WHILE FINANCES ARE critically important to retirement, it wasn’t the biggest challenge that my wife and I faced. Instead, when I quit the workforce two years ago, a stranger moved into our house.
It was me.
For the prior two years, I had worked in Texas, while my family remained in Maryland, so my son could complete high school there. Even before my temporary Texas move, I worked longish hours, traveled overseas regularly and had lengthy daily commutes.
While I was at the job in Texas, my wife worked part-time, managed both the house and a teenager, and traveled monthly to visit and help her aging parents. I flew home intermittently on weekends, whenever time and cheap airfares allowed. We had to divide and conquer household chores, while also tag-teaming on our two kids’ activities.
Juggling career, parental and travel commitments is a common challenge among our working friends—and is probably a key contributor to today’s high national divorce rate. For my wife and me, these various demands meant that—in my pre-retirement years—we were definitely together less than at any time in our nearly four decades of marriage.
Then I retired. Our lives went from two ships passing in the night to the equivalent of being cell mates. I blitzkrieged my wife’s well-organized domestic realm—with no warning shot across the bow.
My invasion of her space wasn’t without hiccups. An example: Our working styles are completely different. When I’m on my computer, I listen to music and am totally absorbed in the task at hand. When my wife is on her computer, she multi-tasks and likes to communicate. Our different styles probably reflect our past: I had to delve deep into complex financial issues during my working years, while my wife suffered constant child-interruptus.
It didn’t take long to figure out that working on computers in adjacent rooms wasn’t ideal. I would be totally engrossed, while she might be discussing important family issues. I would later find out that she had raised a key topic, to which I apparently responded with a grunt that sounded like “fine,” but about which I had no recollection.
I didn’t want my inattention to cause ongoing issues, so I moved my computer upstairs to a separate office. Other retired friends have told me that they likewise undertake activities in separate areas of the house, including the garage, basement and garden. Two friends even maintain a small remote office. At first, my wife was a bit frustrated with me for moving my computer, but we both acknowledge it instantly cured my across-room communication issues.
Retirement has also allowed us to embark on a host of new activities, some free, some cheap: walking, reading, hiking, volunteering, visiting family, exploring parks, attending free concerts and talks, going on cheap date nights and biking. We do most post-retirement activities together, including walking about three miles most days—weather allowing. These walks fit right into our travel and hiking interests. They’re also great times to chat both with each other and sometimes with friends. Heading into the wilderness has an added bonus: no phone, laptop or financial market distractions.
But even as we do more things together, we’ve also each developed new interests of our own. She has activities that are all hers—hospice volunteering, theater with friends and committee service at a sports club. Likewise, I write, bike with buddies, jog and help out with environmental issues. In other words, unlike the initial retirement days, we’re no longer in each other’s space 100% of the time—yet neither of us is close to being a fishing widow or yoga widower.
John Yeigh is an engineer with an MBA in finance. He retired in 2017 after 40 years in the oil industry, where he helped negotiate financial details for multi-billion-dollar international projects. His previous articles include Unloaded, Getting Schooled, Bracketology and Don’t Concentrate.