Most people, when they plan for retirement, think long and hard about changes in income streams and where they will go on vacation and yet, give little or no consideration to something which I believe is far more important; the impact leaving work will have on their relationships with themselves and others.
Relationships change over time and throughout life; of course, they do, but significant events such as the birth of a child, a period of ill health, redundancy, or retirement can, and often do, put an extra strain on them.
It’s not all bad news, though. If you’re prepared for the transition and its impact, then both you and, hopefully, your relationships will be stronger for it. Remember, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Things need to change
I’ve spoken to hundreds of retirees across the globe and time after time, I hear the same story from people who hadn’t envisaged that retirement would change them personally, mentally, and emotionally. They had expected the way they lived their lives to be different but not to feel as lost and as vulnerable as they did when they left the world of work. Retirement impacts their self-esteem and self-confidence and, because of that, slowly eats away at their once-healthy relationships.
As a society, we really don’t help ourselves here. We still paint a picture of a perfect retirement, a simple transition from work to a decadent and liberating lifestyle and that needs to change. If we talked more openly and honestly about the realities of retirement today, then we’d all be better off. Anyway, back to those relationships . . .
Whatever your situation and the state of your relationship with your significant other, retirement will impact it, and it may not be a positive one. A change in dynamics and how you live your lives can, and often does, cause tension. It’s especially hard if you don’t retire at the same time. And, speaking from experience, I find that men struggle more with this territorial shift and loss of their work persona than women, who are typically more used to juggling different life roles.
The key thing here is to talk about how you’re both feeling and to keep on communicating. Plan (ideally years ahead) how you are going to spend your time, both individually and as a couple. Having a shared interest or hobby is helpful, but it’s also important to maintain your own independence and factor in time apart. If you go from only seeing each other in the evenings and at weekends to spending every minute in each other’s shadow, retirement will be challenging, no matter how deeply in love you are. And although it seems counter-intuitive, finding a new purpose and building social circles outside the relationship will make it much stronger.
Retirement can be the perfect opportunity to reconnect as a couple, emotionally and physically, to explore and do new things together. It’s why I urge all retirees to adopt a ‘beginner’s mindset’; to find the courage to do all the things you have always wanted to do, to never say ‘no’, be open and adaptable. ‘Gap years’ are not just for the young; in retirement, they can be the perfect place to reconnect with yourself and others. Which brings me to one of my favourite quotes from the inimitable Bob Proctor:
“If I want to be free, I’ve got to be me. Not the me you think I should be, not the me I think my spouse thinks I should be, not the me I think my kids think I should be. If I want to be free, I’ve got to be me, so I better know who me is.”
If I had a dollar for every time a recent or soon-to-be retiree told me they were struggling to work out who they truly are and/or where their true passions lie, I’d be filthy rich. Retirement does this to people. We spend so much of our lives being the person our job dictates we are that we end up feeling lost and unanchored. This, my friends, is the catalyst for personal unhappiness and stressful relationships.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this and finding oneself doesn’t happen overnight, it takes work. It took me three years and 30 days in a silent retreat in Wales, but here’s the good news… it is entirely possible and when you do work out who you are and what fires you up, the world really is your oyster. You will be fulfilled, your relationships, stronger.
So, the million-dollar question… how do you find your true passion and purpose? Firstly, you need space and time to take stock, to work out which activities you lose all sense of time in, and which group of people feed your soul. Then you need to throw yourself into every opportunity that comes your way, as well as creating new ones for yourself. If you’re struggling, think back to when you were a child, free of all responsibilities – what did you want to be or to do then? What were you good at? What were you told you’d never achieve? Make a list and do all of these things and then throw in a few random ones too – try rock climbing and crochet, become a lay preacher or snake charmer. They won’t all be enjoyable experiences, but chances are you’ll discover your true passion, which may surprise you.
Not who the kids think I should be
This approach comes with a warning; life and people will try to stand in your way, not least your kids. You tell them you’re going trekking in Nepal for three months, and chances are they’ll question your fitness or mental agility. You admit you’ve always wanted to learn how to rap, and they’ll probably laugh in your face. Believe it or not, this insolence is likely based on good intentions – in their own way, they will be trying to protect you – or their inheritance! But ignore them! Ignore everyone who tells you that you can’t do something or that you shouldn’t even try. Be brave, strong and fearless, as that’s the only way to carve out the best possible retirement for yourself and those around you. And do you know what? Your kids (and significant others) will respect you all the more for it.
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