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Rethink your relationship for retirement

This article is part three of the series on rewiring retirement.

You were a modern working couple, headed to, or in retirement. Throughout your lives, working careers, family nurturing, relative caregiving, you have almost never, except possibly when “courting” (that old-fashioned word), spent 24 hours a day – every day — with your significant other.

How could you, life being what it is? Generally, your together patterns consisted of say, an hour in the morning, several more in the evening. The greater, middle part of the day is the amazing outward stimuli that triggers the shared experiences and news of the day with one’s partner.

Retirement differences: couples spending 24 hours a day together for the first time in retirement may disagree a lot. Planning retirement expectations ahead of time can help

Covid lockdowns have exacerbated this new – total, almost 24-hour-a-day togetherness — phenomenon: working from home, commuting outside limited, personal space limited, digital exposure to others limited, new geographical experiences limited, physical contact with colleagues, social network of friends, relatives, and community very limited.

Yes, these observations are minor issues when compared with the horrendous tragedy of Covid 2020-2022: losing loved ones, businesses on edge, schools in shuttle mode, the whole bustle and stimulating scenes of the vibrant community muted.

Nevertheless, a couple moving toward retirement, or already there, too often face an additional set of 24-hour togetherness experiences: sameness every day, once the boss or a career used to giving directions and making independent decisions — now bored with oneself and each other, depression, lost sense of perspective, purpose, and self-esteem, role confusion/reversals, equality and control issues, personality ticks and annoying habits, spending/saver conflicts, independence hampered, all wrapped in with health worries, intimacy and the relationship itself.

Now, the minutia of life becomes the maxima!

Endless discussions on

• How to wash clothes

• Cooking a favourite dish

• The right way to make coffee

• Furniture arrangements

• Colour décor considerations

• Cleaning and organisation differences

• Who should do what chore, when and how

• Where to travel, how much to travel

• How money should be allocated for what and when

• Unsolicited advice on being late, being early, being out too long, using too much sugar, salt, seasoning, parking, driving, brands of food, interactions with others, and on and on.

A very big item is, how much time should be spent together and apart. This comment can be disregarded for those who do want to spend all their time together. Others need, at times, their own space.

True comments made to me over the years. Illustrations – no relationship to any individual, living or dead.

Lack of communication about needs

Example 1: “She gave up her practice (that she loved) to spend time with her retired spouse, except he plays golf and was gone almost every day – having a great time with old pals. She didn’t like the game, wasn’t interested in learning, and spent most of what was supposed to be an enjoyable get-together with friends complaining bitterly about him – with him present. Why didn’t they talk about what they wanted to do in retirement, first?”

Example 2: Women have taken their place in the work force in greater numbers than ever, except for the recent challenge of Covid home schooling and care. It is common these days to meet, read about, hear, or see women who have raised a family at home, or while working, reinvigorate their careers with further academics to fully embrace the economic ladder. It’s exhilarating, fulfilling, and new, to feel in control of opportunities for success without so many outside responsibilities (now grown children). “She loves her new career, heading to top of her game, rushing home at end of day to extoll, where partner is waiting and waiting. He’s done all that; he’s very tired of the rat race, wants to wind down, work on better health and travel – have new relaxing experiences. She is not interested in giving up all that she has accomplished.”

Example 3: It’s not about the money, it’s about the refrigerator. They are on their second relationship, both with children from prior commitments. Both want to put aside significant savings for their heirs. She tends to just buy what she wants, generally, saving by buying used or second-hand; he is far more conservative, spending only on necessities. “Why would I need any new clothes. I already have the male tropical uniform; beige shorts, white or blue shirt, loafers or trail runners, perfect – I can fit in anywhere. The older the clothes get, the more worn — the classier quality look.” However, when he does need something, it’s top dollar. He feels the same way about appliances – who cares what they look like? They work, don’t they? The fridge is on its last legs, the stove, and the dishwasher, almost as bad. She feels she saves more, justifying new appliances. So does he feel he saves, but minds are not meeting on the big issue, because the real reason – is why should they leave everything to the children, depriving themselves?

You’ve heard all these hypothetical stories – in some narrative or another, I can guarantee it.

So problematic, yes. Solvable, yes?

But not so easy to do after retirement.

It’s all about achieving compromises. It’s about the differences between conservative and progressive thinking, men and women, ideas, security, goals, values, wishes and dreams still unfulfilled, interactions with families and the profound mental, emotional, and physical changes that may well happen even before retirement really truly starts and well afterwards.

What should a couple do?

Make a relationship plan – put it in writing.

Vague comments tendered such as, “don’t worry I’ll find something to do” are just not going to cut it; you need a relationship plan in order for the relationship to survive in quality and quantity of happiness.

Everything is on the table, to be discussed, compromised/negotiated fairly, and resolved, because guess what? As I keep reminding readers, retirees need a purpose and a plan for life, because retirement time spans are getting longer and longer and longer.

Instead of winding down, you should be gearing up – for the last and what could be the best, the absolutely best phase of your life. Freedom to do anything or nothing.

Stay tuned for part four – what’s in a relationship retirement plan? More than you think! Also, professional observations – after more than 35 years in the financial planning industry: further thoughts on rewire finances, money worries, relationship adjustments, identity, purpose, intellectual expertise and lifetime learning, health/physical activities, leisure time, community, falling birth rates, boredom, government and political positions.

Martha Harris Myron, CPA JSM, a native Bermudian, is the author of The Bermuda Islander Financial Planning Primers, international financial consultant to the Olderhood Group Bermuda, and financial columnist to The Royal Gazette. All proceeds from these articles are donated by the Royal Gazette to the Salvation Army, Bermuda. Contact: martha@pondstraddler.com

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Published September 18, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated September 20, 2021 at 8:04 am)

Rethink your relationship for retirement

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