Togetherness – Can There Be Too Much of a Good Thing?

Friends at Lighthouse

2014-01-28 George Bernard Shaw

When you think about the changes and adjustments that are going to occur when you retire, the most obvious one is that you’re now going to have much more time on your hands.  You won’t be going in to work.  You can now choose what to do with every waking hour of every day.

But there’s another change that comes in tandem with no longer going in to work.  It’s just as profound, and many couples don’t anticipate it and are caught by surprise when it happens.

Suddenly, you have a lot more time to spend together.

What was your initial reaction to reading the previous sentence?  Even for couples who genuinely enjoy each other’s company, this change may illuminate differences in how much time each partner wishes to spend together and how much time and space they wish to have for themselves.

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been at home every day.  Even though Jeff left full-time employment at the end of October, he had been working from home for the past three years.  He has already adjusted to being confined to the walls of our home for large parts of the day.  But when I wasn’t here, he set up his routine to accommodate his job and his other home activities his way.

Now that I’m at home most of the time, one issue we’re dealing with is how we communicate with each other.

We have always had our computers in the same room, which we purposely chose.  But it sometimes bothers Jeff that it seems like I spend a lot of my time focused on my computer, engaged in my new pursuits (writing, blogging, web site development, as well as reading and correspondence related to this).

And admittedly, I spend a little too much time on social media, games, etc., which I need to scale back.

Jeff feels ignored when a certain amount of time passes and I don’t speak;  I feel annoyed if he tries to engage me in conversation when I’m trying to focus on writing.

We both have activities that take us outside the house.  We are both involved in musical groups, although not the same ones.  Jeff goes to the gym most mornings, while I tend to go hiking or biking on the weekend.  I’m involved in Toastmasters, while Jeff is developing a growing list of clients for his medium services.

We talk about the things that happened in our various activities, but there’s not always that much to say.  When I ride my bike, I tend to ride one particular bike trail most of the time, so it’s not much different from one ride to the next.  There’s not much to say about it.

When couples experience a major change in the amount of time they spend together, their expectations for how this “new normal” should look can vary widely. 

In our case, having me at home all the time means to Jeff that we should be talking more throughout the day.  On the other hand, I need to have blocks of uninterrupted time to write and tend to my other interests.  The ideal balance is somewhere in between.

For every couple, there are many potential sources of difference which require both partners to talk and be flexible in order to find the right balance. 

Here are just a few:

  • How many activities to participate in together vs. separately
  • How much time to spend at home vs. outside the home
  • How much time to spend in productive pursuits vs. recreation and relaxation

Here are several suggestions for how to anticipate these changes and deal with them when they occur.

  1. Set up regular times to spend together, doing purely recreational things that you both enjoy.  Many couples who are still working and whose lives are full set up “date nights,” and this might continue to work well for retired couples.  Even small moments during a typical day can make a big difference.  We know a couple who are still in their working years, but both of whom work at home.  They have agreed to take mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks together, in which they sit on their back porch and have coffee and chat about whatever they have been working on.
  2. Re-negotiate household duties.  In cases where one partner worked full-time and the other worked only part-time or was a full-time homemaker, or in cases where one partner traveled extensively for work but no longer does, realigning household chores may be in order.  The retiring worker may feel that his days will now be free for all the golfing, reading, and TV-watching he desires, without considering that the homemaker will have to prepare meals and clean house for the rest of their lives.
  3. Compare, discuss and align your interests and needs.  Regardless of whether you’re looking forward to retirement or you’re already there, both partners can complete the Retirement Visualization Guide.  Print off three copies.  Do it separately first, then use the third copy to merge the items that each of you came up with individually.  In particular, pay attention to which interests are common interests vs. separate, individual interests.  Discuss what the right balance for you might be.  Most people find that they need some time apart and some time together.

The bottom line is that it’s important to realize that each person will have his/her own preferences and needs for shared time and personal time. 

During your working career, work dictated that you spent a lot of time apart (unless you owned a business together).  Acknowledge that the change in your situation and the amount of time you have available will necessitate re-examining your interpersonal dynamic and your needs and desires.

As with most things, open and honest communication, in which both partners feel empowered to share how they really feel, will help you to align your expectations.


©2014 Dave Hughes.  All rights reserved.

Photo credit:  Andrew Whalley.  Some rights reserved.

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