Before retirement, most couples focus on big planning issues, such as finances, where to live and how to spend their time.
It’s harder to anticipate the smaller irritations of retired life that can fester if left unresolved, like household noise, chore division, too much time together or not enough personal space.
Alex Kienle, a retired real estate agent in Delray Beach, Florida, doesn’t sugarcoat it: “The first year that we were both retired was brutal.”
Kienle, 54, retired in 2018. She enjoyed her alone time while her husband, Lee Yaffe, was at work and their two teenage children were at school. She could be loud on the phone, pursue hobbies uninterrupted and finish chores before the family came home.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic. School shuttered and her children began taking classes online. Then her husband retired in 2020. She soon felt crowded and even resentful about having to monitor her volume and pick up after others.
While she adjusted by taking over the guest room, the bigger challenge was seeing her husband struggle to fill his time: “He did not shift enough that first year.”
Yaffe, a retired investment consultant and self-professed workaholic, agrees. For a year Yaffe, 58, balked at joining his wife’s activities and didn’t get fully onboard with chores. “You get into retirement and don’t anticipate the many issues that come up and you realize, everything’s not what I thought it would be,” he says.
Those issues sound par for the course, says Marni Feuerman, a couples therapist and relationship expert in Boca Raton, Florida. “Couples must realize there will be an adjustment period if one or both partners are newly retired and cut each other some slack,” Feuerman says. “It takes time to adjust to each other’s new boundaries and limits.”
Couples may face more nuanced challenges when one partner retires first. “The person still working might feel resentful or jealous. These are normal feelings,” Feuerman says. “But if partners get out of sync, they must strategize and discuss how to handle it or there will be lingering hard feelings.”