Preparing for change
Many people just deal with relationship problems as they come along without discussing their hopes and expectations, or seeking help.
Some relationships – such as with a partner, relative or a close friend – may become your most important connections in later life. But if one of you is going through a major change, it can be a difficult time. It’s important to keep talking to each other and, if necessary, ask for support.
An unexpected bonus from the disappointment of not having children has been that we have always made time for each other and for friends of all ages. Being connected to others is important regardless of whether they are blood related.
Even if you’ve looked forward to having more free time, it can be difficult to adapt to retirement. You may miss having a sense of purpose and the status you enjoyed at work. Your social circle could get smaller. Or you may find a small handful of people - such as your partner, relatives or a friend - become more important sources of support. But spending a lot more time together can sometimes have a negative impact on your relationship.
What you can do
If you can, plan in advance how you want to spend your time – both together and apart. Having a shared interest or hobby can help but it’s also important to maintain your independence. Try to:
- stay active
- keep in touch with friends and make new ones
- find a new purpose – consider volunteering, for example
- rekindle or keep up your sex life.
Relate has some useful tips to help you plan for retirement.
Living with a health condition may bring you closer to your partner, relative or friend, but it can also put pressure on that relationship. Even if you cope in your main relationship, you may notice that other friendships change or you may not get the support you’d like. For example, you may be unable to do your usual activities with friends and relatives, or may feel reluctant to ask for help. This can make you feel lonely and isolated.
What you can do
It can help to talk through the impact of your health condition on your relationships. Try Relate for support. There are also many organisations that can help if you’re living with a long-term condition.
If one of you becomes a carer to the other, this can affect you both in different ways. Make sure you’re getting all the support you need, for example, by asking your local council for a care needs assessment and a carer’s assessment.
Many carers are unprepared for the change in relationship with the person they care for. You can get help and advice from Carers UK and they also have an online forum where you can talk to other people in a similar situation.
Loneliness in your relationships
Although having a close relationship can give you some protection against loneliness, you may still feel lonely. This can happen slowly over the years. For example, you may have developed different routines and hobbies, lost a shared focus, or find conversation has become limited to things like what to have for dinner or whether the phone bill has been paid.
What you can do
If you’re feeling lonely in your relationship, it’s possible that the other person is too. Even if you’ve known each other a long time, you won’t know what they’re thinking and feeling without asking. You’ll need to find ways to reconnect if you want to bring back the quality, love and affection of your earlier relationship.
- Start conversations that are not just about tasks – ask for their views about something.
- Create shared experiences – go out for a walk together, cook together, or try to share something they like.
- Try to see things from their perspective.
- Do something you used to enjoy together.
Relate has some useful information on how to improve communication in your relationships. You may also benefit from some relationship counselling to get back on track. You may have to pay for this.
My uncle cared for his wife for over 12 years after she was diagnosed with dementia. For the first few years they continued to enjoy ballroom dancing but, as my aunt became less mobile, they were unable to join in with the dancing. However, for a while they continued to attend the sessions sitting at the side watching their friends dance, while enjoying drinks and refreshments. Eventually, due to my aunt's poor mobility, they had to stop attending the tea dances and lost touch with their friends to a degree.
My aunt passed away and my uncle found it difficult to adjust to being on his own at first but, after gentle persuasion from friends and relatives, he started going back to the tea dances. He has rekindled old friendships and is enjoying meeting new friends and he really loves the dancing, which of course helps to keep him fit as well. My uncle is 87.
If your relationship is over
Ending a relationship with your partner is very difficult and it can be hard to know if it’s the right thing to do. Apart from the emotional impact, there may be practical, legal and financial problems to sort out.
If you’ve been bereaved, our free guide Coping with bereavement suggests where you may find sources of comfort and support.