Navigating your relationship in retirement: How to embrace change for a strong and vibrant future

Feb 07, 2024
Retirement is a time of immense change, both individually and within a relationship. Source: Getty Images.

Retirement marks a significant milestone in our lives, a time to bid farewell to our careers and embrace a new phase of freedom and relaxation. However, this transition can bring about substantial changes to our daily routines and lifestyles that can test even the strongest of relationships.

While some couples relish the opportunity to spend more quality time together in retirement, others can find the transition difficult to adjust to. As you navigate the uncharted waters of retirement, it becomes essential to proactively adapt and nurture your connection, to ensure a fulfilling and harmonious future together.

In an attempt to help navigate this newfound stage of your life, Starts at 60 explores the various changes that can occur in retirement while providing guidance on how to navigate and strengthen your relationship during this transformative phase of life.

What are some of the challenges couples can experience in retirement? 

While relationships can experience their fair share of challenges at any stage of life, entering retirement can present significant changes to the dynamic of your partnership as you embrace a more leisurely schedule after years of the structure that comes with daily work.

While having more time on your hands can offer you the opportunity to strengthen your bond through shared interests and spending more time together it can also present a series of challenges.

Some common challenges that you may encounter include adjusting to an increase in the amount of time spent with your significant other which could lead to conflicts if you each have different preferences or are having trouble adjusting to your new routine.

Moving from a regular salary to a fixed income can also put a strain on the relationship, especially when unexpected expenses arise. Moreover, retirement can bring about a loss of identity for individuals who strongly identified with their careers, leading to feelings of purposelessness or a lack of fulfillment.

Psychologist and Headspace App’s Mental Health Expert, Carly Dober offered some further insight into why these problems arise in retirement.

“These issues can occur because if one person retires suddenly their whole life is different,” Dober explains.

“They no longer need to get up when they are used to getting up, they no longer have the same routine, they certainly can do anything that they want with their days and times which can lead to resentment and jealousy from the other party, it can also lead to worsening mental and physical health symptoms if the person who has retired does not engage in activities and socialisation.

“The retiree might feel they aren’t needed or discarded, there can also be a disruption to this adjustment period when suddenly one topic of conversation is off the table for one person (talking about their workday as there no longer is one).”

How can couples navigate these challenges successfully?

While these challenges can sometimes seem insurmountable, particularly when emotions are running high, there are a number of ways to address these obstacles to ensure a harmonious partnership in retirement.

By recognising the potential impact of lifestyle changes, adjusting roles and expectations, and fostering open communication, you can find effective strategies to maintain a fulfilling and successful relationship.

In order to be ready to meet the relationship challenges that can arise in retirement, Dober recommends “planning ahead if retirement has not yet come”.

“This can be done by thinking about what hobbies and activities you enjoy doing and finding what might be available in your area to keep you busy, keep you connected and engaged,” Dober explains.

“You can also chat about how this might be disruptive to your partnership and chat about exciting things that you can do to spend time and connect together.”

Dober also stresses the importance of “a weekly chat” in order to “see how things are going between you both”.

“You can also practice acceptance and compassion as you both individually and together navigate this change in life and consider adopting a regular mindfulness practice to ensure that if you start to panic or feel resentful, sad or anxious but you’re able to connect to the present moment and sit with these emotions,” Dober says.

“Free programs such as the Headspace App have wonderful guided programs to support change, stress, anxiety, and relationship issues to help you get you started.”

Dobber encourages couples to “maintain perspective and consider as a couple how many changes you have survived, what you learnt about each other,  and how you got through those periods.”

“You likely have many strengths as a couple and this is the perfect time to utilise them and make the most of this new chapter in your life,” she says.

“Maintain your connection with your social circle and speak out if you are struggling. Change can be very difficult, and if you do find yourself feeling like it is overwhelming, chat to your GP about your options.”

Retirement is a time of immense change, both individually and within a relationship. Navigating this transformative phase requires openness, adaptability, and a commitment to nurturing the bond with your partner.

By embracing individual growth, maintaining open and honest communication, adapting to new routines, and seeking external support when needed, you can ensure a fulfilling and harmonious relationship.

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