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Making Marriage Work After Retirement: Insights by Marilyn Gardner

Retirement marks a significant life transition, bringing both newfound freedom and unique challenges to a marriage. Navigating this phase successfully requires a thoughtful approach to maintaining a strong, harmonious relationship. I recently read an insightful article by Marilyn Gardner that delves into the intricacies of making marriage work after retirement. Gardner’s thoughtful analysis provides valuable strategies for couples to deepen their connection, balance their time together and apart, and address common issues that arise during this stage of life. Her practical advice and empathetic understanding make this a must-read for anyone approaching or already enjoying their golden years with a partner. Sharing this article feels essential, as it offers guidance on cultivating a fulfilling and resilient marriage in retirement.

By Marilyn Gardner, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

For decades, Mary Louise Floyd dreaded the prospect of retirement, both for herself and her husband. Her parents’ 43-year marriage had fallen apart when her father retired, leaving her with negative views about the possibilities for this stage of life.

“My mother was not willing to give over part of her domain and share the empty nest,” says Mrs. Floyd of Atlanta. “She resented his presence.”

Floyd was determined to avoid similar challenges in her own marriage after she and her husband left their careers, he as a corporate attorney, she as a high school media specialist. Speaking as part of a generation that is beginning to write new scripts for the later years, she says, “We do not intend to do it the way our predecessors did.”

As the first baby boomers approach retirement, media reports echo with two recurring themes. One involves the upbeat refrain that this generation will “reinvent” retirement. A second, more somber topic focuses on finances: Will they have enough money in their later years?

But few reports talk about the changing domestic arena – what it will mean for families when a huge generation of dual-career couples must navigate not just one retirement, as those like Floyd’s parents typically did, but two. Accompanying that challenge are larger social shifts involving caregiving, housing, and marriage. The combination, sociologists say, will subtly change the landscape of retirement for many families.

Already, two-income couples whose busy schedules may have turned them into the proverbial ships passing in the night when they were employed are finding themselves facing unaccustomed togetherness in their postwork years.

“The question becomes, ‘Who is this person I’m married to?’ ” says Floyd, author of “Retired With Husband: Superwoman’s New Challenge.” Noting that the average couple engages in 20 minutes of conversation a day, she adds with a laugh, “Now here we are, together 24/7. Marriages have to be reengineered for this new era that the baby-boom generation is moving into.”

That reengineering can include everything from renegotiating household chores to forming new friendships. “Sometimes it is the men who have not made as many friends who want to put a leash on their partner,” says Maryanne Vandervelde, who heads the Institute for Couples in Retirement in Seattle.

When Ron Manheimer, executive director of the NC Center for Creative Retirement at the University of North Carolina in Asheville, holds seminars on relationships, he typically finds more men than women in the group. Their conversation often turns to male friendships, specifically the lack of them.

“A lot of friendships are connected with work life,” Mr. Manheimer says. “Now how are they going to meet men to spend time? They don’t have a lot of experience in meeting peers. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of the issues that drives men to go back to work.”

Even women, often considered better at maintaining friendships than men, can find themselves missing connections at work after they leave their jobs. “She’s lost her daily collegial contacts with her women colleagues, with whom she had rapport,” Floyd says. Communication at home thus becomes increasingly important.

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