Neal and Pat Smith had a pretty consistent routine for 38 of their 50-plus years of marriage. Mr. Smith went to work and Mrs. Smith took care of the household chores and the children. Twelve years ago, Mr. Smith asked his wife what she thought about him retiring. She told him that was his decision and then promptly sought advice from a friend whose husband had been retired for a number of years.
“She gave me some wise advice,” says Mrs. Smith. “She said that since I was an only child and my husband was an only as well that we needed to give each other plenty of space to do our own thing. I think that has made a huge difference. We are together almost every evening, but during the day we can be in the house together, but not see each other for several hours as we pursue our own interests.”
Even though people say they look forward to the retirement years, experts know that the changes that accompany retirement can wreak havoc on a marriage. If one person is used to giving orders at work, he/she might inadvertently start giving out orders at home, or if a spouse sees his/her identity as what they do for a living, when that is no longer the case it can be a very challenging time.
“Neal retired the first of January,” Mrs. Smith says. “I think those first two weeks were really hard. I remember one morning when I was headed to the mall, and I asked him if he wanted to go along. He grumbled and got in the car. When we arrived at the mall, we had to wait on some stores to open. There were all these people walking the mall. Neal was still grumpy. I looked at him and said, ‘You are such a grump – look at all these people that are happy.’ To which he replied, ‘I did not retire to walk these d--n malls.’ I realized that while he thought he was ready to retire, maybe he was having some doubts.”
In spite of a bit of a rocky start, the Smiths will tell you that the last 19 years have been a lot of fun.
“If I had the opportunity to talk with couples before they retire, I would definitely tell them that having a plan, not just a financial plan, but a plan for your marriage is very important,” says Mr. Smith. “If you retire and sit at home with no idea what to do or you think that you have to do everything together, odds are nobody is going to be happy. We have taken trips with friends, we both have our separate interests and the things we enjoy doing as a couple."
Mr. Smith meets every week with a group of retired men. They call themselves ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out). They meet at 8:30 for breakfast, discuss the problems of the world and in their words, solve none of them. Then they finish around 9:30 and go on about their day.
“It took us a little while to get acclimated to retirement,” Mrs. Smith says. “The first week of retirement was traumatic. Sometimes it was the little things that created a bit of tension. Neal had always pulled his car in right behind mine because he was the first one to leave. I told him he would have to find another place to park his car because three mornings a week I left before him. I also said that the last person out of bed had to make the bed. One of the most fun changes is that Neal does most of the cooking now!”
If you are considering retirement, make sure your plan includes how you will deal with this transition in order to keep your marriage on track. The Smiths made the following suggestions to help couples prepare for this time of transition:
- Make a plan for how you will live within your means. The Smiths talked ahead of time about how retirement would impact their lifestyle. When the time came, they were ready to make the necessary changes.
- Talk about how things will be different. Keeping the lines of communication open is critical during this time of uncertainty.
- Connect with other retired folks. Spending time with people who have already been through the transition can help make your passage to retirement easier.
- Find some hobbies or expand the ones you already have. Mr. Smith is an avid fisherman and loves woodworking and gardening. No matter what time of year it is, he has a project going - whether it is preparing for the next fishing trip or planning his garden.
- Have a sense of humor. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself because crazy things will happen!
“Even though it took us a while to adjust, retirement has been great,” the Smiths say. “It has allowed us time for leisurely visits with our grandchildren without having to worry about rushing back for work. We have made some great friendships and have taken some fun trips. Best of all, we still enjoy each other’s company.”