Dear Vicki 

By Vicki Duncan 

Leisure Lifestyle Clashes 

Last year, I retired and mostly enjoy my new life, except for my leisure time with my spouse. When he comes home from his full-time job, all he wants to do is sit in front of the “boob tube!” I’m ready to go out and socialize or just take a walk for heaven’s sake! Weekends are no different. He’s tired and says that since he deals with people all day, he just wants to veg out. I’m frustrated!

At any stage of life, it is not unusual for spouses to have differing recreational needs and when one partner retires, this variability may come into sharper focus to cause real conflict. Whenever understandable differences in temperament, energy, availability and interests becomes the focus of relationship conflict, power plays, built-up resentment, isolation, alienation and hostility can rear their ugly heads if not stopped dead in their tracks. How do you halt this negative cascade of events?

Compromise, my friend, is the name of the game, featuring communication with a capital “C.” Begin by trying to walk a mile in your spouse’s shoes. Of course, this is the last thing you want to do when you feel strongly that your position is the right one. However, here’s a question I ask my clients at times like this: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? If you’re smart, the answer is the latter. This question always helps me set aside my petty need to be right and get down to the business of looking for solutions.

Initiate a conversation in which you validate your husband’s need to have a time of respite when he is home. If he feels understood, he will be more apt to appreciate your own needs. Reach an understanding of just how much downtime he needs and, likewise, identify how much socialization keeps you happy. Once you have a better handle on what you both require, you can devise new ways to meet in the middle.

Discuss how to balance these needs — yours for socialization and activity and his for quiet relaxation. Perhaps if your husband has an hour of uninterrupted “vegging time” when he comes home, he may recharge enough to then be more active. Similarly, you may realize that socializing every minute of the weekend is unnecessary. Instead, you may find that meeting friends for dinner one evening or joining another couple for a hike on Saturday morning is sufficient.

Is it possible that the activities you suggest are part of the problem? Maybe he has no wish to learn ballroom dancing, but could get excited about the idea of kayaking. Make a list of what you each enjoy and again, look for the middle ground. Keep an open mind. If you each try something new, you might find a fresh and interesting mutual hobby that you’ve never considered.

In addition, take a closer look at how you structure your time now that you’ve retired. If you mostly engage in solitary activities or, worse yet, wait for your partner to come home and entertain you, it’s time to amp up your own life. Identify your passions, set some goals and go after what brings you fulfillment. When you remain active and engaged while your spouse works, you may need less socializing than you think. Also, talk with your husband about reducing his work hours and responsibilities. Perhaps he can find ways to cut back so he is not as spent after work.

Reframe your interpretation of his retiring nature and ask him to take another look at your desire to be social. Remember, those very qualities that now bother you about each other were likely the same ones that attracted you in the first place. Really? Yes, it is true that opposites do attract. If you were always the social butterfly and he was more retiring, it is a good bet that your outgoing nature attracted him. In a similar manner, you probably found his reserve to be steady and stabilizing. Every trait has its flip side — look for the positives.

Finally, if these tips do not inspire your husband to part with the television remote, consider professional help. Start with a good physical examination to rule out a medical explanation for his lassitude. Fatigue and inertia are symptoms of a number of disorders, including heart disease and depression. If everything checks out, but this conflict continues, consult a qualified counselor to help you work out this important aspect of your relationship. The right practitioner can greatly assist you to restore a climate of cooperation and appreciation.

Retirement presents some challenges for us to navigate and negotiate. Since a happy home life and harmonious relationship add both to the length and quality of our lives, temper your frustration, start communicating and find compromise. Search for that middle ground, it’s a great place to hang out!

Vicki Duncan is a licensed professional counselor and welcomes your questions. Write to her at [email protected]



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