse who may feel like a bit of a stranger after years of living largely separate professional lives. Retirement can be a time of stress on the couple relationship, but it can also be an opportunity to reconnect with your partner and build a stronger and more fulfilling union.
Here are a few tips to help you thrive after retirement:
Planning is key
You’ve probably heard it from your accountant, your sister-in-law or read it in a magazine. Retirement must be well-planned. Planning is not limited, however, to the financial aspects. After retirement you will have more time for activities and passions such as travelling, eating at your favorite restaurant and working on that garden you always dreamed of planting. Yet, maybe your energy level is not the same, or maybe you have evolved and your interests are not the same as they were in your earlier years. It is important to take the time to get to know yourself again and to discover how you want to be spending your time in order to have a satisfying and balanced life where your needs are met. It is certain that your needs can’t all be satisfied by your partner alone.
So, first of all, sit down and get to know your present self. You can do this simply by taking a sheet of paper and making a list of what you like and what your needs are. For some, it might be working out or playing your favorite sport, taking classes or making time for a special cause close to your heart. Think about what you would enjoy once you have a more open schedule. Afterwards, sit down with your spouse to build a weekly schedule. This will help you balance your personal time and your couple time, which is a way to maximize your satisfaction on multiple levels. This type of open discussion and planning can help to keep your relationship strong and can help avoid the annoyance that can come with an over-abundance of unscheduled time together when one or both partners may be leaning on each other to meet all of their social and emotional needs. Our significant other might be the love of our life, but there are still elements of their personalities that may irritates us. Taking the time to plan your schedules can help ensure that you spend not just quantity, but also quality time together.
Keep your couple alive and growing
Relationships need nurturing and care to continue to thrive. Like a plant which needs water and sunlight, your relationship needs a few ingredients to keep growing. Accepting the status quo isn’t the best option if you are unsatisfied or unhappy. With some attention and effort your relationship can evolve and improve if both partners are willing. You and your spouse can become better at communicating, satisfying personal needs, addressing conflict and dealing with day-to-day issues.
In order to do this, it is important to take the time to get to know each other again after retirement. Even though you’ve known your partner for many years, they have also probably changed over time and it can now be time to update each other with new goals, priorities and dreams. Research tells us that marital satisfaction is higher after the children leave the house, so this can be an ideal time to focus on building the type of relationship that will be fulfilling to both of you. Make time with your spouse and do activities you enjoy together. Keep active and healthy to maintain physical attraction and physical relationship with your partner, plan regular date nights, imagine adventures that you would like to share, stay in and watch a movie under the blankets, and keep the excitement alive by trying new things together.
You can also do some work on a personal level. There are a lot of self-help books written by professional psychologists that can give you a few ideas about where to start. Books and other resources can help to guide you on your path for personal development, or helping you and your partner to reconnect and meet your relationship goals. For some, meeting with a trained couples therapist can be a positive option during this time of transition to help the two of you open up new lines of communication, explore your relationship dynamics and work with your spouse on targeted issues in a safe place to get tools that can help with the many spheres of your life.
Get by with a little help from your friends
After retirement you may notice that you have fewer social contacts than when you were working. For many, work was a place where socializing was almost inevitable for a good portion of the week and maybe even part of the job itself. As a result, you may have taken for granted the importance of those social relationships and feel a sense of loss when you realize that they are no longer as easily accessible to you.
Social connections outside of the family are an important source of support. Making time for socializing with others can be an opportunity to do things with friends that maybe your partner doesn’t enjoy as much. Maybe your partner doesn’t like to go for walks, talk about politics, eat Indian foodor discuss what happened on Game of Thrones last Sunday. Spending time with a friend can also give both you and your spouse a break from one another, which can be both necessary and healthy for any couple that has been living together for a long time. You can also spend time with friends as a couple. It is important to continue to nurture outside social relationships, both individuallyand as a couple.
Just remember that even though retirement is a major life transition that can be anxiety-provoking and requires you to adapt and redefine many parts of your life, it is also a unique opportunity to develop new passions and goals, spend more quality time with your family and with yourself, and live out the adventures you had envisioned along the way. Retirement can be the time to uncover your new sense of purpose and build a thriving relationship with your partner as you enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Written by: Nicolas Faubert Dufort
Nicolas Faubert Dufort is a social worker with 7 years of experience working in the community with children, teenagers, mental health patients and the elderly, and 4 years within the health care system focusing on elderly home services. He is currently completing a Master’s in Couple & Family Therapy at McGill University.