Preparing for change
Many couples just deal with problems as they come along without discussing their hopes and expectations or seeking help. Your relationship may be your most important connection 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 your partner and, if necessary, ask for support - this page suggests some organisations that can help.
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. Your partner may become a more important source of support but spending a lot more time together can sometimes have a negative impact on your relationship.
As people begin to take stock after retirement and raising a family, often spending considerable time with their partners for the first time in many years, distances between them can be exposed, impacting both the quality and stability of relationships.
If possible, plan in advance how you want to spend your time, 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.
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.
Living with a health condition may bring you closer together but can also put pressure on your relationship. Even if you cope as a couple, you may notice that friendships change and you may not get the support you’d like. Friends and relatives may stop visiting, for example, or you may be reluctant to ask for help. This can make you feel lonely and isolated.
It can help to talk through the impact of your health condition on your relationships. You can get support to do this from Relate. 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.
Together but lonely
Although being married or in a partnership can give you some protection against loneliness, many people feel lonely within their relationship. This may happen slowly over the years. You may have lost a shared focus when your children left home, or developed different routines, for example going to bed at different times or enjoying different leisure activities. Conversation may have become limited to things like what to have for dinner or whether the phone bill has been paid.
For many, the deepest and strongest social connection is with their partner, and experiencing difficulty with this relationship can be a very isolating and lonely time in life.
If you’re feeling lonely in your relationship, it’s possible that your partner is too. You may think you know what they think and feel because you’ve been together a long time but this might not be the case. 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 enjoyed when you first got together.
Don’t take for granted that your partner knows what you want or expect – we can’t read minds! Talk, listen and negotiate how you want your relationship to be.
If you’ve fallen into a particular way of communicating with each other, Relate has some useful advice about how to improve communication in your relationship. You may also benefit from some relationship counselling to get back on track. You may have to pay for this.
If the relationship is over
More and more people are deciding to separate and divorce in later life. Ending a relationship is very difficult and it can be hard to know if it’s the right thing to do. Apart from the emotional impact, there are practical, legal and financial implications.
If you’ve been bereaved, our free guide Coping with bereavement suggests where you may find sources of comfort and support.
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.