Retirement is what we look forward to for most of our working lives. We plan for it, sock money away in retirement accounts and dream about world travel. For some people it is a wonderful stage of life, the golden years. It means waking up whenever they feel like it, hitting the golf course or the beach anytime. Life is truly their oyster. For others it is a difficult transition, a big scarey unknown, that leaves them depressed and anxious.
How did they get there and what can be done to fix it? These are questions I help couples deal with on the therapy couch. This transition has brought many good marriages of thirty and forty years to a screeching halt. Others come very close to going their separate ways but are able to find answers that work for them.
Understanding how it happened is important and helpful to some people. Retirement is about loss and grief. It signals and end to a significant part of what makes up our identity. It is also and end to a meaningful contribution to society that was made possible through one's job. In addition, it means a loss of balance between separateness and togetherness.
For forty years or more, a sense of identity has been derived in large part from a person's work. They have identified themselves in terms of their job title and derived self-worth from it. The question, "What do you do?", becomes internalized as "Who are you?", and they answer it every day.
I'm a therapist. I am also a husband, father, brother, son, friend, and coach. But forty to sixty hours a week I am a therapist. Losing that routine would be terribly unsettling and confusing. I would lose all of the procedural stimulation and the emotional feedback my job provides. I get up and get ready for work. I plan my day, see my clients, call insurance companies, consult with other clinicians and physicians. I write treatment plans, bill for my services and collect payments. These procedures are a large part of the experience of being a therapist. It is also very fulfilling and stimulating. It is not only what I do, but a big part of who I am.
Many retirees are grieving the loss of this identity while they are supposed to be having the time of their lives. It is confusing to many. A piece of the solution seems to be finding what activities or pursuits bring some of the same satisfaction their jobs provided. It might mean starting a second career, or volunteering. Some people consult in their field, or write a book. There are all sorts of ways to get involved in meaningful activities and reinventing one's identity. It is essential for couples to find a balance between separateness and togetherness. "He is driving me crazy." "He follows me around the house." "She won't stop nagging me. She is constantly hovering over me." " We are around each other so much I can't stand it." After retiring, a couple spends a lot more time together. All day and night with anyone will lead to problems.
Maintaining friendships outside the marriage or joining a club provides stimulation and camaraderie that can help energize a person leading to more fulfillment and a positive outlook on things. Get busy with hobbies, and make sure to maintain a fitness routine. One of the best ways to keep your mind sharp is to be physically active.
Make sure to romance your spouse. Have regular date nights and take romantic getaways. Communicate and make a conscience decision to accept them even when you don't like their annoying, irritating behaviors. They are doing the best they can just like you. It isn't necessarily an easy transition for them either. Make your own schedule each day and stay active.