My Satisfying Retirement : Two People At Home: Not The Simplest Arrangement


Part of the post, Passionate about the Possibilities and Honest About the Realities, dealt with adjustments to marriage after retirement. Certainly, the same problems can exist in any committed relationship, married or not. For single folks, I would suggest there are just as many pitfalls that have to be faced. Let me address some of the situations most of us will face upon leaving work. I know, because I had to deal with almost all of them.

What is one of the most important questions that cannot be answered until it happens? “How will my home life change after I retire?” 

If you are the person leaving work, you are wondering about managing your time and staying busy. If you happen to be the person already at home you are wondering what is going to happen when your partner is around the house 24 hours a day. If the couple is like Betty and me with both people retiring together, these potential stumbling blocks definitely appear.

Figures that specify the divorce rate among retired folks are a little hard to come by. But, for married people over 50, the divorce rate has more than doubled in the last 25 years. Some lawyers report up to 25% of their clients are men and women over 65.

Certainly, there are lots of reasons for a marriage to end. But, a severe strain on a relationship can occur when at-home routines are disturbed by a newly retired spouse. Also, the reason for retiring can affect what happens at home. Being forced from work leaves a much different taste in one’s mouth than voluntarily ending employment at a particular job.

Some of the problems that often arise when a newly-retired spouse or partner is suddenly home full-time are well documented:

  • The retiree has lost a major source of self-identity. Especially for men of my generation, so much of who we are is defined by our job. When that ends there is a shock to the ego and we can feel cut off from society. Men have to find a new way to define themselves outside of work or activities.
  • When the blush of sleeping late wears off, there is the realization of diminished income. Suddenly, expenses that were not questioned can become points of argument.
  • Seeing that other person all day, every day can quickly wear thin if the partners do not have a healthy relationship. After building parallel lifestyles for decades, their time is suddenly shared with just one other person. Folks discover they have little in common and very little to talk about.

A quote I keep in my files for use in posts like this comes from Dr. Larry Anderson: “There has been much less investigation of women’s retirement experience. It is reported that, as working couples age, men report greater marital satisfaction than women. Comparing men’s and women’s retirement is somewhat like comparing apples and oranges. For instance, women are more likely to work part-time.  Women may have more interests outside of work and thus have less of an adjustment when retiring.

I would speculate that younger generations will produce more meaningful data in this regard. As women continue to be a significant part (if not the majority) of the workforce, there will be instances when the husband has retired and is at home, while his wife continues to remain employed. When she stops working, how will the dynamics change? 

The good news is there are definite actions that can be taken before things reach such a critical state. 

Communicate Openly. Communication both before and after retirement is essential. Some of us are generally less likely to want to “talk,” but in this case, self-interest dictates that we do. 

It is important that couples discuss their expectations for retirement from a personal perspective, such as interests, goals, even long-range goals. 

In addition, discussions from the couple’s point of view are just as critical. What activities will be shared, what goals are the same, even intimacy issues.

Setting Boundaries. We all have different needs for “alone” and “together” time. To ignore that reality is harmful to the relationship. There must be a balance between “separateness” (personal privacy, pursuing individual hobbies, spending time with friends) and “togetherness” (participating in joint activities and socializing as a couple).

Don’t forget to discuss time spent with family and friends, both his and hers. Women tend to have a stronger social circle of female friends while guys don’t. Men can get jealous if his wife is busy with friend activities while he sits at home.

Obviously, that is his problem to solve by making friends, taking on new activities, and building an interesting life outside the home. But, just because he is the one with the friend deficit doesn’t mean both partners shouldn’t discuss the issue.

 Prepare for the loss of how you have defined yourself. The end of work can lead to feelings of depression, or of being worthless. One or both partners may have health limitations that must be dealt with.

Couples need to recognize this can be a serious problem. Working together to help each other feel a sense of fulfillment through other activities is important. This is where hobbies, interests outside the home, volunteering or discovering a new passion become so important.

Designate household tasks. This is one of the biggies. Deciding the role of each partner in keeping a household functioning is more important than many couples realize. A common source of conflict for retired couples involves the division of labor in the home. Will the division of chores that existed before retirement still work? Will the retired spouse be expected to divide tasks more equally? This needs to be discussed. Making assumptions can spell big trouble.

The number one complaint from women whose husbands have retired falls into this category. Assuming they operated with a “traditional” division of chores before retirement, the wife gets unhappy very quickly when suddenly she is expected to prepare three meals a day, plus do the shopping, laundry, and housecleaning like she did when he was gone 8 hours a day. Hubby is perceived to be expecting to waited on hand and foot as a just reward for working all those years.

That attitude will not fly. Younger men are much better at handling their fair share of the chores even before retirement. But, for some reason social expectations are that the female continues to be responsible for the “inside” stuff while the man will take care of maintenance and outside chores. The problem is obvious: there isn’t nearly as much “outside” work on a daily basis. Plus, as we age we are more likely to hire someone to do repair and maintenance chores, so the husband’s responsibilities disappear.

Just for full disclosure, I have done my own laundry my entire married life. I plan and cook half the dinners each week. My wife and I rotate house cleaning chores every two weeks, as well as who empties the dishwasher and makes the bed. At least in this area, we never have disagreements. Guys…it is worth it.

A partnership only works if there is a sense of sharing, the good and the bad. That sharing becomes even more important after retirement. Take the time and make the effort.

Retirement is a major life adjustment. Take the time to think about what will happen. Then, take the steps needed to make your time with another person one of joy and contentment, not one of turf battles and resentment.

Single folks: Communication and setting boundaries apply just as much when there is one person at home. How you spend your time will be tested by requests from friends, volunteer organizations, even your own family. Be firm in how much of yourself you are willing to parcel out to others.