July 5, 2013

My First Few Years of Retirement: Relationships

Last Friday I wrote about my finances during the first few years after work. What has become a very satisfying retirement didn't begin that way. Early on I had my fair share of worries and struggles that eventually resolved themselves but not without many sleepless nights.

This is the second in a series of four posts that look at some of the major hurdles all of us have to conquer if we hope our retirement will be productive and happy. This time, I will detail some of the early problems Betty and I had to overcome as we made the adjustments to our relationship after I closed my business.

Like many others my career involved a lot of travel. I was gone an average of 150 days a year for fifteen years. That meant 100,000 miles in airplanes every year, countless hotel rooms and cities that all looked the same. It meant Betty did most the "heavy lifting" in raising our daughters and keeping the household functioning.

It meant I would arrive home pretty much burned out and in no mood for any problems or disturbances. Of course, that was impossible. She never used the "wait til your father gets home" line on the girls, but there were still issues to be dealt with, house maintenance and repairs, bills to be paid, and a mountain of office work for me to plow through before the next plane flight. It helped that my office was in our home, so during those rare weeks off at least I was "home-home" to share some of the load. But, again work tended to take over my time.

When we agreed I should let my business close down and start my retirement we had to reestablish a relationship. I had been gone so much Betty used to joke we had been married twenty-five years but had only been together for ten of them. While a bit of an exaggeration, the point was valid. Betty had run the home front almost single-handedly for well over a decade. We had to figure out how I would integrate back into the system. By this time both girls had finished college, left home, and started their own lives. So, it was time for Betty and me to do the same and figure out what we shared besides two fabulous kids.

One of the important changes we made within the first two years was a serious kick-start to our spiritual life. After twenty years in a church that no longer was helping us to grow, we changed to one that almost immediately reignited our shared passion in our religious life. From that also came something that had been seriously lacking in our lives: friends. Betty and I are both rather solitary folks. Within a few months, we had more people who cared about us (and us them) than in all twenty years at the previous church. We became involved in small groups, women's and men's ministries, and Bible studies. Together we had found a deep need and filled it together.

I learned (very slowly...the process continues) to begin to accept Betty as just as capable as me in maintaining the household and handling problems. As the years passed I became even more aware of her amazing gift to stay calm in the face of trouble and find a creative and workable solution to most problems, without my active interference and "help."

Together we began to build a marriage that played to our individual strengths and what we did well together. Through compromise and some occasional loud disagreements we have figured out what it takes to happily coexist and grow as a couple. Our marriage is a blend of two people whose personalities would seem to be at odds with each other. But, because of a shared belief in the commitment we made to each other it is working.

Getting a relationship to work for both spouses or partners is never easy. Retirement adds additional stress and the need for more adjustments. Be prepared for it, discover how the two of you best fit together, and move forward toward that goal.


Last week we celebrated our 37th anniversary. So far, so good.



As a final thought in terms of other relationships, at least for me retirement has meant more friends and closer relationships. Because I worked alone at home, when I wasn't traveling I never had the water-cooler, office friendships. I didn't have many friends overall, and none I would have considered close.

Since retirement that has changed. Now, I have a few dozen people I'd consider friends, and a few, both men and women, who I'd turn to in a pinch. Retirement has given me something I had missed for way too many years: other people I could count on.

24 comments:

  1. When my husband retired several years ago (from a very stressful job), I noticed a gradual change over the next couple of years. He became so much more relaxed. Much happier, light hearted, and more easy going. I think that once he had the relief from the burdens of his job, his "real" personality shone through.

    While still working, I observed this change in my husband and wondered about myself and if/how retirement would change me. So far, so good. The pressure cooker work life is over, and this has allowed me to be so much more relaxed. My husband says he has the "real" me back.

    We're still figuring out what it means to have so much free time together. Time apart to explore our individual interests is healthy. The areas of common interest serve as a foundation to our compatibility.




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    1. You are describing a nice development in your retirement relationship.

      Betty and I have kind of switched our look on life. She used to be always sunny and a "glass is half full" personality, while I tended toward the curmudgeon approach. Over the last half dozen years we have reversed and that is OK. Life is a collection of seasons: right now I'm in the sunny section while Betty has a bit of a dark cloud over her at times. We balance each other out.

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  2. It is sad that so many versions of church encourage Christians to be passive participants in life. From my reading of the Gospels Jesus wants us to be active players in being our brother's keeper. He doesn't want us to just sit back and let his grace flow over us. I am glad you found a church that encourages you two to "be" Christians.

    The daily relations has been the opposite for me. In my work life I had dozens of people who were friends on one level or another. Of course I lost those when I retired and moved back to my home state. My wife is a very solitary person who doesn't see the need for many friendships beside maybe siblings and due to deaths that group is ever shrinking. Without her assistance making friends is difficult for me.

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    1. My friendship path is different from most people because of my work life. Except for a little over 5 years early in my career I was flying solo. The water cooler was my kitchen sink or a hotel water fountain.

      Making close friends for guys seems to be a problem. We just don't like to open up and be vulnerable. Without the church setting I'd still be a lone eagle.

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  3. Bob,
    I remember watching my parents' relationship evolve into the one you've just described. I look forward to that time with my husband, also.
    The common spiritual foundation you've described plays such an important role in our relationship, as well. It gives us purpose and focus.
    I love the picture of you and Betty. You both look so happy and relaxed!

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    1. That picture was taken during the photo shoot for the article in Money magazine and remains one of my favorites of us.

      The switch to a different church 8 years or so ago really helped us turn an important corner. Two years ago we have moved to different church that has been even more supportive and Bible-based.

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  4. Congratulations to you and your wife on your 37th, Bob. My wife and I celebrate our own 37th in just a few days. We too have found that our bond of marriage has gotten so much stronger since retirement. My conclusion is that the amazingly decreased/absent work stress has allowed us to use time together for mutual appreciation and just plain fun times. House chores/needs no longer clash with work demands, and our conversations no longer are so confrontational as before. Our "work" now is to enjoy ourselves and each other. Golden years, indeed.

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    1. Congrats to you and your wife..37 years together is quite an accomplishment in a world of disposal relationships.

      The lack of work stress makes an amazing difference. The things that used to push all my buttons just aren't important anymore.

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  5. My husband worked graveyard (nights) most of his working life. Because he was home during the day, although sleeping, I wasn't expecting the impact to our relationship. We shared office space that became intolerable after he retired. We had a year of retirement before moving to AZ so it was easier to know what we needed in a new home. The retirement transition is different for everyone. Without exception, couples comment about the impact it has on their relationship.

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    1. At one point Betty and I talked about sharing an office. That would not have worked. Luckily we made other arrangements. Adjustments in marriage are constant, even more so after retirement.

      Thanks, Cathy.

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  6. I know there was an adjustment when Art and I were both home. At one point we agreed only to talk to each other before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m., so he could have some quiet time! We've moved away from that agreement as I've found other outlets for my social nature.

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    1. That is a unique solution to a problem! I'm not sure I've ever heard of such a setup, but if it worked for you......

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  7. In the decades since my high school friends either left for college or otherwise faded away, my friend pool has consisted almost exclusively of work mates. In spite of what I would consider some fairly close relationships along the way, the years have taught me that even seemingly airtight work relationships tend to suffer immediate and irreparable damage once one of the parties moves on. It seems to me that relationships need some sort of glue (like a shared workplace or activity) to keep them viable.

    With this in mind, I know that my world will suddenly become very small when I lock my office door for the last time. Six months into retirement, I know I won't be Skyping with the secretary on her lunch break or teeing it up with my boss on weekends or grabbing lunch with the guy with the squeaky chair that occupies the office above me, so I'll either have to make a genuine effort to cultivate actual factual friendships (something I've spent a lifetime NOT doing) or I may end up like a cranky Clint Eastwood in "Gran Torino" telling the neighbourhood kids to get off my lawn...only without the charisma.

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    1. It is very much like what happens when someone moves to another town and both parties promise to stay in touch, but never do. Without shared experiences usually there isn't enough to maintain a tie.

      Trust me, you'll want face-to-face friends after work. They enrich your life tremendously. If I remember correctly, even Clint ended up with some form of relationships at the end of the movie.

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  8. Like RJ - if you are married, people expect to socialize with you as a couple. We don't socialize...at all. I travel to see my friends and most of my family and have gotten used to the quite. It will work for a bit longer. But then, we are right at the beginning of actual retirement.....

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    1. Since your friendships are family or with out-of-town folks, retirement will probably not change your relationships much. Most people feel a real sense of loss when their work friends are no longer part of their day-to-day life. That doesn't sound like your situation.

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  9. Hi Bob,
    That is a very beautiful article you have written, very warm and real and also greatly encouraging.
    Thank you

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Roseanne. I'm glad you found them encouraging.

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  10. It's definitely an adjustment! But eventually you find your rhythm and realize there are limits to togetherness. Keeping individual interests contributes a great deal to being happy as a couple, I think.
    I love that photo of you two!
    b

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    1. Betty and I have shared interests and others that are very different. It has taken me awhile, but I have learned that she must do what she must do.

      I like that picture, too. It captures us in a playful mood...one we could use more of!

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  11. Cari in North TexasSat Jul 06, 11:26:00 AM MST

    Congratulations on your anniversary! That is indeed a major accomplishment in this day and age, and I'm happy for both you and Betty. What a lovely photo of the 2 of you together!

    Being single, I won't have the spousal relationship changes to deal with, but I will still have the friends part. Over my working years, I would move every 3-4 years (the military way of life), and I was never good at maintaining long distance friendships (or they weren't). Once I was divorced but settled in the Dallas area, I changed jobs at about the same frequency - in IT the best way to get a raise was to change employers. Again, not so good at maintaining former work friendships. Now that I'm working part-time and pretty much solo, like you did, I have developed some female friendships that I make it a point to keep in touch with. And my church family is important to me as well. I don't see that changing. A one-on-one romantic relationship? That would be nice, but it's been so long since I've had one I probably wouldn't know how to act :-)

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    1. Betty and I both agree that if something happened to either one of us, a re-marriage isn't going to happen. The dating scene was terrifying when I was 25. I can't even imagine what it must be like for us grey beards! We are both comfortable enough being alone that friends would be important, but not romance.

      I moved 23 times between birth and leaving for college, and no, my dad (or mom) was not in the military. You and I could probably exchange moving stories!

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  12. Cari in North TexasMon Jul 08, 07:25:00 AM MST

    I've tried the online dating thing a few times - they either are so full of themselves there's no room for me or (more so now) they want someone to take care of them. Ain't gonna happen :-) As an elderly friend of my mother said, men our age either want a nurse or a purse. Is that really true, guys?

    A downside to moving was that I never really felt permanent or that I belonged anywhere and didn't want to put down roots or establish any kind of real relationships because I knew I'd be moving on in a few years. The travel and seeing new places was great, but the feeling of not having a real "home base" or not being like those folks who had "friends since kindergarten" was a little uncomfortable after awhile. Now I've been in this house for almost 23 years, with roots so deep it would take a backhoe to get me out!

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    1. A nurse or a purse...I've never heard that expression before!

      After all those moves as a youth and another 9 since I got married, it is rather amazing to me to realize I was in our previous home for 10 years and now 11 in this one. We will probably move sometime in the next 5 years or so to a single story place with less maintenance. But, the thought of all the boxing up and packing and hassle scares me even though most of my life was spent changing addresses! We do put down roots, don't we.

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