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Keeping the spark alive

Retirement and growing older can be a huge cause of stress on relationships. Relate counsellor Barbara Bloomfield looks at what you can do to help keep your relationship on track in later life

How might retirement affect your relationship?At relationship counselling service Relate we see people through all life stages, so we know retirement can be quite painful because it involves the loss of a role. 

Our culture doesn’t make it easy for us to think about how we want to spend the rest of our lives. So there are recurring issues around loss of identity and this can have a big impact on relationships. 

For example, until retirement some people say, “Our relationship is great because we only see each other for a couple of hours in the evening.” They then worry what it’s going to be like when they’re together all the time. Well, it’s going to be different.

Face up to the realities of retirement 

It’s important to face up to this. Relate is one of the few places that retiring couples and those coming up to retirement can go for relationship support and we see lots of people who are going through this life transition. 

Most couples can benefit from taking stock if they accept their relationship will probably change - it’s change people struggle with most. To help with the transition into retirement, the following tips can often help:

  • Don’t take anything for granted when you retire. 
  • Discuss your dreams together and what you want from retirement. 
  • Talk about your feelings, not transactional issues like who’s going to put the bins out.

Put aside two or three times in the week, mutually agreed, when you take it in turns to listen to your partner then they listen back to you for five minutes each. If you do this regularly it will become a habit - a good habit to get into. 

It's not a discussion or an argument but a way of making sure you really hear each other. It’s important you don’t try to fix anything in these sessions. Just demonstrate that you've heard each other and then reflect back to your partner what they’re saying, checking you heard it right. For example: "I’m feeling a bit sad about the kids leaving home/no longer having a job?" 

Don’t ignore your love life 

If your love life has drifted away or stopped completely don’t ever think it’s too late to reignite it - it isn’t. Bring in some variety and excitement. One of the best ways is to get out of the house, if possible. Make time to go places together even if only for one night. Talking about sex can be the most intimate thing you do. 

Our counsellors are increasingly working with couples who wish to incorporate sex back into their relationship - often after treatment for life-changing illnesses or when living with a long term condition. 

Boredom and familiarity, not age, is often the biggest passion killer. It’s important our desire for a fulfilling sex life is recognised, whatever our circumstances. However it’s also fine if neither of you want a sex life anymore. 

What’s important is to discuss things and try to avoid making assumptions, about anything. There is no right or wrong way - only what works for you. 

Barbara Bloomfield is a Relate counsellor and author. Relate provides impartial and non-judgmental support for people of all ages, at all stages of couple, family and social relationships. Find out more at www.relate.org.uk

How has retirement affected your relationship? Let us know below, have your say in the Forum, or head back to ‘Staying healthy in retirement

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This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own

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