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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