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When One of You Retires First

Nourishing the Different Types of Intimacy in Your RelationshipMarried and approaching retirement age? It’s likely you’ve both planned carefully for your finances during this time — but can you say the same for your relationship?

The emotional and psychological adjustments that come with retirement are significant, and one major determinant factor is timing. Will you retire together, or space it out?

From a financial perspective, it can be hugely beneficial for one spouse to continue working for a time. Advantages include greater Social Security entitlement, extra income to save up, and larger amounts to withdraw over a shorter period when both partners are finally retired. There is also health insurance to consider. If one partner is still working, he or she can keep their employer coverage for the both of them, thus avoiding having to pay higher individual rate premiums.

From an emotional perspective, however, it’s not as cut and dried. Retiring at different times brings its own distinct set of challenges. It may be the only financially viable option. Many couples may find themselves with no choice but to stagger their retirement dates, even if both would rather retire sooner.

It is particularly important, then, for these couples to anticipate the consequences of one partner retiring first. For a time, they will have to coexist in different realities, something for which many people are ill-prepared.

Men, especially, are more prone to depression if they retire before their wives, according to a study by Cornell University. And both men and women may struggle to adjust to a homebound life. Couples run the risk of becoming ships that pass in the night, with different lifestyle patterns and schedules.

Given such considerations, the following pointers should help you both enjoy the next phase of your life with minimum impact on your marriage.

Create a vision of your ideal retirement.

If you are the one retiring, then try to visualize exactly how you would like your retirement to be. Imagine how you will fill your days. What would you like to achieve? What new pastimes will you have? Equally, be firm about what you do not want it to be. What habits do you want to avoid?

It’s all about selecting meaningful activities, for now and in the years to come. For the first time in a long time, your schedule is your own. It’s up to you to make it worthwhile.

Share your vision with your partner, and ask for their thoughts. In this way, they can have a greater understanding and appreciation of what’s important to you, and feel more involved in your daily life.

Commit to a regular bedtime.

Going to bed together at a regular time every night will maintain a sense of intimacy. This is a perfect time to reconnect. You don’t even have to make love. Just sharing stories about your day and drifting off together will continually reaffirm your bond.

Limit sofa time.

Vegging on the sofa is great from time to time, but if you’re retired, it’s easy to let it become a habit. Passive activities such as watching TV do nothing for your mental, physical or emotional well-being. Indeed, your mental acuity rests on your keeping intellectually active. Save it for lazy evenings.

Your relationship with your working spouse, too, will reap the benefits. It’s good to have something of real interest to discuss about your day.

Discuss your new roles.

So many couples head into an out-of-sync retirement without having even considered, much less discussed, what the retired partner will bring to the relationship now that the dynamics have changed. If both partners were active breadwinners, then the retired partner needs to consider what new role he or she would like to take on.

It could be that they take on greater responsibility for matters around the house, for example, or that they lead the way in finding new adventures and challenges for both to enjoy. Try to discuss, as frankly as you can, how both of you will feel once one is retired, and how you can avoid any potential for resentment to spring up further down the road.

It is important for the working spouse to be aware of resentments around the retired partner being able to sleep late or have leisure time while the other is working. These resentments mustn’t build up. Circumvent them by talking it through in advance.

Above all, couples must avoid falling into the trap of leading essentially separate lives, 24/7. Giving each other space is always important, but it’s equally important to keep each other close. That will help to maintain shared interests, experiences, ambitions and dreams.

When One of You Retires First

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW, BCD, has over 30 years’ experience in relationship and couples therapy, helping couples and individuals find a deeper content and personal fulfillment in their relationships. She is a founding therapist of Park Avenue Relationship Consultants (PARC), a group of expertly trained clinicians based in NYC, specializing in couples therapy, family therapy and marriage counseling. Harriet is the author of For Richer For Poorer: Keeping Your Marriage Happy When She’s Making More Money. She has also been featured on national radio, Good Morning America and the Today Show. Harriet can be reached by calling 212.289.0295 or through the PARC website.

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APA Reference
Pappenheim, H. (2018). When One of You Retires First. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 10 Mar 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.