A successful retirement requires couples & indirviduals to communicate.
Married retirees may also want to keep the lines of communication open with their spouse both before and during their retirement.
The Ameriprise report found 80% of respondents had discussed their retirement plans with their spouse, and 37% said their spouse or partner was the most influential factor in their decision to retire.
“When you retire, your whole life is about to change – from your cash flow to what you’re going to do with your time,” Schmelzer says. “You don’t want to be caught by surprise. The more you communicate the better.”
Financial experts agree it’s a good idea to discuss retirement plans with your partner. However, if you both decide to retire around the same time, each partner should be careful not to give up his or her identity. “You don’t have to be lockstep in retirement,” Darling says. “A married couple doesn’t have to be together every minute.”
“Retirement is a major stressor on relationships, because people are so preoccupied with setting up the financial bedrock of retirement that they don’t think about interpersonal challenges. They don’t think about the lifestyle change,” says Bornstein, 54, co-author of How to Age in Place written with his wife, psychologist Mary Languirand, 56.
“Part of the problem is they may go from being together two or three hours a day to being together 24/7. And it happens all at once. Even if you love this person dearly, you are not used to being that close all the time. You have to plan for it,” he says.
There are two different situations that can be problematic, he says. One is where both members of the couple stop working at the same time and have to fill the void. “They have to create structure to fill their days, and many of us have never had to do that for the last 30 or 40 years.”
The other scenario is when one member of the couple is working, and the other has been at home, such as an at-home wife. The non-working partner may feel like the retired person is intruding in their space, Bornstein says. In Japan, this is called the “retired husband syndrome,” and the wife may suffer tremendous stress and even depression, he says.
Psychologist Willard Harley, Jr., 72, author of the best-selling His Needs, Her Needs and a new book, He Wins, She Wins, agrees that retirement can be a stressful time for couples who may have financial issues, health concerns and trouble adjusting to a loss of identity from leaving their jobs.
For many couples, their jobs may have kept them apart for 60 or more hours a week. “If you have gotten used to independent lifestyles, all of the sudden you are faced with the fact that you have very little in common and no longer feel compatible.”
One prescription for a happy relationship in retirement is for people to work together “to create a lifestyle that they both enjoy, that meets both of their emotional needs and that takes the other person’s feelings into account,” says Harley, who has counseled thousands of couples, including many who are retired. He and his wife, Joyce, 70, host a daily radio show and work together on their website, marriagebuilders.com.
“One of my basic premises is you should never do anything without ‘enthusiastic agreement’ between the two of you because everything you do affects each other. It’s a simple concept,” he says.
Here’s how the process works: When a couple is trying to make a decision or resolve a conflict, they both must begin with the goal of a mutually enthusiastic agreement. Until one is discovered, they keep negotiating, Harley says. It forces each partner to develop a deep understanding and respect of the other person in order to achieve that objective.
This could apply to everything from financial decisions to recreational choices to how to spend your time, he says. By using this approach, they not only resolve the conflict, but they also form a deeper and more romantic relationship with each other.
Another key to happiness for couples is being sensitive to the other person’s needs, which often means giving your partner your undivided attention, Harley says, “For women, undivided attention is a crucial element in meeting their emotional needs, while it’s not always important for men.”
Becoming compatible means finding things you enjoy doing together, he says. “I try to get people to do things together, to plan recreational activities, to work together on projects. What they do together should be more enjoyable than anything they do apart, because it helps maintain the feeling of romantic love that a couple has toward each other.”
Bornstein adds, “Couples need to strike a balance between togetherness and having some time apart.” Some may want to cultivate separate interests so they aren’t together for at least a portion of each day, he says. “It gives you breathing room. But every couple is different, and other couples do fine spending every minute of every day together.”
Couples should have some separate friends they spend time with, Bornstein says, and he suggests that they create some private space within the home, which might mean separate offices or a shop or hobby room. “Those kinds of things make a tremendous difference in terms of having enough separateness so that when you are together, it’s rewarding, as opposed to overwhelming.” He advises planning this out before retirement so that it gets off to a good start.
Harley and his wife, Joyce, who have been married for 50 years, are not retired, but, like many retired couples, they spend a lot of time with each other. He says they are still very much in love, and enjoy doing things together — walking, taking day trips to parks, going for rides on river boats, traveling, seeing movies and watching TV. “We don’t play competitive games, because we don’t want the other person to lose.” In your golden years, “you can become the most compatible you’ve ever been,” he says.
Here are four guidelines for how couples can negotiate “enthusiastic agreements” on decisions from the new book, He Wins, She Wins:
- Set ground rules to make negotiation pleasant and safe. Do not make demands, show disrespect or become angry when you negotiate. If you reach an impasse where you do not seem to be getting anywhere, stop negotiating and come back later.
- Identify the conflict from both perspectives. State the conflict. Use a notebook or smartphone to try to document everything you know about the issue, then describe each other’s conflicting perspective. Respect is key to success in negotiation.
- Brainstorm with abandon. Look for mutually acceptable solutions. You may be tempted to sacrifice, to give into your spouse’s wishes, but that’s not a win-win outcome. Your goal should be mutual happiness with neither of you gaining at the other’s expense.
- Choose the solution that meets the conditions of mutual and enthusiastic agreement. Many problems are relatively easy to solve if you know you must take each other’s feelings into account.
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