When we married over 40 years ago, my husband was 35 and I was 27. Well matched in interests and activity levels, we enjoyed walking, moderate hiking in the Virginia mountains, bike riding and other outdoor exercises. Sure, we had some marital difficulties, but they were never about our age difference.
We had two sons and both of us were equally invested in raising them and participating in their lives. We loved going to their sports activities, even during their college years. The empty nest was an adjustment, but we were still working, and that helped with the loss of being as involved in our boys’ lives. What I didn’t notice, at first, was that we no longer shared outdoor activities.
I had been running 5k races for years when I saw a fellow employee at a race. She suggested I join her masters’ track and field team. I was 60 and began running track as well as learning some new field sports, such as shot put. My husband was supportive and even tried shot put himself for a while. Other than that, he had no hobbies or sports.
Then, in 2012, two big events happened. I retired (he had been retired about 5 years before) and he had a stroke.
Retirement is a big adjustment for most people. After the honeymoon of feeling free from unwanted responsibilities, many of us become bored and miss our co-workers. In addition, the visions we may have had of retirement life may not come to fruition for many reasons. In my case, my husband and I did not have the companionship I had envisioned. We were no longer matched in activity levels or interests. Our age and health differences had raised their unwanted heads.
I wanted to travel. He wanted no more than a day drive. I wanted to take long walks in new places. He would go only around the block. I wanted to get out of the house and do new things. He wanted to stay home and read. I wanted to garden. He wanted to hire a landscaper.
His decline in activity started with the stroke. Though he had only mild residual physical effects, he seemed resigned to being an elderly, sedentary man. He had and still has some balance and visual issues. Thus bike riding was out and long distance driving became unsafe. Meanwhile I still wanted to try all the things I hadn’t done while working and raising a family.
I wanted to learn how to pursue an active retirement life while maintaining as happy a marriage as possible. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
First: actively search for interests you both genuinely share. They don’t have to be exciting or new. For us, going to a movie, watching sports on television, attending our Major League Soccer team games are activities we both enjoy. We also enjoy our dog and belong to a dog club. But sometimes we have to put forth an extra effort to find something to share on a given day. Thank goodness for sources like Netflix. Occasional binge-watching can be fun.
Second: don’t sacrifice doing hobbies you love or want to try. I still train for track and field and I’m trying my hand at artistic endeavors. A friend invited me to go with her to watercolor classes. I’m not great, but I’m getting better and enjoy being with the other classmates. I’ve also gone to some other classes (photography, drawing) by myself. I now enjoy meeting new folks on my own without having to worry whether my husband is engaged.
Third: encourage your spouse to join you in activities you’re sure he’ll enjoy once he gets there. My husband no longer likes to eat in loud restaurants and sometimes “globalizes” that negative experience to eating out in any restaurant. Eating out by myself is not something I want to do. I find restaurants that are smaller, quieter and we go early, before the crowds arrive. He often resists at first. But once he is eating, he usually enjoys his meal. Sometimes a gentle shove is necessary.
Fourth: when possible host activities with other people at home. That way your spouse can take part as desired. Our sons like to see their friends when they’re home. I invite them to bring their friends home for a meal. We spend more time with our sons and my husband doesn’t have to leave his comfort zone.
Fifth: If you want to travel and your spouse doesn’t or can’t, you can go with family, friends, or a travel group. I went to South Africa with a large family group, while my husband stayed home. He and I arranged for neighbors, friends and other family members to stop by and make sure he was safe and well while I was away. Though we couldn’t talk everyday, since there was no internet in some spots, we did communicate as often as possible. He was fine and I had the trip of a lifetime.
Retiring with an older spouse has its challenges, but you don’t have to give up all your retirement dreams. Sometimes together, sometimes separate, you can find your way.