Adapting your relationship to life after work

What will life be like when you or your partner stops work? You might find it hard to form a realistic picture of the shape your day will have. Whatever happens, it will almost certainly affect your relationship. Retirement is a common time for relationships – even really strong ones – to come under stress.

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Retirement changes both what you do with your time and who you spend it with. Those are changes that can unsettle a relationship.

If you retire and your partner is still heading off to work each day, you suddenly have all this time on your own to fill. That may be a positive joy. It may even leave your partner feeling a little envious.

You may also find yourself wondering just what to do with your free time. This could lead to feelings of loneliness, boredom or purposelessness. You might start getting a bit depressed. You might even envy your partner their job with all the stimulation, company and status it brings.

Start talking about your retirement together well before it happens

Or maybe what you do with your time becomes a source of friction. Perhaps your busy partner wants you to take on more household responsibilities. Perhaps they object to the way your new activities clutter up the house, or take up your time.

What you do is also limited by what you can spend. Sometimes money becomes an issue. You may have different levels of comfort about how financially secure your post-employment years ought to be. Maybe you start to niggle about who earns, who spends, and who decides.

It might be the time spent together that creates friction. Perhaps you’re used to spending your work hours apart and now you’re sharing your space all day. Every day. That can take a bit of getting used to. All that companionship all at once can feel like too much of a good thing.

There’s a lot of scope for getting under each other’s feet and on each other’s nerves.

So if those are common issues, what can you do to keep your relationship happy and stable while you adapt to the changes?

  • Start talking about your retirement together well before it happens. Talk about how you imagine spending your time. Outline an average day. Discuss where you want to live, how you will manage your finances, how you’ll divide up housework and home maintenance.
  • Make some agreements about how you will make financial decisions. Not just big ones, but day-to-day spending on small things. Will the way you’re doing this now still work when one or both of you stops earning?
  • Talk about the ways you want to spend time together, and the things you’d like to do alone. Be frank about the times your partner’s plans might not work well for you. You may want different amounts of time together or apart. Get clear about that and work out how you can both get the time you need.
  • You can’t anticipate all the possible areas of conflict, so it can be helpful to agree on a process for dealing with differences when they arise. You are looking for outcomes that work for you both. So you want to be sure that you can both say what you want and be confident your partner will listen.
  • You may want to develop some joint projects or interests. That can be a very uniting experience. Make sure they really are shared. If one of you feels like a hanger-on it won’t be so positive.
  • Most happy people are well-connected with others. Make sure you keep having contact with people outside your relationship. If your colleagues fill that role now, act in advance to build up connections with groups or people who will be free to spend time with you when other people are working.

You are both likely to be happier if you are involved in things that you feel are purposeful and worthwhile in some way. You don’t have to save the world, you just have to feel like you count. That will help you to bring new ideas and energy into the relationship.

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