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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 1


It could be you.... 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


Retirement a hidden sting?

Maggi Stamp, laterlife's counsellor on human relationships, describes how one couple struggle to make things work after retirement, and suggests ways to help 

We all assume retirement is a time to do things we didn`t have time or energy for before, but a while ago a client set me thinking about the broader implications.

His parents, both of retirement age, were concerning him.  Jill, who worked at home most of their married life, and Barry (not their real names), who retired two years ago, had become tense and snappy with one another instead of enjoying their long anticipated retirement.

Jill thought it would be good having Barry home rather than rushing off each morning, returning increasingly exhausted as the years passed. She was looking forward to fewer work moans and more company, occasional trips out, walks, meals prepared and eaten together, sharing the gardening, more help around the house.  

Although she worried that Barry would prefer his hobby to being with her, she found that she did get all she was hoping for. He was eager to help and be involved, and initially this was a relief and a delight.  But oh dear, the help wasn`t always very helpful. Jill had her own way of doing things. Barry's suggestions sounded to her like criticism, and she saw his attempts to be useful as incompetent. A quiet wish for a bit of solitude crept in, along with resentment.

What about Barry, our retiree? He had finished the constant slog of getting to work and getting home, keeping abreast of all the changes in the workplace, relieved to be shot of it. Life went on at work without him but he found it hard to carve a niche for himself at home. It was hard trying to be helpful, but either his contribution was not right or was something Jill wanted to do herself.  

Barry ended up feeling that he didn`t belong anywhere.  ‘At least at work I knew what my job was', he grumbled to his son. The change that had occurred in his life and relationship and the prospect of the situation continuing was depressing.

How can they ease the tension?

  • When unhappy or worried we often show it by being grumpy or uncommunicative. Barry and Jill need to make an effort and talk.  

  • They need to discuss hopes for retirement. Some will be shared and some not. They will need to be flexible to find a balance. It is important to have some time to oneself.

  • When worried or feeling down, Jill and Barry need to talk specifically about their own feelings - but not in a way that might be heard as a grumble. No blame.

  • It is very important that the listener really listens while the other is talking.
    Here are some responses to avoid : ‘you`re wrong'… ‘that's not true'… ‘you shouldn`t feel like that'…`well I always do'. Confiding in a partner and trusting them with something very important deserves respect.

  •  It is normal to feel a bit lost at times. Jill and Barry have lost the familiar connections that defined their roles. Now they have to re-negotiate their relationship and their use of time.

All life's milestones - careers, marriages, losing parents,  raising families, mark a journey of joys and hardships, pain and pleasure, survived with the help of routines or structures that smooth daily life. Retirement changes these routines. Adjusting isn`t simple.

Although looked forward to with pleasure, adjusting to change involves losses. So when negative feelings and thoughts creep in it is very hard to speak out for fear ofmaking things worse. It is especially hard when couples have developed a way of getting on which doesn`t involve much talk about their feelings. Waiting for things to blow over sometimes works, but when it doesn't it is definitely time to talk.

Change is a great opportunity to get to know each other again. I knew one newly retired couple who did just this. They began ‘dating', arranging to meet at a cafe, cinema,  park or restaurant and spend the time chatting each other up, flirting and generally acting as though they knew little of each other. What they found was that, actually, they didn't! They had a lot of fun catching up and a much more lively relationship as a result.

So what can help if retirement is worrying you?

  • Say so, talk about it.

  • Allow time for adjustment.

  • Accept there will be some feelings of loss, even if only of routine.

  • Listen to your partner, give them your attention for a little while, you will be rewarded!

  • Share your wishes hopes and plans, allow for differences as well as common ones.

  • Get to know each other again. Your needs and wishes within the relationship will have changed over the years.

Please don't send any confidential information to

To view all articles  - see the Relationship Counselling & Advice Index page  



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