Adjustment of Couples to the Transition to Retirement: The Interplay of Intra- and Interpersonal Emotion Regulation in Daily Life

Background: Retirement is a central transition in late adulthood and requires adjustment. These processes not only affect the retired individuals but also their romantic partners. The aim of this study is to investigate the interplay of intrapersonal emotion regulation (rumination) with interpersonal regulation processes (disclosure quality). Furthermore, the associations of daily retirement-related disclosure with adjustment symptoms in disclosing and the listening partner will be investigated. It is expected that the effects of disclosure alter after providing the couples with a self-applied solitary written disclosure task in order to support their intrapersonal emotion regulation.

Methods: In this dyadic online-diary study, 45 couples (N = 45) with one partner perceiving the adjustment to a recent retirement as challenging reported rumination, perceived disclosure quality (repetitive, focused on negative content, hard to follow, disclosing partner open for common/authentic), retirement-related disclosure, and ICD-11 adjustment symptoms preoccupation and failure to adapt were assessed at the end of the day over 14 days. In the middle of this assessment period, couples performed a modified online-expressive writing about their thoughts and feelings regarding the transition to retirement.

Results: The double-intercept multilevel Actor–Partner Interdependence Models (APIM) reveal that on days with more daily rumination, the spouse perceived that disclosure of the retiree is more difficult to follow, more negative, and repetitive. In contrast, the retiree perceived less authenticity and openness to comments during disclosure on days when the spouse reports more rumination. Retirement-related disclosure showed no within-couple association with failure to adapt but actor effects on preoccupation. Moreover, a partner effect of disclosure of the retirees on the preoccupation of spouses could be observed. This contagious effect of the retiree disclosure, however, disappeared during the week after writing.

Conclusion: Our results support the notion that disclosure processes are altered during maladaptive intrapersonal emotion regulation processes. This in turn seems to lead to less effective interpersonal regulation and contagious spilling over of symptoms.

Supporting intrapersonal emotion regulation seems to have the potential to allow more favorable interpersonal regulation processes and to free interpersonal resources for an individual adjustment. This has implications for further planning of support for couples facing life transitions and aging-related changes.

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