When one spouse retires first

How to avoid the major pitfalls of a mixed-retirement relationship.

When one spouse retires first

On average, men are about three years older than their wives. It’s not surprising then that many men retire years before their wives. This can be a time in life when couples feel out of synch. The best way to avoid tension in a staggered retirement relationship is to talk about the issues before they arise.

One of the greatest sources of tension in a mixed retirement relationship is the renegotiation of chores. Generally speaking, women do more housework than men. If it is the man who retires first, he may need to take over household chores he hasn’t had to do before, to even up the workload. This can take understanding on both sides. The retired partner should actively seek the chores out, to avoid a situation where the working partner feels like they’re having to tell the retired partner what to do. The working partner, on the other hand, needs to be mindful that not everyone does chores in the same way, and that micromanaging is never a helpful approach.

Planning for retirement doesn’t just mean financial planning. It’s also important to plan what you want your retirement to look like. As the only partner at home, it can be easy to slip into endless days of television and wafting around the house, waiting for your playmate to get home. Retirement isn’t easy – many people report feeling guilty for not working, and boredom can set in fast if you don’t have a plan in place. Think about what makes you happy, and structure at least part of your week around that. If you love gardening, get out there, and maybe offer your neighbours a hand when you’ve run out of things to do in your own backyard. If you have an active mind, commit to learning a new skill, or start attending lectures at your local university – if you pick the big lecture halls, nobody will notice or mind you being there. If you let yourself get bored in retirement, you will feel miserable, and your partner will feel bad about continuing to work and leaving you on your own, which isn’t a happy place to be for either of you.

Living on a single income may be better than living on no income, but it’s still going to be a change. The retired partner may wish to start a hobby, so discussing issues like the retired person getting an allowance to ‘play’ with beforehand is important, to avoid anyone feeling like they have to ask for a handout. Another helpful strategy, if you are not already retired, is to start living on a single income for a year before you retire. This will give you both an idea of what to expect when the time comes, and it allows you to put away one person’s full income for a year.

Social life
There are a number of issues that come up around socialising when one of you retires. If you’re the retired partner, you may have to rethink your social life now that you don’t have work colleagues. If you would normally rely on your partner for a social life, you may need to become more proactive in your approach, and start doing some of the planning. Joining groups and discovering new hobbies are great ways to meet people and get out of the house. It’s important to remember too that the partner who is still working is likely to come home tired at the end of the day, and while you might be up for a chat as soon as they walk in the door, or have a whole evening of activities planned together, they might just need some time to unwind and crash after a long day at work. 

This is an easy one – going to bed at different times can create distance between partners. The retired partner may feel the urge to become a night owl, staying up late and sleeping in, but if possible try to avoid falling into this habit. Instead, keep to your partner’s sleep schedule, and enjoy some time winding down together at the end of the evening. By getting up at a reasonable hour in the mornings, you’ll find your days are more productive, and you won’t have to wake up alone – you could even start a breakfast routine together, or walk your partner to work or the train station.

Can you offer any advice to those who may be entering or struggling with a mixed retirement relationship?



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    5th Jul 2018
    These are very good points. Maintaining a social life is crucial and often harder for men. I kept working for 6 years after my husband retired. Partly financial, partly because Being a bit younger I wasn’t ready to stop work. However, I noticed his mental health started to suffer so together we got him involved in activities he enjoyed. Men’s Sheds, U3A, bowls , golf and cycling clubs are a godsend. We always spent weekends together. When I retired at 60, we had a nest egg which we are using up for travel.
    5th Jul 2018
    Don't fall for it fellers, it's a big con job.

    A mate of mine fell for it. Retiring 5 years before his wife, as well as all the gardening, mowing & maintenance on their 2.5 acre block, he picked up the washing, cleaning, shopping & other such chores. He even picked up the cooking.

    Come her retirement, she appeared to miss the social aspects of working, & was often out "catching up" with friends for coffee or lunch. When not, she was watching TV. This was probably the main problem, as like me, he can't stand the garbage that is day time TV. With all this, she made no effort to pick up some of the chores he had been doing alone for the last 5 years.

    His mild suggestions that she might like to pick up a few of the chores, now she was retired were totally ignored. The crunch came when he just stopped doing the washing, & she had no clean underwear for one of her catch up coffee dates.

    After the explosion, a reasonable discussion ensued, & he is no longer wearing all; the work.

    As for boredom fellers, try my approach. I took up flying remote control model aircraft. There is a wide range of these in foam plastic today, at very reasonable prices. At my age, you don't pick up new skills all that quickly, so I do crash them a bit.

    The beauty of these foam plastic things is that they are very repairable. I may not be the greatest flying ace of toy planes, but I am becoming highly skilled at repairing the things. Do try it fellers, it's great fun. It also means I am always looking forward to Wednesday morning, when the remote controlled club old blokes have a morning of flying
    5th Jul 2018
    Very wise words there, Hasbeen. I do quite a bit of housework and washing etc. But then everything else like vacuuming and cleaning bathroom and toilets is done by partner. I just do not seem to see the dirt and grime that accumulates in the shower cubicle.
    We do go to clubs and the local as often as we can afford and we both do not like the offerings of daytime TV and soon the stuff at night gets to be the same. Wonder whether I finally have to get pay-TV? In our area we would need a dish on top of the roof to get it but it might be worth getting the BBC etc.
    5th Jul 2018
    I was forced into an early retirement when I was made redundant at 57. Then cared for my late partner who had cancer for the last 5 years of his life. I did feel a bit lost after he died, what was my role now? But I have never been bored......enjoy spending time on my own and also socialising. I love being able to do what I want when I want. I got involved in some social justice groups (refugees, homeless etc) and finally pursuing my childhood dream of writing. I see my friends whose spouses are retired and they don't like having him around all the time. Guys, get with it and get a few interests outside the house
    5th Jul 2018
    The best idea for the male is to find the nearest Mens Shed. Have a look and join. Once joined see if there are social events where the wives are invited along. ie the local shopping centre for coffee on a Sat morning as a group were the wives meet other wives of the mens shed. The wives can see the difference to their men. It becomes happier at home once the wives are involved in some of the suggestions of projects for the Men at the Shed.
    For the men at home do some of the jobs around the house. make sure the house maintanence up to scratch.

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