Life is rarely straightforward. Even with the best of intentions, things don’t always pan out the way we expected them to.

Unfortunately, an unhappy marriage in retirement is more common than you might expect. The transition from employment to life after work can put new strains on a previously blissful union.

If you feel like your marriage isn’t where it should be, this page may help. The essential guide below is designed to help you seek the help and resources you need.

Don’t give up hope; there are ways to rebuild the retired life you deserve.

Symptoms – The effects of an unhappy marriage

Symptoms – The Effects of an Unhappy Marriage

Sadly, an unhappy marriage can have myriad effects on a couple’s health, headspace, and overall well-being. We explore a few key symptoms below.

Wellbeing and happiness

When you’ve lived a life with someone for so long, it’s unsurprising that a rough patch can cause a great deal of unhappiness. A dysfunctional marriage is associated with increased anxiety, personality disorders, a lack of self-confidence and countless other issues.

These risks go far beyond the emotional; one’s physical health can also be heavily impacted. Cardiac and immune health can suffer once you stop seeing eye to eye.

Physical contact

For most people, a healthy sex life serves as a critical component of a successful relationship. It acts as a strong foundation; without it, other aspects of the relationship can start to fall apart. And even if sex is no longer an issue, a lack of physical contact can still cause a great deal of discontent.

This can lead to a vicious cycle where everyone in the relationship feels their needs aren’t being met, which can lead to resentment and recriminations. Breaking this cycle can be critical in re-establishing a happy marriage.


Living in an unhappy marriage can cause immeasurable stress on one’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Many people feel they’re constantly walking on eggshells around their partners. Others feel they don’t know how to talk to their spouse anymore.

Stress can have far-reaching effects on a whole host of bodily functions and is imperative to address.


This is where the term ‘dysfunctional’ comes from. When in an unhappy marriage, many couples find it hard to agree on anything anymore. Arranging family visits, discussing important decisions, and simply dealing with daily life can take immense amounts of effort and time.

This struggle can drive a wedge even further between all involved. Fixing these disagreements can be hard, but also immensely worthwhile.

What causes an unhappy marriage in retirement?

Relationships are multi-faceted, complex things. A multitude of memories, desires, and events make up a marriage. Finding the one thing that made it ‘all go wrong’ is often impossible.

In retirement, however, there are a few common issues that might apply to you.

‘Retired husband syndrome’

In older generations, it’s often seen as a given that the husband in a marriage is the ‘breadwinner’ for the family. He wakes early in the morning and comes home late at night from work. His wife assumes the role of caregiver, attending to his needs while he’s home.

Although this dynamic is slowly shifting, it does still exist in many marriages. ‘Retired husband syndrome’ was first recognised in Japan but can happen anywhere in the world.

After retirement, a husband who was once out for most of the day is now home far more often. Some married couples suddenly feel as though they’re living with a virtual stranger. For some wives, the demands of a husband who now expects care and attention 24/7 can be too much to bear.

Reframing and dismantling the relationship’s dynamic may be the only road to success here.

Husband or wife is micromanaging

Transitioning from being apart for most of the day to being in each other’s pockets round the clock can be a difficult process for some couples. Some spouses report feeling ‘micromanaged’ by their partner.

A husband or wife might miss the control and routine they had at work and therefore try to impose new rules on their partner. Unsurprisingly, this can lead to tension and increasingly volatile exchanges.

A lack of communication

It’s a cliche for a reason; the importance of healthy communication in a relationship is a well-established concept. If things aren’t working anymore in your marriage, there’s a very good chance that the reason is a lack of communication.

When was the last time you spoke to each other about how you felt? If you’re feeling resentment about something, have you actually let your partner know what you’re thinking?

You’ve grown apart

Human beings change all the time. The person you were five years ago likely isn’t the person who exists today. The fact is that sometimes, people simply grow apart. While this of course can be sad, it doesn’t have to be devastating.

Approaching the issue with an open heart can help you both find happy, prosperous, and fulfilled futures.

How can I make my marriage happy in retirement?

An online article can only take you so far; seek professional counselling if you feel your marriage needs help.

In this section, we’ll explore a few key ideas for helping to make your marriage happy in retirement. There’s no silver bullet here. With an open heart and healthy communication, however, many things are possible.

1. Get on the same page about what retirement means for you

Retirement represents a huge change for most people. Transitioning from regular work to daily freedom impacts all aspects of a person’s life, including their marriage. One thing that can cause problems in retirement for some marriages is what each person expects from retirement.

For the sake of argument, let’s picture a wife who can’t wait to travel with her partner once they’re both finally retired. If the husband in this scenario just wants to stay home and relax, this could easily lead to tension in the relationship.

Make sure you understand what you both want from retirement. How can you meet each other in the middle?

2. Talk to each other and keep talking

When did you last tell your partner how you were feeling? If they do something that hurts you, do you let them know about it or keep it quiet? Maintaining a healthy channel of communication is the only way to cultivate a resilient relationship.

3. Try new things

Date nights? New experiences? Taking an adventurous trip? The choice is yours, but try to enjoy new things together as often as possible. This can help you remember why you got together in the first place.

In fact, why not give Rest Less Events a go? We provide interesting activities and events for many couples who want to meet new people and try new things!

4. Seek counselling

Counselling can be very hard, but also very effective. A therapy session can provide a safe, structured environment for you both to air your grievances and work through them together.

We strongly advise taking a look at the UK’s Counselling Directory. It can help you find suitable therapists with the training and experience needed to strengthen your marriage.

Book your free pension review

If you’re considering getting professional financial advice, Unbiased is offering Rest Less members a free pension review. It’s a chance to have a qualified local advisor give an unbiased assessment of your retirement savings.

Book my free call

Unhappy marriage in retirement – Final thoughts

Retirement is a huge transition that can cause an unexpected strain on a previously happy marriage.

In time, and with the right approach, it’s possible to turn the tide.

Have faith that you’ll find a way to make things work again; you owe it to each other to try!