Q. My partner and I are fortunate enough that we are able to retire early. However, I love my job, I am good at my job, and after not working for two years I am really looking forward to returning to part-time work (I had quit temporarily to help with other family matters). My job involves helping people, and it offers me a sense of fulfillment, purpose, structure, as well as financial independence. My partner and I have a lot of hobbies and interests outside of work that we enjoy together often, so work does not fully define me, but it is a part of my happiness recipe.
My partner does not want me to go back to work and feels that my needing to is him failing in not being enough for me. The anger and resentment he has toward my work has been worsening to the point where I no longer feel comfortable talking about my job or career with him and try to avoid it because it takes the joy out of it for me. I understand some partners get jealous when work takes up too much time, but I am going back only part time. Shouldn’t my partner want me to do the thing that makes me healthy and happy? I cannot sacrifice this piece of myself as it will only destroy me from the inside out. This is a making me question everything. This doesn’t seem like it should be the hard part. I worry that we met young and ultimately are discovering we want different things in life. I am sure this happens with older couples as retirement nears and retirement goals end up being different.
How do people bridge these gaps? I think the hardest thing is not being able to talk about something that brings me joy.
A. First, do what makes you happy. Don’t change your plan to go back to work, and please, talk about your excitement. This will get weirder if you keep your partner out of the conversation.
As you figure out your new schedule, seek out couples counseling. This is a much larger conversation about happiness, free time, and guilt attached to doing things that don’t involve your partner. You want a life with someone who can be excited for you to have experiences, even if he’s not there. If he can’t understand why that’s important — or feels like you’re backing out of a retirement promise — you both need to discuss it with a third party. Tell him so.
I do wonder if this says more about what’s missing in his life, that he doesn’t know passion for work (or hobbies) in the same way. Maybe that will come up during this kind of couples therapy — a jealousy of your love for what you do. It’s a question worth asking: What does he like to do without you these days?
I know many retired couples who achieved their big goal and then realized that joyful free time does not look like a TV commercial where two people with lots of money go sailing. If only.
I see people choosing to volunteer, going back to work, finding new communities where they can explore passions, etc. Mostly, I see a discomfort in the early days as they figure it out. It sounds like your partner had a plan in mind, but it doesn’t work in real life.
You need to deal with that together, and I do think talking to a professional would help. If therapists are booked, get on wait lists. If he says no, go yourself.
It also might help to seek social time with other retired couples. See how they do it and talk to them about the transition. Some of this might be about seeing examples of how this can work. Find your peers.
Some retired men don’t want to be left alone for any portion of the day. It’s selfish. Life is too short to be tied down to any other human by emotional blackmail. It’s up to the letter writer to decide if it is a deal-breaker at her age. Companionship is not that easy to replace over 50 but at the same time, her resentment will continue to grow.
We’re retired for about two years now. She immediately went out and found a ¾-time job that she likes. Been working since I was 12; I’m done with work. Perfect!! I have time to do the things I like that she doesn’t. This guy needs to get a life.
“Shouldn’t my partner want me to do the thing that makes me healthy and happy?” Yes, of course. And some people find that they have retired too early and take a job again. That’s a real thing that is talked about in networking and retirement groups. Retirement is a huge adjustment, and it requires having peers you can spend time with. Nobody can count solely on a spouse/partner for their social life.
This is bizarre. I don’t know any guy over 50 that’s been married a long time (including myself) who wouldn’t love having his wife out of his hair a few days a week. The bliss of being able to to do what you want! It’s just an added bonus if the wife is happy off doing her thing too. What is the issue?!
^I get the feeling from the phrasing of this letter that they haven’t been together that long. She didn’t say they were married or how long they’ve been together.
Please do not engage in this nonsense. Do what makes you happy. He should want you to be happy and fulfilled even if the “activity” doesn’t involve him. Especially if you still have plenty of time for him. If he can’t deal, he should go to therapy. Honestly. I can’t even.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to email@example.com. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.