7 Tips for Thriving as a Mixed-Retirement Couple

It’s not uncommon for two-career couples to retire at different times. This may happen when there is a significant age difference or if one spouse retires sooner than planned due to an unexpected layoff or an irresistible early retirement incentive package. In other cases, one spouse may feel burnt out and ready to throw in the towel while the other spouse is at the peak of his or her career and wants to keep going for a few more years.

Whatever the circumstances, mixed-retirement marriages are situations ripe for resentment and stress. For a time, you and your spouse will have to coexist in different realities, something for which you may be ill-prepared. Here are seven tips that will help you and your spouse adjust to having one spouse work while the other is retired.

1. Go to bed and get up at the same time.

The retired spouse might prefer to be a night owl and may relish the idea of not waking up to an alarm clock. But maintaining separate sleep schedules will lead to a decrease in closeness and quality time for you and your spouse to share. Plus, waking up or preparing for bed while the other spouse is trying to sleep may lead to interrupted sleep and annoyance.

It may be helpful for the retired spouse to get a part-time job that starts at the same time as the working spouse’s job, or find a regular volunteer or activity commitment that involves a similar start time.

2. Renegotiate household chores.

The retired spouse can take on extra chores, which he or she can perform while the other spouse is still at work. The working spouse will genuinely appreciate this, and it will allow the couple to spend more time enjoying each other’s company during evenings and weekends. However, if you are the working spouse you should be prepared to accept that the retired spouse may approach some chores differently than you, such as loading the dishwasher or folding the laundry.

Perhaps the greatest potential for marital conflict occurs when the working spouse feels that the retired spouse isn’t doing enough around the house. The retired spouse feels that he or she is entitled to a life of leisure after decades of working, while the working spouse still maintains the burden of working and then coming home to a list of chores.

3. Have honest conversations about how the change in income will impact you.

Most people will receive less income from their retirement savings than they enjoyed while they worked. Both you and your spouse should discuss how your spending patterns will change as a result of having less income. This may be particularly relevant for the retired spouse, who will now have more idle hours and may be inclined to spend that time shopping.

4. The retired spouse can focus on projects that don’t include the other person.

Chances are, you have a list of projects that you have been hoping to get to someday when you have the time. If you are the spouse that retires first, you have the opportunity to check these items off of your to-do list. Then when your spouse retires, you’ll have more time to spend together.

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5. The retired spouse should remain engaged with the world.

Once you are both retired, you will be able to spend time doing things together. But until then, the retired spouse should take steps to avoid being trapped at home alone all day. Some retired spouses find part-time jobs primarily to get out of the house and stay engaged with people. If you are the retired spouse, limit your time watching TV or using the computer so that you don’t form sedentary habits that are unhealthy and may be difficult to break later.

6. Remain aware of the working spouse’s needs.

Once you are retired, you may have little interest in hearing about job-related matters, but your working spouse will appreciate being able to talk about what happened at work that day. Be aware that the working spouse may want to relax and decompress after a hard day at work, while the retired spouse may be eager to start doing things together.

7. Be patient while your spouse adjusts to retirement.

Everyone goes through a number of adjustments when they retire. If the retired spouse was accustomed to a highly scheduled day, he or she may find it challenging to adjust to a much less structured routine. The retired spouse will experience less contact with other people during the day, especially in cases where most of his or her friends were co-workers. The retired spouse may struggle with a loss of purpose or work identity. All of these changes may be difficult for the working spouse to comprehend, but it will be helpful for the working spouse to have empathy for the changes the retired spouse is experiencing.

As always, please feel welcome to comment below.

Special thanks to the Retire Fabulously! readers who contributed their suggestions and experiences for this article.

Reprinted from my blog on U.S. News – On Retirement.
© 2017 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
Businessman staring out window: mhouge.
Man waking up: Mark SetonSome rights reserved.
Man doing dishes: BostonTxSome rights reserved.
Two women talking: sea turtleSome rights reserved.
Woodworking tools: wohnblogAt.
People mingling: See-ming LeeSome rights reserved.
Conversation with devices and handbag: Alejandro Escamilla.
Floating bowl with flowers: shutterbean.

2 Responses

  1. Wm DeyErmand says:

    I hope this article helps a lot of couples to understand what is around the corner waiting. When my wife was “let go” from work, we were totally out of sync, until she started working part time for herself. She wasn’t tired and didn’t need to turn in as early. I would come home and find all the chores done that we shared in doing while talking about our work day. Sometimes I would see a note on the table saying “Grab something to eat” because of something that came up. I not only had to have patience, I had to have endurance. Talking about her needs and not talking about my job, helped us when she was reinventing herself. I hope I can handle the “long, lonely days at the house” after retirement as well, adjusting to myself, and finding a part time job. Seems like it should be a step by step to retirement and one person at a time.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences! Somehow I don’t think you will have a problem with “long, lonely days” because both you and your wife seem to be pretty mindful and aware of your situations and needs.

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