It can be hard for retirement-age couples who have been together for decades to keep the romance alive once they retire from their careers.
After all, you spend years in a rhythm of not seeing each other during full-time working hours. Then suddenly, you may be faced with an extra 40+ hours of bonding time at home.
That’s quite an adjustment for any dynamic.
But when you search for retirement advice, most of it revolves around financial planning. And only a small part goes over how to have a fulfilling and purpose-filled retirement.
Which leaves marriage and relationship problems in retirement a topic that’s rarely discussed. And sadly, when a topic isn’t mainstream the tools to fix those problems aren’t mainstream either.
So it makes sense that gray divorce, a phenomenon of senior divorces, is becoming more common as more Americans over 50 are deciding to split up than ever before.
If you’re feeling bored with your spouse, if you feel like you’re not connected, and if you feel like you constantly have to fight loneliness in your marriage — you’re not alone.
In fact, many retired adults feel like they’ve hit a wall when it comes to finding new things to do and stay connected as a couple throughout retirement. Especially if one spouse retires first.
These five tips will help get you back on track and show you how to successfully navigate this phase of life together.
#1 Clarify Your Why
Since meeting your partner and falling in love with them, what has kept you together? Take a walk down memory lane and relive your first date or the moment you knew they were ‘the one.’
It’s all about remembering why you fell in love with them in the first place: their quirks, their silly sense of humor, or even just how they always knew what to say when something was bothering you.
It’s so easy to get caught up in everyday life and forget those special qualities that made both of your hearts skip a beat.
But marriage is more than just loving each other. It’s also sharing a life, raising a family, and committing financially as well as emotionally to the partnership.
Can your partner truly live up to your expectations? Now is the time to reflect on this question and revisit the foundational basics of your relationship.
What’s equally as important is to be crystal clear about your needs and wants in marriage during this life phase. If you’re not 100% clear, there’s a slim chance your spouse knows how to live up to your expectations.
#2 Reflect on What Caused the Marriage Problems After Retirement
It can be hard to remember what caused your marriage problems. You may have had a series of small disagreements that snowballed or you might not even know what the problem is anymore and you simply fell into a habitual dynamic that feels a bit disconnected.
What’s a powerful way to break up even the most stubborn disconnections?
Start by reflecting on the big picture and then write down your thoughts in an organized way about what caused this relationship to go south.
Jotting down your thoughts is more than just a way to identify patterns — writing is therapy that benefits both your body and your mind.
Usually, the main reasons for divorce are:
- Lack of commitment
- Conflict and arguing
One practice that we’ve seen work wonders (over and over) is to write daily in a gratitude journal. And not just any gratitude journal – specifically write about how and why you are grateful for your spouse.
Dig into the details, too. The more detailed, the better. Feel free to write about all of it – the beginning of your relationship, your current years, big things, little things – they all count.
Do this consistently for two months straight and see what happens (more than likely it’ll feel like magic).
#3 Communicate (and Listen!)
Communication is one of the most important aspects of a marriage. It’s something that should be nurtured and cultivated over time, not taken for granted or ignored.
We have a tendency to misunderstand communication because we use our own feelings as a reference for predicting our partner’s feelings. And we tend to focus on what our partner is doing or saying wrong.
But it takes two to tango.
To maintain healthy communication with your partner:
- Be mindful of how much you talk at any given time
- Listen carefully to what they’re saying and don’t instantly react
- Don’t interrupt
- Empathize with them
- Validate their emotions and make them feel heard
Remember that good marriages are built on consistent, transparent, and compassionate communication.
The other half of healthy communication is openly sharing your own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes that means setting some ground rules and vocalizing them.
Talking about what you want from your relationship and laying out the non-negotiables and ground rules together is a good way to clear up any potential problems before they start.
And every relationship is a compromise — but it’s important to align with your core values and know what truly matters to you. Only then will you be able to make decisions about what you’re willing to budge on.
There is no universal approach to relationships. What works like a charm for some couples, others will struggle with.
One thing is true across the board, though – the more both partners clearly communicate and understand each other, the more you’ll feel valued and heard.
And if for any reason you can’t seem to move past arguments in raised voices, marriage counseling is worth a shot. It creates a safe space for both partners to freely express feelings and thoughts while lessening the risk of misunderstanding (and an unwanted outcome).
Professional guidance can help you achieve a happier strengthened bond with your partner.
#4 Reconnect Through New Shared Interests
Married seniors like yourself shouldn’t ignore dating.
Heck, no married adults should ignore dating. In fact, we recommend taking it a step further and say: always be dating your spouse.
Shared activities improve marital satisfaction, especially if they’re new for both partners.
Best of all? It takes just seven minutes of participating in a shared activity to feel the positive effects.
Plus, by learning new things together, your relationship only becomes stronger. Since neither of you is an expert in the new activity, both of you are bound to make mistakes. And these mistakes are an opportunity to work together and express vulnerability.
And there’s nothing like sharing your vulnerability that’ll bond you closer to another person.
Sometimes new experiences can provide a different perspective on your partner. So why not search for novel hobbies for retired couples that will re-ignite your marriage? Here are 8 activities for retired couples to get you started (+ an extra 15 date night ideas).
#5 Forgive Quickly
Last, but not least, is to flex your forgiveness muscles. Fights are a normal part of any relationship. Studies even show that couples who argue together, stay together because it means that they voice their issues and resolve them together.
We all have baggage, and we all make mistakes. The difference between a successful marriage and an unsuccessful one is not about whether or not you’ve made mistakes — it’s the way that you handle them, right?
If both partners are willing to forgive quickly, then there will be no space for anger to grow into resentment.
Marriages work best when people remember that they’re working on the same team. So if you want a happy marriage filled with love and respect — try forgiving quickly.
And, of course, forgiveness is much easier said than done. In fact, of all the tips on our list this may be the most difficult one.
A helpful way to frame forgiveness is: forgiveness is for YOU, not others.
And as Mel Robbins puts it:
“Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.”
And if you’re looking for some guidance on forgiveness, Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt’s The Gift of Forgiveness tells the story of forgiveness from the perspective of several amazing individuals who overcame major resentment through forgiveness.
Even the Best Marriages Take Work
Sometimes, you have to take a step back and appreciate what’s already there.
If you’re experiencing marriage problems after retirement and need some help to rekindle the passion that once existed between you both, then it’s time to put aside any distractions so that you can focus on rebuilding what you had.
It’s not too late to recapture the excitement and passion of your early days together. But like anything worth doing, you just need to put in some effort.