Retirement — 25 November 2007
How couples can best prepare for retirement

Retirement is a personal experience, yet it is also a couple’s event. How mates deal with their later life planning makes a great difference to their personal happiness and the comfort they continue to receive from their union.

Today’s retirees span a variety of ages. Some are in their mid-sixties or older while others are younger baby boomers already living the job-free life.
Regardless of the circumstances, retirement is an event that produces mixed emotional reactions. It is an end and a beginning sparked by grief and loss as well as relief and hope. It produces a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of emptiness. It is a move from defined identity to a yet unformed one. It is a point of calmness and fear – as one transitions from the familiar to the unknown.

When they retire, both the homemaker and the one who works outside the home must redefine their identity for their newly created lifestyle. Though mutual retirement creates a more blissful existence, many others find this passage to be conflict-ridden. According to research done by Phyllis Moen, professor of sociology and human development at Cornell University: “ newly retired men and women report more marital conflict than their not-yet retired or long-term retired (more than two years) counterparts”.

Lack of clarity about role division may cause difficulty for some pairs who do not retire at the same time. If not previously negotiated, the still-employed partner may view the retired person as free and unencumbered and may expect him/her to shoulder more of the responsibilities at home. The retired person may relish the reduction of burdens rather than desire to undertake new ones. This divergence of perspectives may create an ongoing marital rift.

Another source of difficulty for couples who do not retire at the same time has to do with the need for companionship. Those who feel that their tasks at work have been completed may be ready for a “non-work” phase of their lives, which may include joint pleasures, fun activities and shared companionship. When the mate is still employed, the free partner may feel lonely, abandoned and yearning for greater connection leading to frustration and anger. The working partner may feel put upon and guilty for electing to

follow his/her path and disappoint the partner. Moen’s research, also found that: “Marital quality slumps the most among couples in which only one spouse retires, especially when the husband retires and the wife keeps working”. Maximiliane Szinovacz confirmed these findings in his study based on data from the National Survey of Families and Households.

When a working spouse retires and is home with the homemaker, the latter may feel that her space is invaded as her partner is physically there observing her at work and offering unsolicited suggestions. More commonly, it is women who voice their dread about their husband’s impending retirement expecting his constant presence at home to be an intrusion and an anticipated loss of their freedom and autonomy.

A common difficulty for partners who retire at the same time occurs when they do not share the same dream about the third part of their lives. If, for example, one wishes to move to a city, while the other has always dreamt about country farming, their diverging passions may collide.

Retirement from work is not synonymous with retiring from life – it can be a shared restructuring that will be enhancing to both.

• Jointly plan for your retirement as you have planned the previous life-stages.
• Planning for retirement offers options that may not have been available before. For
example, some people reside in an area that offered them the best employment
opportunities, not necessarily the one that suits their preferences better.
• Begin your planning early so you can find a scenario that maximizes both of your essential wishes, even if it does not covers them all.
• If you do not plan to retire at the same time discuss in advance the issues of concern and seek options to minimize conflict.
• Respect your partner’s dreams even if they are very different than yours. Mutual regard sets the stage for finding options that more closely approximate both of your needs.
• Agree only to choices that you can comfortably live with without feeling coerced, resentful, cheated or resentful.
• Planning for your future together can be as exciting and fun as were your initial dream sharing borne out of love and intimacy.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life.

Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions.

Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column “Relationship Matters” for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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