Popular media tends to paint retirement as a “golden age” — a time for reading by the fireplace and idyllic walks along the shore. In reality, the transition from working life to retirement can be stressful for many couples. Statistics show that the percentage of people who divorce after 65 is growing.1 While reasons will undoubtedly vary, Dr. Karyn Hood, a Toronto clinical psychologist, says that the transition to retirement may play a role. In addition to financial adjustments and potential health problems, retirees often struggle with their new schedule and the constant presence of their partner.

“Retirement can be a stressful time because it disrupts the relationship’s dynamic,” she says. “There tends to be some separation of roles for couples prior to retirement, and then, all of a sudden, your worlds are colliding and that defined structure is more or less gone.”

And it’s not just the relationship side of things that can take a turn. As Domenic Tagliola, Tax and Estate Planner, TD Wealth, points out, “For many couples, the unknowns and uncertainties associated with retirement can create new financial stressors and exacerbate old ones. Couples heading into retirement, or those who are already there, should consider laying out a comprehensive plan to help ease the transition.”

To avoid acrimony with your partner, there are several steps you can take — both socially and financially — to help your relationship flourish in retirement.

Re-establish a schedule

According to Hood, re-establishing a balanced schedule is the first step: “I think where people go awry is they think ‘Ok, now I’m retired, it’s just travel and fun and that’s it.’ But that’s not the reality. Generally, you can’t go from being constrained by a schedule 365 days a year to throwing in the towel completely.”

After all, she notes, some of our intellectual and social needs prior to retirement are actually met through work. For example, being a highly valuable and respected employee may serve as a source of esteem for some. And while we may not miss the daily commute or the challenge of a difficult work assignment, the absence of cerebral or social engagement in retirement can have an impact on overall well-being.

To ensure you continue to enjoy a balanced lifestyle, Hood says Canadian retirees should make a plan that includes what she calls the critical four activities: social, physical, pleasurable and, perhaps most important, intellectual. “You still have to tickle your brain. You don’t want to have your brain going 100% and then turn it off entirely,” she says. “Not only can intellectual activity make life more enjoyable, but it can also help with preventing things like dementia, depression and cognitive decline.”

Protect “me time”

During the bulk of our working lives, most of us spend a large chunk of time away from home (and our partners) each day. While you may see them in the evenings and on weekends, you’re likely not together 24/7. Then retirement comes along and suddenly all your “me time” becomes “we time.”

To help re-establish healthy boundaries in both your relationship and your life, Hood recommends retirees look for regular opportunities to be alone. “This is probably the issue I speak to most with my clients,” she says. “It’s so important to have a conversation with your partner about how you want to spend your time together and how you want to spend your time apart.”

Alone time can take many different forms, but whatever you choose to do, Hood says it should be something you’re genuinely interested in. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to take up sailing or you’d like to spend more time in your garden. Maybe you want to take a course or volunteer for a local charity. “Whatever it is, don’t wait for retirement to decide. Start to develop those interests in the years leading up to retirement too,” she says.

Make a financial plan

Your financial situation will continue to have a large impact on your lifestyle even after you retire. However, unlike during your career, your retirement income is likely to be fixed. That’s why it’s so crucial to have a solid financial plan in place prior to retiring. Tagliola says Canadians looking forward to retirement should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Where will my income come from when I stop working?
  • Do I know what my cashflow will look like? Do I have a budget?
  • Will we relocate? Am I prepared for a move if that’s the plan?
  • What’s my health like? How might that influence my retirement?
  • Do I have an Estate Plan in place?
  • Is my Will up to date?
  • Have I set up Powers of Attorney (POA)?

Tagliola adds that it’s important your answers align with those of your partner. If they don’t, or if either of you have outstanding questions, now may be a good time to reach out to a financial specialist for help.

Plan for health changes

Most of us like to think we’ll keep our good health well into our 80s and 90s. And while for some that may be true, for others, significant health changes will begin to take their toll much earlier. Typically, this decline begins to occur more rapidly around the age of 77. 2 That’s all to say, if you want to hike the Chilkoot Trail or climb Mount Yamnuska, don’t put it off too long or you may no longer have the opportunity.

To begin to prepare for these types of changes, Hood says it’s important for couples to begin sharing information — particularly couples where one partner has sole responsibility of one chore; paying taxes, laundry, groceries. If one partner has always been responsible for the finances, for example, and the other the household, these types of conversations can help get both partners up to speed. That way, if one person becomes incapacitated, the other can prevent affairs from falling through the cracks.

Finally, consider the possibility that resentment may build up if one partner remains active in retirement, while the other cannot. Preparing for and accepting the reality that you and your partner may have different outlooks and plans for this stage of life and may not age at the same rate can make the adjustment easier to manage. As always, an open and honest conversation with your spouse about how you feel can go a long way.

Practice, practice, practice

While we often look forward to our retirement with eager anticipation, Hood says that most couples should begin “testing out” their new lifestyle well before they actually retire. That means pursuing new interests and hobbies, having open conversations about your plans and making adjustments to household spending if necessary — all in preparation.

“I often tell my clients to start taking longer vacations, spend more time together and try out new pursuits…That way, it’s not like as soon as retirement hits, the clock runs out. Start to get into the retirement mentality early,” she says. “After all, you don’t want to be left with this feeling of ‘now what?'”

Make an effort to re-ignite the spark

Careers are long, work schedules can be hectic and child-rearing can be incredibly stressful. After decades of go-go-go, many people find it difficult to reconnect with their partner in retirement. To help re-ignite the romantic spark, Hood suggests couples focus on trying new things together. Whether it’s something you used to enjoy doing or a new hobby you’d like to experiment with, “a lot of this type of relationship reconnection can happen through activity.”

You might, for example, discover you both want to take a painting class, travel to Arizona or go wakeboarding. While it’s important to carve out your own time in retirement, Hood says it’s equally important “to find space for your relationship to thrive.”

Ultimately, while some relationships may find challenges in retirement, Hood says the vast majority of people continue to make it work. If you’re struggling to reconnect with your significant other, speaking to a therapist or couples’ therapist may help. Hood adds, “This is the time that we get to enjoy the fruits of our labour, and it can be a really valuable and meaningful time of your life. But you have to be intentional and set yourself up for success.”