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  • Heather McDorman

When Only One Partner Is Retired

Man and woman smiling at a restaurant.
Sharing a special night out is one way Bob and I stay connected despite our different work statuses.

It was a Thursday. But it was unlike any other Thursday – at least for me. It was July 1, 2021, and it marked my first day of retirement from the workforce. After 32 years at St. Charles Community College and 36 years of full-time work in public relations and marketing, I started a new chapter in my life. It was a good – scratch that – a great day.

I recognize that my Public School Retirement System pension put me in the envious position of retirement at age 57. I am so grateful! My husband, Bob, and I had been planning for that special day in 2021 for a few years. I developed personal goals for retirement, and I also tried to be a responsible partner by reducing our monthly bills (I started with cell phone and satellite TV provider packages). I was going to go into retirement smart and ready to take on new ambitions.

But was I thinking enough about how this might affect my partner who was still working his full-time position in information technology? Would my retirement adventure negatively affect our relationship? Our household dynamics?

After two years in the glorious state of retirement, I’ve learned that maintaining a strong and fulfilling relationship requires effort. When one partner enters retirement while the other remains in the workforce, the dynamics can change as responsibilities and schedules diverge.

With just a few strategies, it’s possible to nurture a strong relationship. Consider a few ideas like practicing thoughtful communication, taking part in activities together, and demonstrating appreciation for each person’s unique circumstances. I offer the following practical tips to help couples (like Bob and me) navigate this chapter of their lives.

1. Open and Honest Communication

The foundation of any successful relationship is effective communication. When one partner is retired while the other continues working, open and honest dialogue becomes even more crucial. Both partners should express their needs, concerns, and expectations for this new phase of their lives. The retired partner might yearn for more quality time together, while the working partner might feel pressure to balance work demands and maintain a sense of personal fulfillment.

Woman and man listening to each other

Regular check-ins and conversations can help bridge any gaps that might arise. Discuss how retirement affects daily routines, financial planning, and personal goals. Be understanding of each other's desires and strive to find common ground where compromises can be made. Remember, empathy and active listening are key components of effective communication.

2. Take Part in Shared Activities and Hobbies

Finding common interests and taking part in shared activities is one way to bond and create new memories together. Bob and I enjoy going to movies together and streaming high-action series. But I could join him at the shooting range from time to time and he could join me for a bike ride at a local park.

Woman bowling while partner looks on.

Try exploring new hobbies and passions that both partners can enjoy, like traveling, cooking, gardening, or taking up a new sport. Not only could this strengthen your relationship, but it may also help alleviate any feelings of isolation or boredom for the retired partner. The working partner could go a step further – if possible – by trying to adjust their schedule occasionally to join in on activities during weekends or vacation time. This will demonstrate to the retired partner a commitment to the relationship and the value of quality time together. (During Bob’s recent staycation, we tackled home projects together and enjoyed some weekday matinees.)

3. Encourage Personal Growth and Independence

While it's important to foster togetherness, it is equally crucial to encourage personal growth and independence for each partner. The retired partner should be supported in pursuing their own interests, hobbies, and social connections. This independence allows them to feel fulfilled and maintain a sense of purpose outside the relationship. I’m fortunate – Bob helps with my new rose garden and cheers on my trips to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Woman pruning her rose garden.

At the same time, the working partner should also prioritize self-care and personal growth. (I encourage Bob to go to the shooting range and plan a happy hour with his work friends.) Engaging in activities and maintaining a sense of individuality can bring new perspectives and enrich the relationship when the two of you come together.

4. Develop a Flexible Routine

Creating a flexible routine that respects both partners' needs and schedules is important. The retired partner might have more flexibility in their day, allowing them to take on household responsibilities or run errands during the week (hello oil changes and car tag renewals!). Still, it would be wise not to overburden them with all the household tasks, as it can lead to resentment.

Woman picking up her car from a serviceman after repairs.

The working partner should acknowledge and appreciate the contributions made by the retired partner while being mindful of their own responsibilities and time constraints. Together, you can create a routine that balances quality time together and individual interests.

5. Cultivate Emotional Connections

Maintaining an emotional connection is crucial for a healthy relationship. Both partners will reap the benefits by making an effort to express love, appreciation, and affection regularly. Simple gestures such as leaving sweet notes, planning surprises, or spending quality time without distractions can go a long way in nurturing the bond between partners. For me, this means putting down my phone and really listening. Additionally, exploring intentional ways to keep the romance alive, such as date nights, weekend getaways, or trying new activities together, can reignite a spark and deepen your emotional connection.

Man surprises his wife with roses while she is preparing a meal.

Keeping your relationship going strong when only one partner is retired requires understanding, adaptability, and open communication. By taking the time to recognize each other's needs, enjoying a few shared activities, and maintaining an emotional connection, you can successfully navigate this phase of your lives.

Love and companionship thrive when both partners actively participate in cultivating a fulfilling and balanced relationship, whether or not only one of you is retired. So, I ask others who are in a similar situation – what do you do to keep your coupledom healthy and happy?

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