Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: How do I get on the same page with my spouse?

Are you and your spouse finding it difficult to get on the same page when it comes to your housing situation as you age? Let me share a story about married clients of mine.

Vanessa* and Martin* have been married for decades and typically have similar ideas about the lifestyle they want and where they wanted to live. They had planned for their later years and had decided they wanted to age in the house they currently lived in; however, recently Vanessa started to want something different. She believed if they moved to a retirement residence they would not have to worry about household maintenance and would not be stuck inside their house when the weather got bad in the wintertime. She hadn’t anticipated her change of heart, and when she tried to discuss it with Martin, he was not very open to having the conversation. He said they had decided where they were going to live and he couldn’t understand why Vanessa now wanted something different. They decided to postpone talking about it since there was no urgency to make a decision, and would address it again if and when they needed to.

Many couples may find that even when they have decided where they would like to live as they grew older, they may see it differently as they actually enter their later years. Often, both people in the couple don’t have the same view about what might be best, or about the timing of taking action. And—like Vanessa and Martin— many end up postponing conversations and decisions, feeling there is no urgency to move forward. The problem with this reasoning is that these conversations and decisions may never happen until an immediate need arises; and decisions are then likely to be made hastily and without the same level of choice as when there is time for planning and exploration.

One thing that can help couples have these important conversations is to realize it is normal to have a change in perspective about what is best as we age. How we see our future is different as we step into that future! Instead of being irritated by your spouse’s “sudden” change of heart, this is an opportunity to revisit what you feel is best as you age.

The benefits of making a big life transition together

If you are the spouse who feels it would be best to stay in the home you have been in, consider what will happen if one of you is alone and has to face the possibility of moving and all that it entails. For example, couples who move to retirement living have the added benefit of having made that move together. Selling a home and moving is a project for anyone; but it is certainly made easier when done as a team, rather than by oneself. Also, moving from a home you shared with a spouse is often very hard if you are grieving. Some people say they feel that it is like losing their spouse all over again, leaving the familiarity of the home they shared with them.

The solution? Compromise.

It is possible to create a harmonious plan for your future, even if you and your spouse find yourself on different pages. One thing to keep in mind is that, like every other big decision you have made together, it is likely there will be elements of compromise in this one. Perhaps that will be about when you make a move, to where, or how you will know when it is time to move. Compromise doesn’t mean you’ve not gotten your way, it means you have created a third way that is better for both of you.

While it’s certainly true that compromise is the hallmark of any good relationship, in order to find your middle ground, you need to deeply listen to each other. In thinking about the lifestyle you want, it’s important to listen to the reasons your spouse feels strongly about what is best for your future together. It’s easy to get focused on where each of you sees as the best place to live, while it’s harder to step back and listen to why you each think your choice is best.

For example, does your spouse want to move to a retirement community because they want more social contact, less day-to-day stress in maintaining a house, or more of a sense of safety? These reasons will give you a better understanding about your spouse’s perspective and open the door to creating a joint vision for both your housing and your lifestyle as you age together. It’s likely that taking action on this joint vision will bring you closer together and give both of you more peace of mind in the long run.

*Names have been changed for privacy