Q: Ever since my husband retired, my worst fears have been confirmed. He’s boring. He lives and dies by a rigid schedule. He certainly had some of these tendencies before retirement, but with him working and traveling about 45 percent of the time, it wasn’t as in my face as it is now. Every single day is a carbon copy of the day before, and he finds this comforting.
He did sign up to volunteer one day a week for three hours. That’s my one time in the house alone, and it’s early morning so I’m typically asleep anyway! To top it off, our new retirement home is comfortable but very small. The time I get alone now is in my car or upstairs in my office. He won’t change, and honestly, he shouldn’t have to change. He is a wonderful person, just incredibly routine-driven, low energy and introverted. I didn’t realize these qualities would be so cumbersome for me. I feel so guilty for looking at him this way, but it’s how I feel. How can I approach this and reconfigure my way of thinking so I don’t start resenting his rigidity?
- Saw This Coming ...
A: You are both entering a new life stage. Just as any other life transition - getting married, having children, moving, etc. - you should have intentional and explicit conversations about both of your needs and wants. Consider if there are other situational factors - such as moving to a new home - that may be exacerbating how you feel and the changes you’re both dealing with.
I sense your guilt, and I want you to know that honoring your own feelings doesn’t diminish your love for your husband. Your husband’s retirement doesn’t just impact him, it impacts you and your relationship, too. You are not alone in feeling frustrated by the reality of this transition. It can take time, years even, to adjust to this new phase of life.
Retirement can involve many mental health concerns, including a loss of identity and purpose, and overall uncertainty and disengagement. It can also be a risk factor for depression. If you’re concerned for your husband’s wellness, you should bring this up directly: “I wanted to check in and see how you’ve been feeling since you’ve retired.” Highlight your observations on his low energy level, and consider any other unusual behaviors you notice.
Your husband’s rigid schedule in retirement might be his way of replicating the structure he had with work. This structure may be what he needs to feel engaged in his daily life and he may be content with how he’s choosing to spend his time in retirement, even if it feels boring to you. As you say, it’s not your place to try to change him, but you can find ways to connect with him and share what you are feeling so you don’t continue to fester in your resentment.
By initiating a conversation with him, you can ask about what he wants while being honest about what you want. Here are some starting scripts for you to consider:
- “I love you and I feel guilty for feeling this way, but I need more alone time. Can we figure out how to create that in our weekly schedule?”
- “I have felt like we’ve hit a lull in our relationship since you retired. Can I share some ideas I have for us to do together?”
- “How do you envision our lives for the next five years?”
- “What’s something you’ve always wanted to try or do that you haven’t had time for because of work?”
This can be the start of a larger conversation about how your shared values have changed. You and your husband got married and stayed together because of some overlap in what you want in life. Taking a moment to consider how these values have changed could bring you both clarity. Ask your husband what he would say his top-three priorities are in retirement, and consider what yours are, too. Where do these overlap or differ? How can you work together as partners to honor each of your values?
While talking to your husband will be important, think about how you can take care of yourself through this life transition, too. It may be time to prioritize your own social circle, hobbies outside of the home, or other activities that give you purpose. This will help you insert excitement into your life and reclaim agency over how you want to spend this time without it being your husband’s responsibility.
Maybe there are hobbies or other activities you can do together to invest in, and reorient, your relationship through this life change. These don’t have to be huge commitments, but they could be something such as a book club between the two of you, learning a card game, trying a new recipe/cuisine at home, gardening or fostering a pet.
If your husband likes a schedule, you can honor that by scheduling your own alone time and talking to him about it. This will allow you to get what you need while giving him the structure he wants.
If you don’t share how you feel - guilt and all - your resentment will deepen, eventually becoming a wall that prevents connection between you and your husband. You do your relationship a disservice by not allowing your husband to be a teammate with you in this new phase of life. For all he knows, you enjoy his daily routine as much as he does!