Setting boundaries with family in retirement

Unless you live in isolation, how you share space and spend your time in retirement will require frank discussion with your family on where boundaries should lie.

By Dr Jon Glass - 3 min 20 sec read

A little about Jon

Dr Jon Glass runs retirement coaching business 64PLUS (The opinions expressed are those of Dr Jon Glass and 64Plus. Russell Investments does not endorse, and is not accountable for, any views expressed by Dr Jon Glass or 64Plus.) He coaches individuals to a clearer understanding of the issues they will face post work. He has studied counselling and coaching at The Australian College of Applied Psychology and The Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership.

This article discusses the practicalities of how to share both space and time with your loved ones in retirement—without getting on each other’s nerves so much that you wish you were a hermit. It boils down to engaging in sensible discussions around boundary setting. I will offer some practical advice on the ‘how’ of boundary setting. But first, a brief digression.

Life in isolation

There was a religious man in Syria around 1,600 years ago called Simeon who, according to his official story, was about as hermit-like as it’s possible to be. He is known as Simeon Stylites—his name ‘stylites’ comes from the Ancient Greek word for pillar. He lived in isolation atop a pillar on a platform for 37 years.

Clearly, Simeon the hermit didn’t have issues of how to share space and time in his home, as his boundaries were sharply defined.

But certainly, no one I know lives like that today.

The reality of sharing space

Recall that when you worked you typically weren’t sharing home space during your workweek, except maybe from dinner through breakfast.

In retirement, you may be at home seven days a week and sharing this space with a partner or other housemates. (This may also have been true for you during the COVID lockdowns). The importance of having your own space led novelist Virginia Woolf to coin the expression, ‘a room of one’s own’—everybody needs their own space in which to think creatively.

Of course, your ability to have a room of your own will be partly dictated by the physical space you have available in your home. It may be necessary to negotiate space arrangements or look beyond your home to find places where you can spend time apart when required, perhaps your garden or a local cafe or library.

Without clear boundaries, you may find conflicts arise, which could be avoided through frank discussions on how you will share space in the house with others who live there.

Spending time together and apart

After retirement it will quickly dawn on you that you now have a lot more free time than you did when you worked. Your friends and family will want to share some of that wonderful free time with you to engage in joint activities. But there is obvious value in spending time apart on your individual activities.

If you have a partner, you can work out an answer to the questions: “What do we want to achieve in our retirement? And do we broadly agree?”

If you have grandchildren, this could bring a call on your time in terms of babysitting. While I can’t speak directly to how you’d respond to such a request from your children, it’s worth considering setting boundaries that separate grandparenting activities from the rest of your life.

Setting boundaries: practical tips

Good boundary setting involves healthy communication—whether this is with your partner, other family members or even close friends. As a retirement coach, I can offer some tips on how to negotiate boundaries with the people you care about.

  1. Start with a framework that avoids blame. Phrases such as “you always do XYZ…” tend to provoke defensive emotions that are hostile to a clear and open discussion. 
  2. Each person should take time to articulate their position on boundaries for space and time, as rationally as possible. This will almost certainly be a work in progress that you will refine through future discussions. 
  3. Each person needs to listen well enough to be able to accurately paraphrase the other person’s position. This can be quite challenging but is achievable with practice. Good listening is not only about hearing the words, but also trying to discern the emotions beneath those words. 
  4. Listen with the aim of reaching an understanding of the other person’s needs and wants. You shouldn’t listen in order to ‘win’.

Through open discussions, you will gain a clearer understanding of your own needs and wants, as well as those of your loved ones. It may not surprise you to see a set of compromises emerge from your discussions. You may agree to vary these compromises in future.

In summary, in retirement you will meet issues of setting boundaries, both in space and time. This should lead to collaborative discussions and compromise with the people you want in your life. The alternative may be that either you or your loved ones wish you did indeed live alone on a platform!


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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of Russell Investments.

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