Thursday, October 22, 2009

Seven Secrets of Successful Marriage after Retirement

You spent a lifetime together dating and loving each other, raising children, going to work, partying and doing household chores, 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?

Older adult marriages and families are sometimes referred to as retirement marriages or retirement families. In such families, the following demographics are typical: The average age of the wife is 68, and the husband, 71; they have been married for over 40 years and report high levels of marital satisfaction; they have three grown children, the oldest being about 40; and 20 percent of the husbands and 4 percent of the wives continue to work, even though they consider themselves retired.

So, if you are among the lucky ones, you will get to survive to your retirement date someday and will finally get the golden opportunity to 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.

Each family is different, and there are no general rules for generic happiness. However, we will present several recommendations we deem important for every family at the retirement stage.
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  1. Take the time to get to know each other again when one or both of you retire! 
When you read this notion for the first time, you would be probably somewhat taken aback by it. After all, you had been married for 30 or more years! Why would you 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.

2.  Never wile away your hours together everyday in front of the television! 
It’s a trap so many people 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! Think about all the things you wanted to do, to try, to taste, to see, but you never had time for that. Now you have the time. Do not jump to the elderly sleepiness; do not betray your dreams!

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. There is a fundamental predisposition in every human being to have time alone, as there is a similar predisposition to have certain personal space, both physical and emotional. 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. No, 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 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. Anything good can happen, so keep your eyes open, and be prepared for adventure with your spouse.

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 should care deeply about each other’s health. Plan an exercise program together. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Take your medicine(s) as prescribed. Keep your weight under control. It is not surprising that healthy people live longer and happier. And isn’t it comforting to know that you did everything you can 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 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.
Yes, it is good to live emotionally every day as the last day of your life, but be careful to spend your financial reserves too fast, as you have very limited resources on renewing them after retirement.

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