Handling retirement requires adjustments

While most couples spend a great deal of time planning for their retirement, they often forget to discuss one very important thing — the impact it will have on their marriage.

Although some couples seem to have virtually no trouble adjusting to retirement, most find that it takes some getting used to. The lack of structure and increased togetherness often put a strain on even the best marriages. But with a little give and take, most couples report that the retirement years are among their happiest.

Experts say one of the keys to a satisfying retirement is having a positive attitude. Instead of dwelling on what you're giving up, concentrate on all of the positive aspects of retirement, such as the increased freedom and flexibility. Look at retirement as an opportunity for you and your spouse to relax, spend more time together and enjoy some of the things you weren't able to do when you were working.

Here are some practical steps you and your spouse can take to ensure a smooth transition into retirement.

*Respect each other's need for independence and solitude. Now that you're spending more time together, it's important to give each other some personal space. The most successful marriages are the ones that allow for time alone to read, work, play or relax. Each person should be able to pursue his or her own hobbies or interests, whether it's gardening, listening to music or volunteering. Most couples find that they appreciate each other more if they've had some time alone.

*Find new ways to give your life meaning. If your identity and self-esteem were closely tied to your career or your spouse's, you may find that your life suddenly lacks meaning or purpose. Look for new ways that will give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Getting involved in community work, volunteering or taking a class can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling.

*Find things you enjoy doing as a couple. Research shows a correlation between the amount of leisure time couples spend together and marital happiness in retirement. Look for things you both like doing, whether it's playing bridge, golfing or going to museums. Strive for a balance of physical activities and intellectual pursuits.

*Don't take each other for granted. While you may think you know everything about your spouse, there are still new things to discover about each other.

Even couples who have been married 30 years or more need to continue nurturing their relationship. Keep your love alive by doing little things to show you care, such as writing a note expressing your feelings, preparing a special meal or surprising your spouse with a small token of your affection.

*Re-evaluate the division of labor. One of the biggest frustrations for traditional homemakers is the fact that while their husbands get to retire, they have to continue taking care of the household tasks.Experts say it's important for couples to divvy up the day-to-day chores and responsibilities.

*Take care of yourself. Make sure regular exercise and good nutrition are part of your routine. Retirement doesn't mean leading a sedentary life. If you were active before retirement, be sure to keep up your activities. And if you weren't active before, now is the perfect time to get in shape. A healthful diet and regular exercise are important for vitality.

*Establish new routines. Without the structure of a work environment, and so much free time on their hands, many retirees feel at loose ends. Discuss with your spouse new routines that will add more structure to your lives, such as taking a walk together in the morning or having a cup of tea in the afternoon.

*Maintain your social network. One of the keys to happy retirement is having a good support system. Studies show that older adults who have a strong network of friends and family are happier and fare better in times of stress.

*Be flexible. Retirement may turn out to be a little different than you expected. Maybe you envisioned spending more time with your grandchildren only to discover that they are busy with their own lives. Or perhaps you have less expendable income than you anticipated.

Don't let minor setbacks or disappointments ruin your retirement. Re-evaluate your priorities and modify your expectations so that you feel good about your life.