May 24, 2016

How Do Relationships Change During Retirement?


This is one of the questions that blog readers ask most often. After finances, what to do all day, and where to live, what retirement does to relationships is top of mind for most of us. We realize there will be changes in how we interact with others. But, will they be for the better or aggravate problems that already exist? Thinking about this issue before you retire can make a tremendous difference in how smoothly things go.

There are four major categories of relationships that are likely to be affected:

1. Primary relationship: Your marriage or committed partnership will probably undergo the most significant adjustment and become a real study in balance. Each of you wants to spend time together and each of you requires time apart. Just because a job has ended doesn't mean everything else that makes up a typical day is going to change. We each have certain routines and habits that bring us comfort and happiness.

Short and long-term goal setting is vital in a retirement relationship. Everything from financial adjustments to vacation choices, when to see the grandkids and whether we should get a new dog require a decision. Both partners need to feel his or her opinion is being considered. Communication, always vital in a marriage, becomes even more important when two people are sharing the same space 24 hours a day.


2. Adult children: The toughest suggestion is to accept the differences between you and your grown kids. Your adult child is not you. As he or she grows, life experiences will result in changes that you may not fully approve of. At this stage of the game it isn't your job to approve. It's your responsibility to accept them.

Respond to questions or pleas for help like you would any other adult, not your child. Do you talk with your adult child like you would a co-worker, or a friend? Or, do you talk at him? Unsolicited advice-giving or lecturing won't work on another adult. Why would you think it would work on your grown-up child?


3. Grandkids: If you are lucky enough to have grand children and get to see them often enough to have a relationship, you will experience one of the greatest benefits of retirement: being part of their lives in a way that can change them and you in so many positive ways. To see your children have children is an amazing experience. To be able to participate in their lives is a joy that never ends. Frankly, to be able to say goodbye at the end of the day and leave the messy parts of child-rearing to others is also very nice!

Few things can sour a good relationship with your grown child, his or her spouse, and grandkids quicker than inserting yourself into how the children are being raised. Saying something meant to correct a behavior you think is wrong rarely is a smart decision. Talking privately with your child with a suggestion that he or she is making a mistake in child-rearing will not go much better. "That's not how we raised you" are six words that never produce a positive outcome.

Of course, if there is some form of child abuse in evidence you must take steps to bring it to a halt. But, usually, the problem is simply one of differences: your child has chosen to raise his or her child without copying your parenting playbook. Accept it

4. Work friends: The reality is simple: after a time, you will lose touch with most of the friends you had while working. As a retired person you will move in different circles than they will. Your use of time and schedule will reflect your needs and interests. Moving after retirement is a common (though sometimes risky) occurrence. Without shared experiences at work, you will have much less to talk about. The water cooler gossip will no longer seem important in your new world.

The loss of a circle of friends with whom you shared your life with every day is tough. It is very rare that work friends will still be an important part of your life within a year of the date you leave work. As we age, we often find it harder to make new friends, but the effort must be made. I will admit adding new friends remains difficult for me. I find new relationships through church, and volunteering. 

Somewhat surprisingly, what started out as just exchanging comments with some readers of this blog has produced close to a dozen real, in-person relationships where we travel with each other, or visit them when Betty and I take an RV trip. 

Honestly, supportive relationships will make more positive differences in producing a satisfying retirement than your financial or even physical well being. They are the building blocks to a happy future.






19 comments:

  1. Great list. After moving so many times with Dave's career I was used to making new friends. But, it does get harder as we get older. For the first time Dave is the one who has made friends, through Habitat for Humanity, before I did. It's a great group of people and we enjoy them very much. Unlike us, many go South for the winter but we have enough to keep us busy here.
    The grandkids are a couple of hours away but, they are so busy with sports and other activities it's hard to keep up anyway. We try to make the back and forth every couple of months.
    b

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    1. As retirees the opportunities for us to meet new people are limited to church and volunteer work. So far, none of those contacts has gone past the friendly chat stage to anything deeper. I am not sure either Betty or I will develop new, close, friendships past the few folks we see once a year on our travels. Most deep relationships take lots of time to build on a shared past.

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  2. Such sage advice. I have been happily single x 25 yrs and retirement has caused me to reassess my relationship with myself. I have had to readjust my thinking when I do not define myself as the career person I once was. I must commit to short/long term planning in a life not dictated by a work schedule. My evolving relationship with my adult son is not so much a product of retirement but the natural progression as we learn and grow. I am working on having an adult relationship with this middle-aged man, not a parent-child relationship of old. I particularly like what you said about acceptance vs approval. In the words of Herve Marcoux - I am willing to free you to live your life according to your best light and understanding. And those delicious grandchildren, well, I just love them hard when I can, then release them until the next time. Work friends are now work acquaintances. Like you, I look to develop new relationships through volunteer and other social commitments. Thanks, Bob.

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    1. I think we have maintained an excellent relationship with our grown daughters, one of whom is single and likely to remain so, and the other happily married for 12 years. They require different types of interaction and validation, something we have learned over the years.

      I am happy our son-in-law has really accepted Betty and me as part of his family. Sometimes in-law relationships can be strained, but this one has blossomed nicely.

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  3. I've managed to keep a few of my old work friends, partly because I still do occasional work for my old company, and also because we have a group that gets together to play golf once in a while. However, my committed partner and I are still working on No. 1, especially with the long-term goal setting ... and we haven't even discussed yet whether or not we should get a new dog!

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    1. If I remember correctly, you have a lot up in the air at the moment: moving, downsizing, etc. A dog? I vote yes. Bailey has been a tremendous plus for us after going "dogless" for 5 years.

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  4. Great post, Bob! After teaching for nearly 30 years in two different school districts, my teacher friends became a really important part of my life. And while it sounds a little "old," I've found that Facebook has been very influential in keeping those folks closer in my life. (The millennials will tell you that only we oldsters use FB these days!) We communicate through FB and then make a very conscientious effort to get together on occasion. It's helped keep those work friendships alive!

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    1. You are so right about Facebook. It has been "hijacked" by us older folks. Instagram, snapchat, and other social media outlets seem to spring up daily and are the darling of the moment for the younger set. Once someone's parent starts posting on a particular outlet, the exodus begins!

      That means Facebook is an important tool to keep track of family and friends, and it's security controls have improved over the last few years.

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    2. Most of the 30ish year old adults I know do post on Facebook. It is their way of keeping up with all of us oldies, but goodies!

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  5. Hi Bob. This is another great post. I'll add another spin to what you have posted about relationships with your spouse/partner. Health and/or cognitive changes can add another wrinkle to how these relationships can change. When the changes are significant, it can alter the relationship in ways that are life altering.

    I saw these changes shortly before I retired, and it actually was the main impetus for my retirement. Feel free to check out my (relatively new) blog. oneoflifeslittlesurprises.blogspot.com

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    1. Good point, Carole. The changes you refer to are a part of life for many of us as we age. They do add a whole new level of stress and change.

      I will definitely check out your blog!

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  6. This is solid advice, Bob. When I was preparing for my retirement, I began to read several books that focused on marital relationships in retirement. The verdict in those books was so glum that I had to quit reading. My husband and I will hit our one year retirement anniversary this June. Our marriage has always been strong but, so far, has been even stronger in retirement (knock on keyboard).
    Donna
    www.retirementreflections.com

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    1. Good idea..don't let others predict disaster when it doesn't have to happen. The unfortunate reality, however, is that too few prepare for the major change that retirement brings to marriage.

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  7. New here and great post. Marriage after retirement definitely was stressed for me. My husband (now deceased) was out of his comfort zone from work, felt he had lost some purpose in life after managing people, we moved away from family and he didn't make friends easily and had no hobbies other than yard work. I transitioned just fine, but it was very difficult for him and it changed our marriage, unfortunately not for the best.

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    1. Men tend to have more a difficult time transitioning to retirement because so much of our identity is work-centered. Without the job who are we? That basic question can affect a marriage, as you can attest.

      Welcome, Mary.

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  8. Great post, Bob. We were just discussing how much more relaxed our lives are since I stopped working in November. So many things are not infused with the anxiety and stress that reflected back from my job situation.

    Of course, just when you think it's all smooth sailing, life has a way of bonking you on the head. DH had a CT calcium scan and, after some rather shocking results, is on his way to the cardiologist next month. Luckily, he is feeling good and has gotten the diet and exercise message loud and clear. He's lost 12 lbs in the past four weeks since the initial doctor's appt, and it's been really helpful for me to not have the ice cream and snacks around, since they really limit my will power. With attention and good luck, he will do much better going forward.

    --Hope

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    1. My best wishes for your husband's medical situation. Losing 12 pounds in a month is pretty noteworthy.

      Not having the job stress makes a huge difference, though, I can easily put stress on myself even a decade and a half into retirement. I believe it requires constant attention to not let oneself become too wrapped up in a problem or potential problem. Let it go.

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  9. Hi Bob, my wife and I are now one year retired and we both think this has been an easy transition. As Donna above we had read the books that cautioned about marriage problems when you enter retirement but it truly has been the best times of our lives and of our relationship (married almost 34 years now). No idea what we did right but we feel blessed. - David

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    1. Congratulations! There is nothing better than being with your best friend and lover 24 hours a day (with occasional "me time" breaks).

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