When retirement comes home to roost: How to deal with flying tempers when the house begins to feel small

How do you respond to your partner’s grumpiness when your both in the house all day long? Margaret Jennings talks to relationship experts

When retirement comes home to roost: How to deal with flying tempers when the house begins to feel small

How do you respond to your partner’s grumpiness when your both in the house all day long? Margaret Jennings talks to relationship experts

WHO would have thought it? But when retirement comes knocking on couples’ doors it can raise issues of power and control, mirroring what happened when they first settled down together in their younger years.

There is a reconfiguration going on, and whether one partner, or both, are readjusting back to life in the home, each can be going through their own challenges, affecting the dynamic of the relationship and even each other’s mood in the process, says Anne Mathews, a psychotherapist who counsels couples at the Mind and Body Works clinic in Dublin.

“When someone retires and returns home they’re working out where they fit, so that may affect mood and somebody can become grumpy. So it’s important for the other partner not to make assumptions about that,” she says.

“It’s important to prepare for retirement because coming home can produce a void if somebody hasn’t thought it through, which can lead to that disappointment and grumpiness.

“But for the partner who’s retiring it’s going to have a ricochet effect also on the partner who is at home, because that partner will have carved out their own life.”

As time moves on, it’s more common to see both people working, but where traditionally the woman stayed at home the psychotherapist has found this matter raises its head with couples in her practice. “It also goes back to that issue of power and control. The domain of the home is very often where the stay-at-home partner has control,” she says.

“Couples need to get over the assumptions they would make about each other’s lives; the huge difficulty for the person giving up the job, but also the difficulty for the other, whose domain is has been. There has been a routine, and that’s important.”

“Many of us imagine a retired life of leisure, having worked for years, but we still need meaning,” says Damian Davy, chartered psychologist at the Phoenix Centre, in Dublin. “This helps us keep positive and can contribute to keeping low moods to a minimum.

“People who retire face many challenges — such as loss of identity, meaning, and purpose. They also find themselves under their loved one’s feet so to speak, and this can bring its own obstacles. But I find the root of sorting out many relationship issues is effective communication.”

According to the 2016 census, the number of retired people here increased by 19.2% to 545,407. And, the over 65 age group saw the largest increase in population since 2011 from 107, 174 to 637,567.

So how do you respond to your partner’s grumpiness, if faced with so many hours in the day together? Here are some tips:

STAY OPEN TO THE REASON: We don’t know why another person is low in mood unless we ask them and try to understand, says Damian. Address your partner’s mood — be interested and ask what’s going on.

“It’s a good idea to say: ‘I notice you don’t seem to be happy. Would you like to talk about it?’ It’s an invitation really to talk,” says Anne.

DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY: Don’t assume your partner’s mood is your fault. Even if it’s due to something that has been said — that the partner reacts to, then maybe ask them ‘how or why did it affect you in that way?’ Instead of getting defensive.

AVOID CRITICISM: Talk out your concern, rather than being critical, accusatory or combative, even if you are feeling frustrated. Notice how you speak and your tone of voice. Otherwise, it’s easy to go from your partner being in a bad mood, to an argument developing between you. If an argument does develop, it’s important to have boundaries, says Anne, that it doesn’t descend into name-calling and that criticism stays with the behaviour, as opposed to the person.

ADD SOME HUMOUR: Having a laugh can sometimes diffuse a potentially difficult situation, but it’s important it’s not used to put somebody down or disrespect them, says Anne. Accessing humour that is part of your shared history together might help to lift the mood.

TAKE YOUR SPACE:If a partner is spending a lot of time adjusting and there is a bad mood going on, it’s important that it doesn’t drag the other down — that they continue to do the things they enjoy, says Anne.

“If you’re living close to somebody you notice it, but don’t let it bring you down; be aware of it, but don’t get into that downwards spiral. You just have to walk away from it; go for a walk.”

If both partners have retired from outside the home, it can really bring into focus how much they have in common as a couple, says Anne. “If they have been living “parallel lives” — off doing their own thing, no looking after the “couple piece” — that can be very difficult because they are thrown together more.”

In that context, or indeed if a partner’s grumpy mood becomes a more prolonged emotional state, it can be good to get professional support for the next stage of life and all its potential.

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