Retirement & Relationships

Ask a middle aged couple to enumerate the difficult stages of marriage and they will likely mention the "what have I done" weeks that follow the honeymoon, the years raising teenaged children and, of course, the challenges of the middle age crisis (for one or both partners).  Few would think to include retirement, that blissful reward for the trials of life, filled with relaxation, travel and carefree coexistence.

Yet, relationships are stressed during retirement for a number of reasons.  For some, financial insecurity and healthcare expenses become major concerns.  For others, the meaning of retirement, itself, is a source of conflict, arising from different interpretations of what is productive activity and what is pure idleness.

Of major significance is the fact that retirement brings a 24/7 togetherness that was never present during  earlier years of the relationship, even during those initial months of romance.  While, over the years, we have come to accept and joke about one another's curious and annoying habits, we must now face them on a daily (if not hourly) basis.  Older, bickering couples have long been a staple on television sitcoms and, in concert with the aging of liberal-mined baby boomers, divorce rates have climbed dramatically for those over fifty.  In my opinion, the marital challenges of retirement are best approached like those of middle age (see The Middle Age Syndrome): regular periods of independent activity, respect for one another's interests, a willingness to take on new challenges (education, volunteer activities, new hobbies, etc.), a commitment to activities that both partners enjoy and a mutual desire for open and honest communication.