8 Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage in Retirement
Learn how to enjoy harmonious golden years.
Retirement is a sea change of a life transition—where work once dominated your days, now you have the opportunity to create new routines and find new ways to spend your time. And that can include spending a lot more of that time with a spouse or partner. This can be great, and it can also lead to tension and conflict. (It's not for nothing that CNBC recently reported that "gray divorces" after age 65 have risen to historic levels.) But experts say you can enjoy harmonious golden years with a little planning and conscious attention to your relationship. These are eight ways to strengthen your marriage in retirement.
"One of the most effective ways to maintain and strengthen a relationship after retirement is to have healthy time together versus time apart," says Aaron Engel, MS, LPC, NCC, a therapist with Cardinal Point Counseling in Ohio. "This ratio is not the same for every couple, but most couples need this differentiation regardless of age. Having more time together in retirement also makes it essential to have some separate hobbies and activities as well as shared interests to keep things exciting."
"Retirement means more time together, which can be both a blessing and a challenge," says Sophie Cress, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist with SexualAlpha. "Having open and honest conversations about expectations, feelings, and individual needs is essential. Discuss your vision for this new chapter. Are there hobbies or activities that you have always wanted to pursue? How do you plan to balance individual interests with time together? These conversations can prevent misunderstandings and frustrations."
"As we age, our need for physical touch doesn't diminish; so keep up those hugs and hand-holdings," advises Deon Black, a certified sex educator and founder of Let's Talk Sex. "Also, remember that rolling eyes or dismissive comments are relationship roadblocks."
"After retirement, it's common to feel a disruption in daily structure that work once provided," says Cress. "To mitigate this, it can be helpful to establish a new routine together with your partner. This routine can provide a sense of purpose and normalcy to your day-to-day life. For example, you could plan regular exercise sessions, volunteer at local organizations, or learn a new skill together. It is important to discuss and agree on activities that you both enjoy and find fulfilling."
"It's easy to get into ruts and keep following the same routine you've always done," says Laura Silverstein, LCSW, a certified couples therapist and author of Love Is an Action Verb. "But the best way to keep life fun and interesting is to try new things. Now is the perfect time to take a cooking or film class together, try a new restaurant, or surprise your spouse with a breakfast in bed for no reason. The key for this strategy is to choose something completely new and different. Even if it's a disaster, you can laugh about it."
By the time retirement rolls around, "You two probably know each other inside and out. So the challenging part of this strategy is to come up with an open-ended question that you haven't yet asked," says Silverstein. "This might springboard some fascinating conversations." Some ideas: What's one of your favorite childhood memories? When you look back on our marriage, what are you most proud of about our life together? What's left in your bucket list that we haven't done yet?
"One of the risks to relationship happiness in retirement is loneliness and isolation," says Silverstein. "You can keep your marriage healthy by maintaining your relationships with friends, family and community. Maybe sometimes it's hard to get motivated to socialize, but there is lots of evidence that it's worth it." You could shop in person instead of online, plan lunch or dinner with friends, or travel to visit family.
"Retired couples can avoid relationship strain by focusing on what's good about the relationship instead on what's not," says couples counselor Julienne Derichs, LCPC. "They practice expressing gratitude daily and more freely and often. There is important research on happiness and gratitude that shows focusing on the things we do have, rather than the ones we don't, makes people happier and increases gratitude overall. Paying attention to the moments during the day when we feel happy or grateful increases our overall sense of happiness or gratitude, rather than grand gestures."