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What helps relationships work

Written by Marianne Heron with Paul Britton

The thing you are most likely to miss about work is social contact with people. Employment acts as the glue which holds co-workers together and when it ceases, those friendships tend to come unstuck. Having friends and being part of a community – with that feeling of belonging and being needed – are top ingredients for a contented retirement.

So it makes sense for you to have a support network and to have emotionally supportive relationships with those nearest and dearest, whether you are married or single.

Retirement can put pressure on relations with friends, family and partners. Expectations can alter so that relationships and roles may need renegotiating. Singles face the challenge of ensuring that they don’t spend too much time alone in not-so-splendid isolation and cultivating outside friendships and interests is a good idea whatever your situation. As American actress Ethel Barrymore joked ‘The best time to make friends is before you need them’.

For couples, no matter how much they looked forward to having more time together, they may experience teething problems. Before retirement they each had set routines, with at least 60 hours a week apart and generally an informal division of labour. After retirement, identity and roles change with 24/7 interaction (remember that old joke about having twice the husband and half the pay?) and the unwritten contract between partners needs to be realigned. Don’t believe Oscar Wilde’s observation that ‘marriage combines the minimum temptation with the maximum opportunity’. Having more time allows room for imagination to rekindle romance.

love knot

Do you want the same things?

The bottom line is that you need a plan. But very often unspoken dreams about how the future is going to look remain just that. It is surprising how many singles have a foggy vision of the way ahead and how many partners may not have a joint lifestyle plan that will work for them both. The sexes tend to want different things at this stage in life. One survey found men want to engage in sport, revive romance with their partner, (who says men aren’t romantic!), spend more time at home and with grandchildren; while women, who have often taken the main responsibility of caring for and raising the family, want time out in the world retraining, starting a business, volunteering and reviving friendships. The good news is that both men and women want to travel.  Spending time discussing ideas about what you both want from the next stage and exploring plans which will reflect both your wishes is vital. Witness the cautionary tale where one spouse plans to sail around the world, forgetting that their other half suffers from chronic sea sickness!

Respect each other’s space

Social life provided by work will need to be replaced. If you are on your own, you may want to have company on future travel adventures and social occasions. And in the case of couples constant togetherness brings the risk of getting under each other’s feet and on nerves. They need to respect each other’s boundaries, allow time together, but also time apart with friends and separate interests. Good relationships are like strong drink, they benefit from dilution. Useful ideas include things like non-cooking spouses taking a cooking course so that they can share the catering or creating a home office or studio in an attic, spare room or shed.

couple holding hands

So what makes relationships work well?

  • Having a life and social strategy that takes account of changed social circumstances and in the case of couples, a joint retirement plan that reflects the needs of both partners.
  • Having a supportive network with friends and family.
  • Deciding who does what household chores, renegotiating roles and exchanging skills.
  • Having agreed boundaries about time together, time apart and social opportunities with others. 
  • Talking openly about the ongoing process of adjustment to retirement.

Replacing social contacts

Often only a few workplace friendships tend to last after that farewell party and the social life that goes with work, from conferences to team building outings, will end. Beware of the isolation gap – it’s worth devoting some energy to creating new social opportunities.

  • Make time for your existing friends — meet up, do things together and meet their friends too
  • Renegotiate time with family now you have more time to be flexible
  • Have an active outgoing life and get involved in things.
  • Be wary about being a full-time (unpaid) grandparent/cum child minder.
  • Discuss changing roles and expectations with your children.

Good communication is vital

Despite the fact that we spend up to 70% of our waking hours communicating we aren’t necessarily very good at it, especially active listening and trying to resolve differing points of view. Loving partners who know each other well assume they know what
their other half is thinking and assumptions can be the mother-of-all muck ups! During communication:

  • 16% is spent reading,
  • 35% talking,
  • 45% listening and
  • when talking 35% is verbal and 65% is body language.

Blocks to communication

Meaningful conversations can get derailed very easily, as we get busy thinking up a reply and don’t take in what the other person is saying or else put the other person on the defensive which can quickly lead to an argument.

  • Hearing without listening and understanding.
  • Your response may block the discussion.
  • It’s not just what is being said but the way it is being said.
  • Criticising or jumping to conclusions.

Use CARE when discussing key or contentious issues.

Curious - Draw the person out, tell me more, why did you say that?
Attentive -  Use eye contact, face the person, no distractions.
Reflective - Either paraphrase back or reflect back the feeling.
Empathetic -  Put yourself in their shoes, rather than jumping in with a ‘me too’ experience.

Why not give yourself and your partner a Relationship Check Up with this light-hearted quiz.

This excerpt was taken from Rewire Don’t Retire, sponsored by Irish Life and Active Retirement Ireland. You can download the full guide HERE