July 22, 2010

Who Is That Person Sitting Beside Me?

One of the biggest adjustments most of us have to make after being employed is being around another person, all day, everyday. Whether we have stopped working, or the spouse has, or significant other or family member has, it is hard to ignore the "extra"  person in the room. Marriage manuals and books on relationships will tell you that together time is great. They tend to gloss over the flip side: too much together time can make for a rocky journey.
During the Second Stage of Retirement  there is a difficult period most everyone has to traverse after retiring. The adjustments to lifestyle, time management, and  finding a new passion for your life are not easy, but necessary. Learning to adjust to the new reality of a full time relationship is right up with the biggies. if you are single, there are points I will make that you can apply to your relational situation.

Shared Interests

You have some, don't you? If not, now would be a good time to step away from the computer and find a good counselor. Seriously, anyone in a relationship of any length must have some interests and likes in common. Retirement gives you and the other person the chance to spend more time doing them together. Notice I used the word chance. This won't happen just because you are together. It will only happen if the two of you strive to make it happen. Cooking dinner together, taking a hike or a bike ride through a pretty park, watching every Cary Grant Movie ever made......you know what those shared interest are. Make a concerted effort to include them in your day on a regular basis.

Here is something many of us forget about shared interests: you may have a shared interest you don't know about yet. It is quite likely that with all the time apart during your working years, the other person has done things without you, and vice versa They might be fun and exciting and enjoyable if you tried them together. That will require you to step out of your comfort and control mode for a while. Since the entire process of developing a satisfying lifestyle without employment is stepping way out of your comfort zone, this should be no big deal. Each of you agrees to try an interest of the other person for a set period of time. If it doesn't work, drop it and try something else. You just might discover something you love and don't know how you got along without it before.

Complementary Interests

This doesn't mean telling the other person how good they look today, though that isn't a bad thing to say. I'm referring to combining interests that compliment each other. For example, I like to take photographs. I have a decent eye for composition. But, I do not have the patience to edit each photo for color balance, sharpness, raster layers (whatever those are), perspective, and so on. Lucky for me and her, my wife loves that kind of work and is very good at it. She likes taking photos too, but secretly I think it is just so she can edit them. I will have ideas for a house project or decoration change. If she agrees my wife implements them. I don't like to pick up a paint brush or level or an electric drill. She wants them for a present. In fact, Home Depot has a special parking space for her. Our skills compliment each other and allow us to complete a project or develop a hobby that neither one of us could tackle as well individually.

Private Time and Space

No matter how well you make the above suggestions work for you, this last point is not last in terms of importance. You may be a saint. You may be the kindest, most considerate person alive. You may look stunning in a ratty T-shirt and gym shorts. But, no one wants to be with you 24/7.

Each of us must have a period when we are alone. We must be able to simply "be" without having to respond or comment or decide. We must have time alone to become involved with interests and activities that we don't share with another. The trick is to make it clear you are not avoiding the other person because he or she irritates you or you simply want to get away from him or her. Both of you must discuss boundaries of duties and time so each of you protects what is important to the other person.

For some this is a hard message to accept. If your spouse or best friend or family member makes it clear they need private time, you must accept that request graciously and with full support. Understand that all of us have a very real need to our own thoughts and space.

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  1. Case in point, my parents. Both 78, my dad retired since he was 67, each has their own separate interests to support them individually - gold and trumpet playing for dad, bride and tennis for mom. But they also do tons of things together including dinners out and traveling and tennis and bridge, etc. Both appreciate their time alone and both look forward to their time together.

  2. Sounds as though they have achieved a nice balance. Good for them. My wife notes there is yet another important part of getting along: learning some of each other's skills. For example, I do the financial stuff but am teaching my wife in case she ever has to take over. She is working with me on taking on redecorating projects. I am finding it a challenge but enjoyable.

    Thanks for the comment. You'll notice your blog has been added to the list on the left (as soon as Google's very slow server accepts my add!) Best of luck.

  3. I have to say that as a freshly married man (4 years so far) This is some great advice. Its nice to find a different way to look at a marriage/relationship. Being an only child i was always independent and so my need for independence can clash with my wife's need for dependence.

    "If your spouse or best friend or family member makes it clear they need private time, you must accept that request graciously and with full support. Understand that all of us have a very real need to our own thoughts and space. "

    I think that this works both ways. While i do need my private time, i also need to understand and respect my wife's desire for company. Love is a two way street after all.

  4. I'm very happy you found value in the comments. It took me a lot longer than 4 years to figure this point out. I took my spouse's request for private time the wrong way...as a rejection of me and not a statement about her.

    There are times when, as you mention, the opposite occurs. I need my "cave time" and I have to be careful to not do this when she is craving attention.

    Thanks, Clinton, for sharing. Understanding this point goes a long way towards solving the problem.