Only 40% of those who retire find that their quality of life improved. That’s because the majority of Americans, especially men, fail to understand that retirement can have a sudden and stressful impact on their lives and especially their marriage. Don’t let this happen to you.
Remember that throughout history, most people worked until they died or were physically or mentally unable to hold down a job. It is only recently that people had the luxury of choosing to retire. For many, it comes down to the dollar and cents ability to have saved enough money to live on through their remaining years. But just because you have the money doesn’t mean that you should.
In my experience, anecdotal evidence indicates that those of my clients who are happiest in retirement are actually those who hold down part-time jobs, created new jobs or have developed interests and hobbies that keep them busy and out of the house for the good part of every day.
On several occasions when my clients have expressed an interest in retiring over the next year or two, I have urged them to spend that time trying out new roles and identities. In many cases, I have urged my clients to think outside the box and pursue interests that seemed outside their grasp up until now. One client loved to swim and already taught classes part-time. Another had organized a mountain-biking club and in his spare time taught newcomers the sport. One loved to bake, another to ball-room dance. Some considered opening a business, others started or joined charities or social groups.
For those management types who loved a good business plan, I recommended building a business plan for retirement. I urged them to develop and share this plan with their spouse, which brings us to the topic of marriage and retirement.
Retirement is the fastest way to discover the holes in your marriage. Think about it. For years an unhappy marriage could exist by avoiding each other by simply going to work. Retirement will change that. Now, you are together with your spouse 24/7, which will mean adjustments, big adjustments if that marriage is going to survive. Issues that you should have resolved years ago will demand immediate solutions. No wonder the divorce rate among retirees is increasing.
How do you begin, or if you are in a pretty good relationship, how do you adjust to retirement? Well, first you have to sit down and talk about it (preferably before and not after). First on the agenda is establishing a retirement lifestyle that you can both enjoy and one that meets the needs of both partners. That may mean sharing the household chores, something most men have avoided their entire lives. There may be personal habits that have to go and it most certainly will require teaching old dogs new tricks. Private time for both is also going to be important. The point is that becoming a couch potato, keeping your feelings to yourself and continuing old behaviors are not the answers.
For most couples, retirement will be a process. At first most couples experience a short-term honeymoon period where everything works. You can sleep later, go out to eat more often, watch television together and visit the kids in California. However, after a few weeks or months, reality hits. Senior citizenry no longer has the cache you thought it had and you come to realize how “bossy” that person who shares your life really is.
To survive retirement together your first rule of thumb is that communication is essential. For many men that is an earth change in behavior. Men have to get out of the house and find part-time work, paid or non-profit, social or otherwise. I call it work because men are usually not comfortable in new social settings. They rely instead on their wives to do that for them. No more.
Remember too that being retired does not mean you have to spend every waking moment with your spouse. No matter how likable you think you are, you’re not. You both need the confidence and sell-esteem to take care of yourself and have time alone.
The best way to look at retirement is as simply as a job change. You may work fewer hours at something new or different. You may get paid less or nothing at all. Like any new job, there will be a learning curve, failures and successes along the way and lots and lots of changes. If that bothers you, don’t retire. But if you do retire, embrace the change and treat it with the respect and planning it demands and serves.