Work from Home and Live with a Retired Spouse
Edited by Kathy McGraw, Eng
Perhaps you both always thought that you would retire at the same time, but whether it's due to disability, circumstances, or choice, one of you has retired ahead of the other. You're not alone: in fact, according to Phyllis Moen, a sociology professor out of the University of Minnesota, a majority of couples don't retire at the same time. Mixed-retirement couples already face the risk of increased marital conflict, but what if the still-working spouse works at home? What if the retired partner always seems underfoot and is getting in the way of the working spouse's job? This article will attempt to help you cope when you work from home, and your spouse is retired.
Communication is the key to any healthy relationship, and it is never more critical than during times of changing circumstances and shifting roles. Your spouse may have had an idea for what their retirement would look like, but perhaps they didn't consider what would happen if you kept working. Having a thorough discussion about expectations and balancing them with the reality of present circumstances goes a long way toward soothing resentments and promoting understanding.
- 1Ask them to tell you in concrete terms what an ideal retirement would look like for them, such as "I want us to travel to Europe," or "It would be great if we both went jogging in the park together." Ask them open-ended questions that encourage them to talk.Begin the discussion by asking your spouse what they want out of their retirement.
- 2Mention the struggles you face in trying to focus on work with them around the house. Realize that it's only natural for them to seek you out about household matters while you're both at home, but explain to them how interruptions affect your work.Be honest but tactful.
- 3Talk about your feelings and own them.Use "I" statements and avoid starting a sentence with "you." Beginning statements with "you" ends up sounding like an accusation and will only put your spouse on the defensive.
- 4When you make the statement that your spouse never does x or always does y, you're shutting down the conversation because you're portraying your spouse's actions in black and white terms and not allowing for variances.Avoid words like "never" and "always." Aside from the fact that such statements are often hyperbole and not useful, they are polarizing.
- 5If your spouse is constantly asking you what you're doing or criticizing your methods while you're working, talk to about how distracting and non-productive this is for you. Try not to focus on blame: focus instead on the results of a particular behavior.Talk about how your spouse's actions make you feel and how they affect you.
- 6Tell your spouse that you need their help to work productively. It can help them feel like they're part of the solution and allow them to be your knight-in-shining-armor. It's particularly helpful for a spouse who is feeling down and useless after retirement. Try to give them specific things they can do to help you, such as taking the kids to the park so that you can work in peace, or doing the grocery shopping.Ask for your spouse's help.
Separate Work and Home Life
Even though you're working from home, it's still helpful to establish boundaries between your work and home life, especially if there are other people at home while you are working. This doesn't only apply to your retired spouse, but also to your children if you have them.
- 1If you have the room, create an office for yourself. Put your desk, computer, and any other work-related supplies in your office and work only from there. It's best if your office has a door that you can close to shut off your work from the rest of the house.Create a separate office.
- 2Set up a specific block of time during the day as your working hours, and tell your spouse that during that time, you are not to be disturbed unless it's an emergency. Tell them to treat your work hours like they would if you worked outside the home every day.Establish working hours:
- 3Encourage your spouse to chat with you or bring up household matters only at these timesSet up break times and lunch.
- 4Work only during your designated working hours. While it may be tempting and so easy to slip back into work mode when your home is your office, recognize that you need balance. Just as your spouse needs to leave you to your work during your office hours, you need to devote time to them during your non-working hours.Set clear boundaries for yourself:
- 5Going to bed at the same encourages intimacy between you and allows you time to reconnect with each other.Go to bed at the same time.
Keep Your Spouse Engaged
Retirement is a major transition in life, and for some, it can be a shock. To someone who has spent most of their life having to get up and go to work every day, not having to do that anymore can be frightening and depressing. If the person was the major breadwinner in the house, but now that role has shifted to the other spouse, it may leave them feeling inadequate and questioning their self-worth.
- 1Remind them of those repairs that they started long ago but never got around to finishing. However, be tactful about it: try not to word it as a failure on their part; couch it instead as an opportunity to get something done that they've always wanted, but never had the time while they were working.Encourage them to take part in more of the household chores.
Tips and Tricks
- Use priming to unconsciously plant ideas in your spouse's head. For example, if you know of a volunteer program at the local animal shelter that you're sure your spouse would be perfect for, talk about a friend of yours who adopted a cat from the shelter, or how many animals need new homes.
- Give your spouse two options, one being the choice you would like them to make. Make the other choice completely undesirable and let them choose for themselves.
- Make a "date" with your spouse. Go out for dinner and a movie or to see a play. Spend the day at the beach or taking a hike in the mountains. Spending time together outside of the humdrum world of household concerns and your work is good for both of you and encourages intimacy in your relationship.
- Be aware that everyone is different. While your friend's spouse may love volunteering, yours may not be amenable to it. Be flexible and look for opportunities to guide your spouse in a direction you know they want to go.