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Love and Marriage Article

Love and Marriage In Retirement

by Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz

You spent a lifetime together raising children, going to work, going to meetings, and in general, meeting everyone else’s needs.  Whether one or both of you worked outside of the home, you are now retired, together in the house alone . . . just you and your spouse . . . now what?

If you are among the lucky ones, you will get to retire someday and spend more time with your spouse.  Actuarially, a retired couple at age 65 has a reasonable chance of spending two more decades of life together until “death do us part.”  The question is, how do you make these 20 years together enjoyable, fun and exciting?

We are certainly not interested in being morbid about the prospects of death, but as Charley’s mother used to say, “You are not going to get out of this world alive!”  The truth is, death is a natural part of life.  It is inevitable.  So, the question becomes, how do you spend those nearly two decades of life with the one you love doing the things you want to do while free of the burdens and stresses associated with work?  This question is one all married couples must ultimately deal with if they are lucky.

In a few weeks we are going to be interviewed about love and marriage in retirement so we have been gleaning a lot information from the many interviews we have conducted over the years with successfully married couples over the age of 65.  We think you will find the results interesting.

1. Take the time to get to know each other again when one or both of you retire!  When we first heard this notion years ago we were somewhat taken aback by it.  After all, these couples had been married for 30 or more years!  Why would they have to get to know each other again?  The truth is, the hectic pace of life for so many years – much of it outside the home and family – does change many of the dynamics of the marital relationship.  For example, the various responsibilities of running a home, raising children, and the like while one or both work outside the home often change when retirement comes along.  And the simple truth is, many of those who retire need to renew many aspects of their loving relationship.

We have come to believe so strongly in this notion of “renewal” that we included a section in the Appendix of our book, Golden Anniversaries:  The Seven Secrets of Successful Marriage, entitled “A Seven-Week Program for Developing Ongoing Sharing in Your Marriage.”  Check it out on pages 294-299 of our book.  Couples report to us all the time about how much the Seven-Week Program helped them during their retirement transition.

2.  Never wile away your hours together everyday in front of the television!  It’s a trap so many fall into when they retire.  Take a walk, plan a trip, visit your grandchildren, plant a garden, go dancing – plan activities that keep you active and that you can enjoy together.  Becoming a couch potato or a back porch rocker is not good for either you or your spouse.  Plan something to do outside the home every day.  Stay active.  Stay healthy.  Stay tuned to events in the world surrounding you.  Stay young!

3.  Respect the need for privacy and aloneness in yourself and your spouse. You will both be better off for it.  The worst thing you can do to your spouse or yourself when one or both of you retire is hover over each other all the time.  Just as you need alone time before retirement, you need it after retirement.  As you have heard us report in our writings and in Golden Anniversaries, there is a fundamental predisposition in every human being to have time alone.  Everybody needs time to be with their own thoughts, with their own hobbies, with just themselves.  Being retired may give you more time to be together, but couples often forget that the need to be alone is just as strong and just as important when you retire.

4. Build a social network of family and friends.  Don’t become isolated!  And as much as you would like not to believe this, most of the people you worked with will move on with their lives when you retire.  You won’t hear from most of them again.  They are not being mean or cruel to you.  It’s just the way life is.  You will need to make new friends, meet new acquaintances, build new relationships, and establish new social networks.

5. Be spontaneous with much of your day.  Having unencumbered time is, perhaps, the greatest gift of retirement.  Think about it – all those years you worked at a job, raised kids, volunteered – you rarely had unencumbered time.  We, like the couples we have interviewed over more than two decades of life, have this insatiable need from time to time to plan nothing for the day!  In many ways, those are the best days of our lives together as it is for many of the retired couples we have interviewed.  Oh, don’t get us wrong.  Sometimes you have to plan your day, but not everyday!

6.  Never take the health of yourself or your spouse for granted.  The health of a spouse is of profound importance.   Successfully married retired couples we have interviewed care deeply about each other’s health.  Their advice – plan an exercise program together.  Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.  Take your medicine(s) as prescribed.  Keep your weight under control.  You see, healthy people live longer.  And isn’t it comforting to know that you did everything you could to add to those years together and to improve the quality of each other’s lives.

7.  Manage your finances together once retirement occurs.  The worst thing that can happen according to one of the couples we interviewed is to “outlive your money!”  Frankly, life has no guarantees so the best strategy is to manage your resources together, often with the help of a professional financial planner, and with the assumption you will live longer than you might anticipate in an actuarial sense.  Our successfully married retired couples have told us repeatedly that they cannot emphasize enough the importance of working together to manage your finances in retirement.

In retirement, the simple things still matter.  Love well!

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