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Rules for a better retirement relationship

Published November 16. 2013 09:28AM

When it comes to the brave new world called retirement, there are more tricky issues than whether you'll have enough money.

While money woes could cause considerable problems if you're not prepared, how you spend your time could be another landmine.

No matter how long couples are married, they might not be prepared for retirement where, for perhaps the first time, a couple is together 24/7.

According to US News and World Reports, couples could have 20 years of retirement time together.

Many aren't prepared for all that togetherness.

Psychologist Ken Dychtwald says late-age divorce is a growing trend in the United States. The divorce rate for people 50 and over has doubled in the last two decades, with many divorces happening after retirement.

Psychologists claim a big reason for this is that when a couple is alone without the distraction of jobs or family, they sometimes realize they have grown apart to the point where they have nothing in common.

I was a bit stunned when a loving couple I know started to have friction when he could finally retire. He had a job that consumed him and getting a day off was a luxury.

He was looking forward to retirement where his time could be his own.

His wife, on the other hand, was dreading it and told him so repeatedly. They were married for 44 years and all that time she had her house and her days to herself. She had her own hobbies, her own routine and most of all, her own way of doing things.

"Now, he's going to retire, stay home and bring his executive style of management with him. I see this happen with my friends. A woman manages a house by herself for decades. Then her husband retires and starts telling her how to do things. I dread that," said the reluctant wife.

This couple had a rare gift that saved them. Their gift is the ability to communicate in an open, honest way. Because she was able to talk about her fears, they were able to address them in a way that suited both of them.

What reassured her most was that her husband didn't plan to constantly "stay home."

In retirement, he wasn't about to change his active commitment to his community. Now, he would simply have more time to serve in areas he found important.

When David and I married four years ago, I entered a new world I never had before. I never had that 24/7 time with someone.

Sure, I was married to Andy for more than 41 years. But during all that time, I worked and he did too. Like most couples, we came together only at the end of the day when we shared our lives and focused on each other.

I think it's like that in a lot of homes. When two people work, there really is not an endless string of hours together.

I never thought about this until I married David after retirement. We are a lot alike in that both of us crave an active, outdoor lifestyle. That was probably the big thing that drew us together in the first place.

We spend much of our days kayaking and biking and many of our nights dancing and socializing with friends.

But I throw a lot more busyness into the mix because of my extra-curricular activities. I belong to a shell club, women's church group and writer's guild. Plus, I have close female friends I enjoy seeing.

In addition to that, I still do newspaper interviews and spend much time writing stories and columns.

Add it up and it equals a busy, busy lifestyle, much of which is done without David. While I'm sure he wishes I were not on the go so much, he tries to be supportive.

But I often feel like I'm walking a chalk line, being careful not to overstep the time I spend being away from David. While he is absolutely my favorite person in the world to be with, I also need the outside stimulation I get from my writing, my girlfriends and my favorite clubs.

I've learned to say "no" to more invitations for overnight trips away from him. I already do that twice a year with my shell club and twice a year with my church group.

I'm keenly aware that life is a balancing act and I try to keep all segments of my life in balance. Sometimes, it isn't easy.

US News and World Reports just featured an article by Dave Bernard on how to have a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. Here are his tips:

*Having separate interests can help keep a relationship fresh.

*Do your fair share. In retirement, it's time to divvy up chores and responsibilities.

I've known wives who complain that the husband can retire from work but she doesn't get to retire from cooking and home maintenance.

Experts say sharing chores in retirement keeps the relationship free of resentment and gives each partner more time to enjoy life.

*Don't sweat the small stuff. The ability to overlook small annoyances is especially important in retirement when you're together all the time.

*Stick together. The kids will have issues, money problems can arise and health issues can cause turmoil. Draw strength and support from each other.

Like every stage of marriage, retirement takes renewed commitment and work. But with diligence, retirement can be the most carefree, rewarding time of life.

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