Every marriage has its ups and downs.
Yet retirement is usually a “down” for most couples, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Gerontology.
Which makes sense if you consider the fact that retirement is a major adjustment for individuals, let alone impacting the dynamics between couples.
After all, you’ve been used to working full-time and leading busy, (relatively) separate lives. And it’s a challenge, especially if only one of you is retired.
While spending all day together can be a great way to reconnect and strengthen your marriage, you can easily slip into a rut if you’re not intentional. Which can lead to a lot of problems (re)surfacing.
To help you stay on top of a longer-lasting bond, here are five tips on how to keep your marriage strong in retirement…
#1 Talk About Your Expectations
Adjusting to the dynamics of retirement is a huge transition and can lead to conflict if you and your partner have different perspectives on how you’ll spend your time and how you’ll manage finances.
According to a study on relationship expectations, they change with age. The researchers found two relationship factors that become increasingly important as you age:
While these findings apply to social relationships in general, it’s worth being aware of how they play out in your marriage. Being conscious of how these concepts affect your marriage is a great way to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page.
Open and honest communication is one key area of marriage relationships where couples should never compromise.
Especially when you consider the fact that ‘communication problems’ is the most common factor — as in, 65% — that leads to divorce.
In sum, be aware of your expectations and earnestly talk to your spouse about them.
#2 Spend (Intentional) Quality Time Together
One of the delights of retirement is having more time to spend with your partner. And studies show that couples who spend quality time together build stronger relationships than those who don’t.
But that doesn’t mean you should fill your days with mindless activities; it’s important to be intentional about how you spend your time.
Research has found that couples who engage in a mundane shared activity every week for 10 weeks didn’t see an improvement in how they felt about their marriage.
However, those who engaged in interesting and novel activities — like taking a cooking class together — saw measurable improvements in how connected and satisfied they were with their marriage.
Whatever the shared activity, aim to be fully present and to give your energy to your partner, especially during quality time. Think about how you and your partner can engage in meaningful, quality activities together that are not only enjoyable but also enhance your relationship.
And don’t forget to keep the romance alive with planned date nights.
#3 Balance Time Apart
While it’s natural to assume that more time together as a couple would lead to a stronger marriage, the truth is that spending some time apart can also be beneficial.
Being together all day, every day, can quickly take a toll on your relationship.
According to Travelodge’s poll of more than 2000 people, 80% credit their happy marriages to having a break from each other every now and then, which makes total sense. Having time apart builds anticipation and helps you appreciate your time together more.
Not to mention that alone time gives each of you the opportunity to restore and relax, pursue individual interests, and maintain friendships.
So indulge in your “me time.”
Plus, connecting with yourself first and foremost, is one of the most powerful ways to deepen your relationships with others.
As Brené Brown puts it:
“Connecting to yourself lets you approach people for genuine connection rather than approach people for validation.”
All in all: Be solid in your sense of self, and the best, most authentic version of you is more likely to show up in your marriage.
#4 Show Appreciation & Gratitude
When you’re together all the time, it’s oh-so-easy to take each other for granted.
Research shows that couples who practice expressing gratitude and appreciation in their relationship — both verbal and non-verbal — report greater levels of marital satisfaction than those who don’t.
And those who are able to truly make an effort to demonstrate appreciation often experience deeper, more meaningful relationships and longer-lasting marriages.
It can be as simple as expressing how much you appreciate a home-cooked meal or an act of kindness, writing a heartfelt love note, or just taking time to listen to each other.
In fact, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact. Most days are mundane and repetitive, and “big things” happen only once in a while. But how you treat each other daily is how you keep the flame alive.
Dig a little deeper and try to see which of Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages applies to both you and your partner:
- Word of affirmation
- Quality time
- Receiving gifts
- Acts of service
- Physical touch
Then focus on your partner’s love language, so you can tailor your effort to match your spouse’s needs. And feel free to chat about your own love language. After all, everyone’s wired differently, and how you prefer to receive love definitely applies.
Bottom line: No matter how you choose to express gratitude, do it often and watch your relationship blossom.
#5 Focus on Growth
We as humans are designed to grow at every life stage, and retirement is no different. The mere fact that your brain is plastic and neuroplasticity exists proves that you’re built for lifelong learning.
If you’re looking for inspiration, check out Don and Alison’s story about how they started their retirement journey at ages 70 and 63, ditching the traditional home life to venture on a nomadic lifestyle exploring the world.
Another beneficial activity is to take a couples retreat together — regularly, as in annually, if you can.
There are solid benefits of maintaining a family ritual — according to a 50-year family study, family routines and rituals can improve your marriage and health. A tradition in the form of an annual couples retreat falls right in line with that.
Plus, it’s a great way to proactively and intentionally work on your growth (both individually and as a bonding couple) where you might find it helpful to:
- Review your year — What did you accomplish? What remains incomplete?
- Celebrate your journey — Appreciate your progress and have fun celebrating it together
- Set intentions for the upcoming year — Openly share and plan your goals for the new year
One-night cabin retreats are exactly what successful speaker and author, Shawn Medlin, and his wife regularly practice, which they call their “state of the union” couples retreat.
Regardless of the path you take, exploring new and exciting growth experiences together can help strengthen your marital bond.
Of course, growth isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. For when you hit a rough patch, our next tip comes in handy.
#6 Argue Better
Conflict is an inevitable part of any marriage. And how you handle it is key to keeping your relationship strong.
Research indicates how couples’ argue has a significant impact on how often they fight and how intense their arguments get. Which in turn also affects how satisfied they are with their marriage.
In fact, a study found that those who focus on solvable issues and work together against the problem — rather than how the other person is making them feel — are more likely to have happier marriages.
So when you and your partner disagree, try to focus on how you can resolve it together. To avoid a destructive argument, focus on how to have a constructive — rather than an angry and attacking — disagreement.
Understanding how your spouse argues and manages tough emotions can be a game-changer.
Basically, both partners need to be open to understanding each other’s point of view, listen actively, and resist the urge to shut down or attack.
And naturally, the more you learn to navigate conflict effectively, the stronger your marriage will become. Our final tip today also helps you navigate any disagreeable moments.
#7 Practice Mindfulness
It’s no secret that the benefits of mindfulness give you so much leverage in life — and it not only improves your overall well-being, but it can also improve your marriage.
Beyond the studies that reveal mindfulness benefits like reducing loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults, reducing stress, and improving sleep, one huge marital benefit is it reduces your emotional reactivity.
We all have those moments where our brain instantly jumps to a painful reaction to something, rather than having an even-keeled response.
Practice mindfulness consistently and daily, and watch your centered sense of equanimity come in handy during any conflict with your spouse.
If you’re looking for a simple mindfulness activity that you can incorporate into your daily routine, try some of our favorites:
- Meditation — dedicating time to simply sit and breathe can be calming for the mind, body, and soul
- Tai Chi & yoga — these ancient practices can help you cultivate more inner peace and clarity
- Walking in nature — taking a leisurely walk in nature can help you connect with your environment, yourself, and your partner
- Keeping a gratitude journal — take time each day to pause and recognize what you’re grateful for
For mindfulness to really blossom, it’s about doing it consistently and daily. Our favorite recommendation is to take it in micro-steps and fully commit to one practice daily. If you find yourself skipping out on days, shorten your daily time.
Invest in Your Marriage
Even though retirement means you’ve stopped working, you should never stop working on your marriage.
And just by researching how, you’ve taken the first step towards keeping your marriage strong.
That said, all the tips we’ve discussed today are easy to implement, but they require dedication and effort.
It’s worth it, though — investing in your marriage not only creates a stronger bond between you, but also brings more joy and satisfaction into your life.
So start putting in the work to keep your marriage strong with these tips:
- #1 Talk about your expectations — openly communicate how you each see the future of your marriage after retirement
- #2 Spend quality time together — invest in shared experiences that bring you closer together
- #3 And apart — balance shared time with solo activities to maintain your individual identities
- #4 Show appreciation & gratitude — express how much you value each other in both words and deeds
- #5 Focus on growth — venture on new growth experiences together for a stronger bond
- #6 Argue better — learn each other’s “fight language” and focus on how to resolve issues together instead of attacking each other
- #7 Leverage mindfulness — practice mindfulness daily and better respond to conflict (while avoiding any unhealthy knee-jerk reactions)
Armed with these tips, you can help your marriage to stay strong and healthy throughout your golden years.