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You may not know your spouse in retirement

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My husband and I were at dinner the other night with ourdear friends. These friends are newly-retired and moved into a retirementcommunity. They were telling my husband and me about the other couples who jointhem for breakfast each morning. Some of the antics these other couples say arefunny and we all laughed imagining theseold couples now able to freely discuss their marriage, past employment and notworry about getting fired or divorced.

Getting older is not a guarantee thatyou will stay married; however, once you check into a retirement home together,it is less likely. Along with the freedom from yard work, fixing householdproblems and working, these couples are rediscovering themselves and theirpartners.

During our discussion ourfriend (Jim) looked at his wife and said, "I don't know you in retirement." Myeyes grew wide and I happily expressed, "Wow, an honest man." In truth we never know our partnercompletely, and this is what keeps marriage exciting. We all laughed, but it was laughter oversharing a bitter sweet truth. 

I don't know of many people who don't look forward to theirretirement. Many of our friends have retired at the age of forty, and even moreby the age of fifty. They may talk about their trips, about their leisure golfgames, and about weekends with the grandkids, but if you listen closely youwill also hear them talk about the difficulty of their transition. Many couplesdon't prepare for retirement emotionally. They believe that it happensnaturally and they will know how to do it right away. Whenever you idealize atransition no matter if it is a marriage, a new baby or retirement you are sureto be disappointed.  Retirement is atransition and it involves not only your life style, but your marriage style aswell. Couples need to re-learn themselves and they need to revitalize andrestore their marriage. In essence none of us knows our partner completely andwhen the other partner is going through a transition along with you, therelationship is not as solid as when you are living in a routine.

Preparing for retirement involves taking small steps.Letting go of work is a huge step and it doesn't matter if you complained aboutyour job every day; when it is gone you will feel a void.  Letting go of work involves letting go ofcolleagues and friends as well. Grieving and grief work is part of thetransition of retirement. Developing a sense of exploration and curiosity isimportant and actually helps predict how healthy you will be through yourretirement both physically and emotionally. Your marriage has to prepare and transition in a way it has not donebefore. Prior to retirement your outlook or vision together is always thefuture. During retirement there is a heavy emphasis on the present. Peoplebecome more cognizant of their mortality and the importance of living each dayin the present.

If you are on the verge of retirement these suggestions mayhelp you make the emotional transition as well as the physical ones of actuallyceasing your employment:

  1. Grieving is an important part of retirement andit does happen whether you acknowledge it or not. It usually presents assadness, anger or irritability. The more you can journal about how you feel orhave a good friend (hopefully your spouse is a good listener) the better youare going to ease through.
  2. Physical activity has never been more importantthan in your retirement. No matter what happens in your life, take one half ofan hour each day to be active. Marriages improve with walks; there is nohealthier way to begin conversation.
  3. Keep intimacy with your partner in yourretirement years. Couples who are more intimate have healthier hearts, minds,and bodies. Date nights are not exclusive for the young. Keep them in yourmarriage ‘til death do you part.
  4. Make new friends and keep the old. The moresocial you are with other couples the better your own marriage becomes. Othercouples give us new thoughts, new reflections and help us think out of our ownbox. They also keep laughter in our life.
  5. This sounds like a cliché but try new things. Itcan be a new spiritual retreat, a new boating club, or a pet owners club andanything in between. When you try new things, you help the brain form newconnections. If your brain ever needed new connections, it needs them in thesenior years.
  6. Keep your own interests separate from yourpartner. This is important in all of life. The more interests you can bring tothe relationship, the more the relationship is going to thrive. 

I have worked with couples who have been retired for years.Understanding that they don't understand one another is an incredible asset totheir marriage. From what they have taught me, the more open and accepting youcan be of your partner (who is no longer in the mom or dad role) the moreinteresting and exciting your retirement can be. Kids stabilize a marriage, andwork gets us in our routine. When those two roles are finished, the greatestrole may be freedom; re-learning who we are and who we are married to.

– Mary JoRapini

*Thank you to Jim andDianne for your helpful insights.

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