Three ways to strengthen your marriage before retirement

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When you were in the early stages of marriage, raising children and fretting about finances and career ambitions, you and your spouse may well have looked ahead to retirement as a time when the two of you would finally be alone. You would pursue hobbies together, travel, learn a language, or enjoy the grandkids.

Now that you're on the cusp of the next big chapter of your life together, the reality may not be quite what you imagined. Many couples report dissatisfaction with their relationship in this time of life due to such factors as different goals and more time together, which can breed more conflict, according to Shelli Chosak, Ph.D., a San Diego–based psychotherapist and coach. If you're facing retirement soon, spare a thought for the health of your relationship, as well as that of your financial portfolio. These three essential marriage-strengthening tips from Chosak will set you on the path to a happy retirement for two.

  1. Get reacquainted with each other.
    Many couples find that they've grown and changed over the years and were too busy with work and family demands to notice. But now is the time to start attending to your relationship as a couple. One way to do that is to embrace date night. You may think it's unnecessary, but a regular reconnect away from home is more vital than ever. "Putting aside time to focus on just each other sends a strong message that your relationship has value," says Chosak.
  2. Discuss your vision for a happy retirement.
    A big stressor in retirement occurs when either or both of your dreams for retirement don't match reality, as well as when those dreams are not mutually compatible. "People can become depressed or disillusioned when they find having all that leisure time isn't as fun or fulfilling as they thought it would be," says Chosak. And if that frustrates you, you're more likely to take it out on your spouse. Take the time now to talk about what you each imagine for retirement: Will you downsize your home? Seek part-time jobs? Travel? Remember, too, that men and women often have different reactions to this change of life. Research has shown that men tend to have fewer outlets outside of work, while women usually have maintained stronger networks of friends, so often men might feel more dependent on their wives for a social outlet. Taking those differences into account will help you feel more sympathetic to each other.
  3. Nip misunderstandings in the bud. 
    This is a bumpy time in both of your lives. Very often, adds Chosak, the multiple stressors you're facing as individuals and as a couple (think: the empty nest, changing financial realities) are hard to tease out, and that can lead to arguments. The longer the disagreements fester, the more disconnected you might feel as a couple and the harder it will be to resolve those differences. Make a commitment to each other that you won't allow unresolved feelings to get buried or ignored. Even if it takes a few days or a week to realize something's bothering you, bring it up whenever you become aware of it. "Establishing a pattern of openness demonstrates your desire to keep your relationship healthy and whole," says Chosak.