What an exciting time for couples. After all those years of working and perhaps caring for a family, it’s now time to enjoy your second acts together. I find that there are some key things to be aware of as you approach this stage of your lives.
First- be aware that this will likely be a big role shift for you – especially if you are both leaving careers. Understanding and dealing with a changing identity can be an issue for any retiree but can have a deeper impact on couples regardless if one or both parties are struggling. While there are many things to enjoy in retirement, it may be hard to move on to this next part of your lives without appreciating the changes that are a natural part of this transition. It will help to begin to define a new definition of who are as individuals or a couple. This is greatly aided by what want your retirement life to be like and by how will you invest your time.
Defining your retirement life – will naturally define how you will spend your time. It will benefit couples planning to retire, or in the early stages of their next phase, to spend some time discussing how their days and weeks will look – what they do together and what they will do alone. One couple I interviewed noted that, due to their diverse interests, they could not spend all their time together but rather they agreed to meet for lunch 2 out of 5 weekdays, and spend their evenings and weekends doing joint activities. Sounds like a plan! They recognized that they each needed room to pursue their individual goals – while continuing to share their lives. This resulted in the pursuit of more meaningful activities and greater satisfaction!
How do couples get there? Ramping up your relationship as a couple is the best place to start if you are not there or have drifted a little. In his book “The New Retirement”[i], Richard Johnson, Ph.D., notes that healthy relationships make for a healthy retirement. Among many components, he notes the importance of:
Having a healthy relationship can make the transition to retirement much smoother for couples as they work to support each other’s lives! What is good for one – can greatly improve what is good for both.
The couple I interviewed rated high on the points above but noted that “respectful communication” was their focal point. They knew going into retirement, that they each had different needs. Rather than push against that – they discussed how that would work so they can achieve individual and joint satisfaction. They quickly realized that they do not have to be together all day/every day. In fact, that was limiting their personal growth. They found satisfaction in their individual experience and in sharing them with each other. Over time some of their individual activities became joint activities. Retirement life continues to morph if we let it. For this couple:
“Spending time understanding our individual needs coupled with a common purpose to drive towards in retirement takes work and open conversation but it helped strengthen our bond.”
Retirement may be a naturally stressful time for individual or couples but strong relationships are a great leverage that can help them solve their identity and time management issues. Spend time planning this next stage together, be honest about the things you struggle with, and create some counteractions to help with those struggles. You got this far together – the best parts of your relationship can pay dividends in your retirement lives!