You spend years crafting your relationship, juggling snippets of quality time together with busy work schedules and family commitments – so what happens when all that’s gone, and it’s just you two left?
While many couples embrace retirement together with open arms, others find the transition confronting and difficult. Suddenly, your spouse who spent hours every day at the office is hovering around constantly, and you’ve no longer got the distraction of work to keep you busy.
Without kids and grandkids around to look after, it’s left to you to plan a whole new life together – and with that, many believe there comes a whole new relationship too.
Sian Khuman, practice specialist for therapeutic services at Relationships Australia, told Starts at 60 it’s very common for people to struggle with the “huge change and adjustment” that comes with retirement, as well as an end to work and at-home parenting.
“It is important to recognise that it’s a move into a different life stage and treat it as such,” she explained. “That means it’s important to plan and prepare for it separately and together as a couple. You need to accept it will feel strange and different – there may be feelings of loss.”
It’s certainly far from a negative time for some couples, as they’re suddenly free to enjoy each other’s company again – effectively taking them right back to the start of their relationship when it was just the two of them.
But you can also experience some difficulties. Social forum Gransnet stated: “Women struggle so much with their husbands’ behaviour post-retirement that we’ve had to give it a name – it’s called Retired Husband Syndrome.”
Indeed, Retired Husband Syndrome is a genuine stress condition experienced by women right across the world when their partners give up work, and past studies have found it can result in sleeplessness and even depression, as some women struggle to adapt.
Megan Luscombe, Hello Tiger Relationship Expert, and qualified life coach told Starts at 60, “It’s worth noting that due to society’s pressure (and established set up) of men to be the patriarchs of their family, when they step out of a work/leadership environment they can bring that energy and ingrained behaviour home.”
“Meaning they want to oversee everything the wife does or that they’ll take control of ‘running’ the house, which in turn lies the arguments.
“If the couple aren’t able to navigate this new space together, it can ultimately end the marriage.”
A 2013 study, found eight in 10 pensioners don’t share the same hobbies and interests as their spouse. Meanwhile, four in 10 of those asked admitted they needed to learn how to live with each other again, now their kids and grandkids had flown the nest.
Offering advice for couples struggling to come to terms with such a major shift in their relationship, Khuman said it’s worth trying out some new hobbies – whether that’s individually or as a couple – as a new distraction and way to enjoy the new freedom you have.
“Some couples stage their retirement so they have part-time work as a transition,” she explained. “Spending time discussing the change, building hobbies in as the change is occurring is a good idea too.
“Set up daily routines and rituals that are enjoyable. Couples can easily feel separate in this time so it is good to take time to discuss the change and how to support each other.”
Luscombe suggested similiar advice, revealing that good communication is at the heart of managing these issues.
“Communication needs to take place about everything from household chores, expectations of the relationship, what independent time looks like, boundaries that are needed now due to living in close proximity etc. It is a time for couples to renegotiate the relationship and what it looks like as you enter this new phase,” she said.
As for what these boundaries could look like, Luscombe recommended “mapping out alone time” in a respectful way such as using the following prompts:
“On Monday evenings I’m spending it alone watching some of my favourite movies” or “On Sundays I am going out to play golf and won’t be home to chat until later in the evening” or “Let’s once a week check in with each other to plan out our upcoming week to ensure we have enough time together but also independently”.