Positive Aging

Together Forever (But Not Always at the Same Time)

How Couples Can Adjust to Retired Life Without Driving Each Other Nuts

Retirement reminds me of when, as a new mom, I stared more than anything else. I gazed into the face of my sleeping daughter, taking in every new change. Nope: There wasn’t anyone quite as pretty. It felt right to stare because she was a tiny miracle in progress.

Then, almost overnight—in reality, 28 years later—I decided to retire in 2015. I’d had enough of coworkers, humanity, and boring work. Excitedly, I imagined how retirement would be for me and my husband. (He’d taken the departing step from normalcy six months earlier.) After all, we were approaching our 38th wedding anniversary, so our history together laid a solid foundation. We’d bought a travel camper, gotten our financial ducks in a row, and bid our adieus to those less fortunate and still tethered to jobs.

But here I was “60-something,” and staring again, only this time, I was looking into my husband’s face 24/7. I noticed everything he did and didn’t do. Keeping busy and enjoying trips sustained our interest for over a year. I was fortunate that I continued to work from home as I had since 2013. Still, to be honest we both felt suffocated, choking on each other’s familiarity. The other nagging reality was that we each had different ideas of what retirement should be.

So what’s a viable game plan when retirement seems to take you hostage?

  • Do the math. Running and hiding is not a bad idea when you realize how much time you spend together. Before retirement, couples may spend, on average, 40 waking hours a week together. (My estimate is four hours together a day throughout the week and 20 hours on weekends.) When you retire simultaneously, you spend most of your hours together. Day. After. Day. If you aren’t used to doing that, it’s not any fun sidestepping each other all day long.
  • Create space apart. Deliberately schedule time away from each other. While one works outside, the other can work on indoor projects and vice versa. Go out to lunch separately as well as together. Just an hour or two away from each other can help. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping in separate beds if one or both of you snore. A good night’s sleep gives anyone a better perspective on life, and you regain an amount of privacy you may feel you’re missing.
  • Accept differences. It’s not uncommon for one person to be a night owl. Some retirees decide to catch up on all the TV programs they’ve ever missed. Others may want to sleep late because they never could before. Learn to take a deep breath and just get on with what makes you happy while respecting the other person’s retirement dreams.
  • Do at least one thing your spouse likes. Living in the same space when you both have different ideas is difficult. Without getting an attitude that you’re giving up anything, do what pleases the other. Maybe you don’t like taking walks together and your spouse does—walk anyway. Perhaps one likes hot tea in the morning—fix it for them. Bake a cake just because your spouse likes sweets, give hugs frequently, and keep making to-do lists, every day without fail. A purposeful life leads to meaningful days.
  • Learn something new. If you’re bothered that you never finished your college degree, now is the perfect time to pursue your passion for education. Write a book, start a blog, learn to cook new dishes, do home projects, or catch up with high school or college buddies. If you sit in a rocking chair and just rock, you’ll become older than you are—quickly.
  • Keep children in the loop. Couples may think differently about how often to visit children and grandchildren. If one of you needs more time with family, don’t worry about solo visits if they contribute to your partner’s happiness.
  • Stick to a budget.  Thankfully, I was an accounting manager for over 30 years. I spent years helping others stay on budget. Before I ever retired, I prepared an in-depth accounting of expenses to expect during retirement. I built in what-if scenarios so we always had more money than expenses, and I allocated 40 percent of our income to savings.
  • Think young thoughts. I am responsible for what I think, so I choose to fill my head with positive rather than negative thoughts. If both of you make up your minds to do that, you set yourselves up to succeed at enjoying the rest of your lives.

Stay sensitive to each other’s needs when transitioning as retirees. Retirement isn’t anything you’ve ever done, so you’re learning as you go. Weave and dodge, run and hide, and wink and cry as you write the script. Make it a good one!

Betsy Wise has been a freelance writer since 2013 and currently blogs regularly at her websiteWritingForJesus.com.

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