While most people look forward to their retirement, many find the adjustment difficult. As a major life transition like becoming parents to newborns, it can be stressful. In the first two years of retirement a significant proportion of couples experience greater marital conflict and lower marital satisfaction. Greater moodiness, criticism, blaming and negativity can dominate the relationship. Almost all couples return to a more content and harmonious state similar to pre-retirement, once they have become settled into their new life. Osborne (2012)
While almost all couples have made financial plans for retirement, the majority do not plan for the lifestyle they want. One survey of couples approaching retirement who had the financial means to retire found that:
- 62% of couples didn’t agree on when each would retire
- 47% of couples didn’t agree on whether they will continue to work in retirement
- 33% didn’t agree on where they plan to live in retirement
Men have a more difficult time adjusting to retirement than women, studies have shown. They are more likely to become depressed, feel loss of identity, status and sense of accomplishment than women experience. They are more likely to lean on their wife for socializing, while women tend to have a wider circle of friends.
Many couples make the transition to retirement much more smoothly than others. They seem to be well prepared for the changes. They have gradually replaced the world of work with recreational, social, charitable and family activities, making the adjustment less stressful.
How to Minimize Stress in Marriage at Retirement
What are successful couples doing who adjust well to retirement that minimizes conflict, dissatisfaction and depression? First, they are not in denial about the stage of life they are at. They are not extending work to avoid an unhappy marriage. They do not lack other interests or friends. They are accepting that it is time to retire or looking forward to it. They are planning, talking to each other and preparing for retirement. According to Sara Yogev in A Couple’s Guide to Happy Retirement, there are four areas to consider to reduce stress in the transition.
1. Plan what will replace the loss of structured time spent at work
Work fulfills certain human needs. Activities to fulfil these needs will need to be found. People who are ‘workaholics’ or work long unconventional hours will need to plan and prepare more for the loss of work than others. The alternate activities to fulfil their needs may be more difficult. Often ‘bridge employment’ which is part-time work, consulting or completing time- limited projects is helpful for them to adjust to retirement gradually. Volunteer and charitable work, recreational activities and hobbies help others feel productive and active. Here are some questions to determine the ease with which you will adjust to the absence of structured time:
- How many hours per week did you work on average?
a. 70 hrs or more
b. 45-70 hrs,
c. around 40 hrs
d. fewer than 40 hrs
- What was your work schedule?
a. Traditional 5 days a week, weekends off,
b. Mix of traditional and flexible days,
c. Chose your schedule,
d. Business owner – worked based on business requirements.
- How did you feel when not working and on vacation?
a. Restless – more comfortable at work than relaxing with family,
b. Enjoyed being with family but thought a lot about work,
c. Mostly enjoyed time away but sometimes wished to be at work,
d. Completely relaxed and forgot about work.
If you answered a. to most of the questions your adjustment will be more difficult than others. If you answered b. or c., then you may have some challenges. If you answered mostly d. you will make the adjustment more easily.
2. Evaluate your social life now while working and how you want it to change in retirement
For those whose co-workers and colleagues represent the main source of friendships, retirement often leaves a void in their life. Staying friends with former work associates may be difficult because seeing them is a reminder of what was left behind. Expanding a friendship circle at retirement seems more important for men. Women tend to have more diverse and stronger circles of friends, whether they worked outside the home or not.
Which of the following statements best characterizes your work relationships?
a. The people I worked with are my closest friends and almost all socializing is with them, because they understand me, appreciate me and my strengths.
b. I have many friends from work and socialize with them outside work, but also have many non-work friends and both are important to me.
c. I liked the people I worked with and a few became good friends, but most of my close relationships are extended family, long-time friends made at school/university, neighbours and friends made through shared interests/activities.
d. My work associates were fine, but I didn’t develop real friendships and rarely did anything with them after work or on weekends.
Again, if you answered a. your adjustment will be more difficult than others. If you answered b. or c., then you may have some challenges. If you answered d., you will make the adjustment more easily.
3. Reflect on how important your work-life identity, accomplishments and status are to you and your partner and anticipate what you need to do to adjust to the sense of loss of these
For many people in our society, what you do for a living defines who you are. It is often one of the first questions we are asked when we meet someone for the first time. Our occupational identity is often interwoven with our perception of how accomplished and successful we are. When a large part of your self worth is tied to your occupational identity, it will be important to recognize the sense of loss you may experience and will need find alternate activities to fill this void.
Indicate whether the following statements apply to you.
- Time at work flies by. Yes No
- Great satisfaction in my life comes from my work. Yes No
- I plan ahead for the next day’s work activities. Yes No
- I am very involved personally in my work. Yes No
- I have received a number of promotions Yes No
- From education, training and experience, I have reached a high level of expertise in my field. Yes No
- The most important things that happen in my life are usually related to my work. Yes No
- I believe it is all right to work long hours if you love working. Yes No
- I often think about my work when away from it. Yes No
- I would probably keep working even if I did not need the money. Yes No
If the majority of the statements apply to you, then you probably had a career (as opposed to a job) that you really identified with. Adjusting to your new life without it may be a challenge.
4. Identify your life purpose
Some people are driven to achieve a noble objective by sacrificing family life, personal time and income, such as people in helping professions; health sciences/medicine, social activism or community work. For others work has less of a connection to a life purpose.
If you are unsure where you stand, ask yourself the following questions:
- When I began working, did I have a vision of what I wanted to accomplish in my life?
- If yes, did my work enable me to pursue this vision with great commitment and satisfaction?
- Would I feel less fulfilled without my work?
If your answer to one or more of these questions is yes, you can consider yourself very lucky. However, your adjustment to retirement will be difficult if you can no longer fulfil this life purpose through work. You will need to either continue working on a part-time basis or find a similar new purpose in retirement.
With many baby boomers entering retirement, their activities and lifestyles can be tailored to their individual needs. Some important reflection and good planning can accomplish this and will help make life together as a couple more fun.