We were walking the pups in the park and chatting about our autumn holiday to come. In Wales, on a vineyard, to be precise, but more of that in a later blog. The point was that Mrs Summerhouse had booked this holiday on her iPad. True I’d pointed her to the website of Welsh vineyards, and I bought her the iPad for Christmas, but there was no getting away from the fact that she had booked it. And, why you ask, does this merit a mention? Well, because for the 50 years of our relationship, I have been the one who books the holidays. We do discuss where we go of course but after that she’s always been more than happy to let me do the arranging. Now here she was making decisions about the place and the dates, the full Monty and I was happy for this to happen. Things were changing or so it seemed.
It may be, and this is a bit of a switch, that this change in who does what in our relationship began with my mother’s funeral. Mrs SH made most, if not all, of those arrangements. Perhaps in that instance that wasn’t so remarkable, she had more experience in the area having buried both her mother and her father, but, when we looked back, it seemed there had been a change (of which the holiday was a good example) and it may have started then. But the bigger question was / is, given this was somewhere near the beginning of our retirement, was there something about being retired that promoted this change in power or perhaps a kinder word would be responsibility? Power is such an unpleasant word.
Certainly it is true that Mrs SH has more responsibility for running the gardening business than I do. We never had any kind of business before we retired so it’s a little bit hard to compare but I think ten years ago she might have said to the offer of ‘being in charge’, thanks but no thanks. And yet here she is running the business and booking holidays, yes and still doing the majority of the cooking, some things never change. I have tried to take up the cooking mantle but with little success. Anyway the question remains, has the willingness of one half of the partnership to assume more control, dare I use that word, been matched by the inclination of the other half (that would be me) to give it up?
I realise that I’m probably not coming out of this very well but try and put to one side your judgements and consider the big picture. Is there something that happens, control-wise, responsibility-wise, call it what you will, when a couple who have been together for a long time, retire? You know a kind of all bets are off, kind of thing? Time for a new deal?
Is this what retirement, at least in part, is about, an opportunity to redefine the nature of the relationship you have with your long term partner? It doesn’t feel like a great question in the sense that if you’ve been together for a long time then wouldn’t there be an assumption that things had been basically OK, to the general satisfaction of both parties. If not then surely the bread knife through the heart or the rat poison in the tea or more simply and legally, divorce, would be the way forward. We know that retirement is an opportunity to look at many aspects of what might broadly be called your work – play balance*, but this context can be taken too far by way of justification.
So should a long-time together couple draw up a new contract? Contract in inverted commas it would be supposed. It’s not just in retirement that couple re-evaluate of course. Any significant change in the family set-up can often bring about some form of soul-searching about the nature of the roles and responsibilities within a family or between a ‘married’ couple. A new baby, new job, change of living location, salary increase etc. etc. But, that said, perhaps there is something about retirement that’s different. Maybe that something is the element of choice in the change whereas the above circumstances may force a change/s not desired by either party.
I suppose the worst case scenario in this re-evaluation is one partner saying I’m pissed off with having paid the bills for the last fifty years, over to you for the next however many. The best case is where one partner gets the opportunity (as with Mrs SH and her running of the business) to show talents that have gone unrecognised thus far and maybe, because that partner lacked the confidence to assume the role, or not so good, they have been restricted in showing their talents by a brute of a partner. Needless to say this doesn’t apply to Mrs SH and myself. And we are talking about a re-defining of existing responsibilities as opposed to developing entirely new ones.
So it’s back to those eternal retirement questions – what changes? What needs to change and what should stay the same? I’ll finish with an additional thought which reflects what we’re trying to do with our retirement. Simply put we’re trying to reduce the number of responsibilities we’ve got. We have been retired nearly four years and I think it’s fair to say we’ve taken on too much, too many responsibilities and we need become more minimal. Cut down rather than re-allocate existing ones. But you will have to wait for future blogs to find out what this philosophy means in practice.
Sometimes these retirement blogs just flow from a small idea and at other times the writing can be a real slog. The idea refuses to develop or turns out to be not much of an idea in the first place. This blog has been a grind for some reason. The idea about changes of power in a relationship when a couple retire seemed like an interesting one but every word had to be dragged out until I reached my thousand word target. Writing about retirement can be a funny old business.