5 things you need to know about marriage and retirement

Happy retired couple talking and having lunch at home

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When couples approach retirement they’re not doing it alone. Unless they’re both marching to the same beat on this, it could be difficult making it work. Here are 5 things that could help you negotiate this.

1. Talk—about your retirement

And begin that conversation the day you get married, says Stephen Treat, the CEO of the Council for Relationships at Jefferson Medical College. That’s probably unrealistic, but we get his point—start early.

He does suggest that five years out you should be having ‘intentional discussions about timing and what you see for your future. Six months before is going to be crunch time and you really need to have a serious talk.’

The discussions should include what roles you are both going to have; what you will do; how to manage the closeness to each other you will now have. Then there are some decisions that need thinking about—moving and health issues are two of them.

2. Talk—about your hopes and dreams

Retirement brings huge change in a marriage and change is stressful. Ending a career, particularly a rewarding career, is a major life transition, says Miriam Goodman. ‘It’s ultimately a loss, so people need time to mourn.’

She found from talking to several hundred retired men and women that the change was less traumatic for women ‘because so many are multi-taskers, and work is just one of many fulfilling things in their lives’.

Too many women discovered that their husbands did not transition well to retirement. Talking about hopes and dreams together before retirement begins a conversation that can continue in retirement. And it will help you understand each other better before and after.

3. Say ‘yes’ more often

John Gottman, the executive director of the Relationship Research Institute, says you can capture all his research about what makes a good marriage with the metaphor of a salt shaker. Instead of salt, it’s filled with all the ways you can say ‘yes’.

Here are some samples of ‘yes’: ‘Yes, that’s a good idea.’ ‘Yes, that’s a great point, I never thought of that.’ ‘Yes, let’s do that if you think it’s important.’

‘I’m not advising simple compliance,’ says Gottman. ‘Agreement is not the same as compliance, so if people think they’re giving in all the time, then their relationships are never going to work. There are conflicts that you absolutely must have because to give in is to give up some of your personality.’

And it’s particularly important for men to use the ‘yes’ salt. Gottman’s research shows that when a man is not willing to share power with his wife, there’s an 81 per cent chance that the marriage will self-destruct.

4. There are benefits for staying together

If a couple can build on their relationship and make it work that’s a huge advantage. There’s a whole history behind them that they bring with them into their retirement years.

There’s also this ‘surprising’ thing Gottman has found: the longer people are together, ‘the more the sense of kindness returns’. The relationship becomes akin to what it was like in courtship. Back then you de-emphasised the negative qualities and magnified the positive. The same thing happens in these long-term relationships.

5. Do you retire together or at different times?

Obviously, both work because couples do have successful retirements either way. Stephen Treat reckons it’s best for couples to retire at different times, though. ‘That way they’re not meshed together immediately.’ He believes that couples become ‘more whole’ on their own—retiring separately.

Any marriage is worth working on. Retirement brings with it new challenges on the relationship. But, by working together through the challenges, you can make your marriage into a beautiful thing.

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

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Category: Couples

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