Five ways retirement can put pressure on marriage

senior asian couple sitting on couch at home angry at each other

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I’m no expert on marriage, but I’ve been talking to some marriage counsellors about the pressures retirement puts on marriage. I’ve learned a few things about the problems retirement can bring.

There’s evidence of such a problem in the statistics I’ve used in a previous post: divorce among the 50-plus age group has increased in the past 20 years by 50% in the US; by 25% in Australia; and is the fastest growing divorce rate in the UK. Why?

Here are five common causes with suggested responses:

1. Question: who is this woman/man?

Life can be busy for couples, and busy with things they don’t do together. When retirement approaches, some discover they don’t really know each other. That’s been lost in their work life, family life and separate interests.

Some find it difficult to work out why they actually married this ‘stranger’.

Response? Think back to what attracted you to each other—to that original spark. Talk about and relive together some of the good experiences in your life. Spend time together—seriously planned time. Remember dating? It works for married couples, too.

2. Independent children

A shared interest in children (and grandchildren) is the only glue that holds some couples together. But by the time of retirement the children should be—actually, you hope they are—quite independent.

If the family is what has held the couple together and the need is no longer there, why hang around? Particularly if this is the only common interest.

Response? Still keeping in touch with family is  important—for them and the couple. This is something couples can do together. It could involve special occasions with family. The shared interest can continue—together.

3. No common interests

Speaking of common interests, the busy work life of a couple and a separate social life can lead to the point where there are no deep shared interests. Couples can live under the same roof, have meals together and share the same bed, but nothing more.

And they may well ask, ‘What will our retirement look like when we can’t find anything to do together now?’

Response? It could be helpful to start simple, perhaps with a shared bucket list, with an understanding that each will help the other achieve their separate goals. Then, perhaps they can attempt to work together on finding common ground or causes or clubs or . . .

4. The fight over who’s boss

The common illustration for this is one partner who’s been a high-flying executive in charge of the workplace. They can bring that home and wonder why their partner is not excited and embracing this new ‘skill’ in their house.

To be fair, this is usually sorted over time, unless the partner storms out before it is. However, it’s worth mentioning because of the strain it can bring.

Response? This may be difficult because the ‘boss’ is merely doing what has been natural for however many years. It will probably take time for them to adjust to the fact that their partner is not on the payroll—and will not do what they expect. Or the schedule is adaptable. Careful and open discussion is a key.

5. It’s just the two of them

In retirement, a couple will spend a lot of time together, perhaps for the first time since children arrived. There’ll be adjustments as they attempt to come to terms with this new situation.

It may not prove to be easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Response? Plan for time together and time apart. Time together is for rediscovering each other, if needed. Time apart allows freedom for each to be who they are—to follow their interests. It’s important that couples can do both.

I’m no expert on marriage and my responses tend toward simple. The most important point is probably this: if a couple can’t sort out their relationship, there’s value in getting help from someone who can.

And, let’s admit that some marriages will not—perhaps should not—survive. These same professionals can help couples create the best outcomes.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Couples

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