November 28, 2016

Top 7 Retirement FAQs

On Web sites FAQs are Frequently Asked Questions. They are the inquires that occur often enough to be predictable. The questions are followed by short, to-the-point answers that sometimes actually answers the questions. Here are my responses to the most common satisfying retirement FAQ over the past 6+ years. Each also has a link to a post that deals with that subject in more detail:

1) How much money do I need to retire? Enough to live comfortably and handle most emergencies. You will probably end up needing more than you think. If you live in Scottsdale, La Jolla, or West Palm Beach, a lot more. Don't believe all the "rules" about how much you have to save or how little you can withdraw each year and not risk running out of money. Life is a constant adjustment to situations. No one can predict what the future will be like or how you will want to live. Stay flexible. But, I will say that the oft-used $1 million figure isn't necessary. 
 Link:  How Much Money Do I need To Retire?

2) Won't I become bored? Maybe. But, don't you become bored now? Boredom is easily solved. Find something interesting to occupy your mind and time. Retirement is all about trying on a new you. If you become bored it is because you aren't looking hard enough for alternatives. Besides, there are worse fates in life than being bored for awhile. 
Link:  Do You Ever Get Bored?

 3) H
ow do I fill all that time? You will be amazed at how quickly all that time fills up. Your real problem will be finding enough time to do all you want to do. Learning to manage the only resource you have that can never be replaced is a skill that will, in large part, determine how satisfying your retirement becomes. What to do after retirement? Your choices are limited only by you. 
Link: My First Few years of Retirement: Time Management

4) My spouse doesn't want me around the house all day..what do I do? Go somewhere else for a while. Take long walks, go to the library, volunteer a few times a week. Do things around the house that make him or her want you around. Part of the time do what your spouse wants to do. Part of the time do what you want to do. The rest of the time do things together.
Link:  Adjusting To Time Together

5) Can I spend all day in sweats? Sure. But, a word of advice...don't. There is no need to dress up as if you are still going to work. However, lounging around all day in a bathrobe or an old sweatshirt will affect your energy and desire to make something of the day. Develop a morning routine that includes dressing well enough to leave the house, even if you don't plan to. It really does make a difference.
Link:  My Time, Your Time, Our Time

6) Can I unretire? Absolutely. That is one of the best parts of retirement, there are no firm rules. In fact you can retire, unretire, and retire again as many times as you want. Maybe you'll find that financially you could use the extra income. Maybe you like interacting with different people each day and miss the stimulation of an office or factory floor. A part time job may be perfect for you. What if you've always wanted to have your own business or turn a hobby into income? No problem. Retirement is as much about attitude and freedom as it is about your state of employment.
Link: Going Back To Work After Retirement

7) What will happen to my health and health insurance? If I had the answer to that after the recent election results I wouldn't be writing FAQs.


Did I miss an FAQ you want answered?  Comment away!

November 25, 2016

Online Thieves Are Looking For You


The holiday shopping season has begun in earnest. Projections are a 10% increase in online sales over last year, which already set records. Unfortunately, that means a growing opportunity for those who want to separate you from your money, your online identity, or plant an infected piece of software on your computer.

I received information from Enigma Software Group, a company that markets anti-malware software. There were sobering statistics on the spike in growth of this dangerous phenomenon.  The company also gave me some tips to pass along to help keep you safe. Be on high alert for:

1) Spam emails and links promising great deals. Malware makers know that people will be on the lookout for great prices on everything from Xboxes to phones. They'll send bogus emails promising super low prices.

And those emails will contain links that can install malware if they are clicked. The bad guys will also post bad links in Facebook and Twitter accounts that they hijack.

2) Fake emails that look like they are from real online retailers. Bad guys know it's likely you've bought something online from Amazon or Toys R Us. So they send fake emails that tell you there was a problem with your recent order, hoping you'll click on a link that will install malware.

3) Poisoned search results. Sophisticated cyber crooks can create fake web pages promising to sell hot holiday items at very low prices. 
They can even work to make those pages show up in Google searches for particular products. If someone clicks over to the bogus page, an infection is just a few seconds away. 

Some of the more common infections today can steal personal information, access your contacts and important files, and in some cases literally hold your computer hostage until you pay a ransom to unlock it. In fact, the percentage of overall infections made up of “ransomware” has doubled from 2015 to today. 

To protect yourself, the company suggests:

Never click on links in social media messages. This includes Twitter direct messages and messages sent to you via Facebook. They may look like they are coming from your friends, but there's a good chance their account has been compromised and cybercrooks are trying to trick you.

Be wary of unfamiliar web sites that ask you to install software before continuing with your shopping. Most of the time that software has malware embedded in it.

Always have reliable anti-spyware and anti-malware software installed  and make sure to run frequent scans and updates.

If you are trying to check on the status of an online order, type the web site of the retailer into your address bar manually to log in and check. Don't trust a link sent in an email.

Other important reminders include:

A) Be careful with unsecured WiFi connections, like those found at coffee shops, shopping malls, maybe even your own home. Cyber-thieves have become quite adept at stealing information from an open WiFi link.

B) Become sensitive to phishing (fishing) scams. Emails designed to look like a legitimate business hope to entice you to click on a link or respond to an "urgent" request for more information. Do so, and you have been compromised.

C) Social media oversharing can be a problem. Too many details about yourself, like birth date, previous locations of where you lived, your mom's maiden name (as part of a family site), or too low a privacy setting can equal a golden opportunity for ID theft.

D) "12345" or "password" are open doors to thieves. Use strong passwords that combine symbols, upper and lower case letters, and numbers in a string that is meaningless. Hard to remember? Sure. Hard to steal? Absolutely.

E) If a store or business you do business with has a data breach where millions of customer records are stolen or accessed, become very vigilant in checking your bank, credit union, and credit card accounts for unexpected activity. Within a few months, take advance of the free credit check offered at Annual Credit Report to look for suspicious activity or charges. 


With the convenience of our online life comes the necessity to realize that bad people want to take advantage of that technology. Each of us is ultimately responsible for our cyber well-being. Sad, but true.



November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving




Though the contentious election season is finally past us, there remain powerful feelings and a sense that we have a long season of healing.

Even more than most years, for this day I want to keep my focus on the good things in my life, and that starts with family. As we gather together, all the other problems will disappear and become unimportant, at least for a day.

I also must thank my faithful readers. For over six years you have made Satisfying Retirement a labor of love for me. You are part of my family, too.

God Bless you and yours on the day to remember the good things in our life. 

Happy Thanksgiving,

Bob, Betty, and Bailey 


November 21, 2016

The #1 Problem With Our Health Care Future

No, it is not the massive increase in ACA premiums for those who must buy on the individual market. Nor is it the similar increase in deductibles and copays for the health insurance that the 80% of us who get coverage through our jobs must face. 

No, it is not the consolidation of the industry, where a handful of companies control our options. Nor, is it the immoral increases in life-saving drug costs.

No, it is not the inability of our political "leaders" to arrive at a solution that works for those in need. Heavens, they refuse to even talk with each other, preferring threats and slurs instead. Nor is it the slow acceptance by most of us that our health is primarily dependent on choices we make in diet, exercise, and lifestyle. 

The Number One problem with our health care future is.....uncertainty.

Retirement is a period in our lives when we welcome many changes, new opportunities, new directions, a new sense of the possible. We take back control of the clock, our schedule. But, what we don't want is uncertainty. And, there is a big difference between change and being unsure.

The difference is the source. Change is usually initiated by us. Except for obvious things like a health problem or financial reversal, most of what we do during our retirement is to choose...choose what to do with our time, our talents, our resources. We choose to live closer to family, or farther away! We choose when and where to go on vacation. We choose what makes it on our calendar.

Uncertainty is change without choice. We can't plan very well when we don't know what is around the corner. Obamacare will be repealed. It will be replaced by something that has yet to be defined as workable for those most in need. 

So, will my wife start with her new insurance company in January, only to find the system that supports it taken away shortly thereafter? Do we budget for thousands of dollars a month in coverage? Or do we decide to roll the dice and self insure until 65 (assuming Medicare isn't next on the chopping block)?

Will health insurance companies continue to group together, leaving virtually no real choice for customers? Even now Betty cannot get a referral to a specialist in network that isn't more than 50 miles away, has English listed as a third language, and is booked up for 4 months.

With the stunning election results still reverberating around the world, any hope we had for less uncertainty in our health care situation has been shattered. The only certainty we can count on is things are going to get a whole lot more unsure for as far as we care to gaze into the future. 








November 18, 2016

Caregiving: A Burden or Gift?

I received the following press release about caregivers and those who are cared for. I found the results both encouraging and distressing. I' welcome your reaction.


SAN FRANCISCO – October 31, 2016 – As part of November’s National Family Caregivers Month, Honor™ (www.joinhonor.com), the fast-growing tech-powered home care company, surveyed ove3r 1,000 men and women ages 18 and older across the U.S. and found a surprising discrepancy in opinions and perspectives related to caring for aging loved ones.

The 2016 Honor Family Caregiving Survey revealed that age and experience have a strong impact on attitudes. In particular, a larger number of Americans within the consumer sampling who hadn’t yet been exposed to the caregiving process or personally tasked with the related responsibilities viewed caring for an older loved one as a “burden.” 

This same group also expressed far greater concern over the financial impact of providing care. Ironically, those who were already deep in the trenches of a caregiving role viewed the experience as a “gift,” and were less concerned about cost implications, despite the potential toll on their career, financial security and other life responsibilities.

Family caregiver perspective:

● 21% believe caring for an aging loved one is a “gift”
● 6% believe it’s a “burden”

Non-caregiver perspective:

● 8% believe caring for an aging loved one is a “gift”
● 14% believe it’s a “burden”

Those who didn’t see caregiving as a gift or burden accepted the role as merely “a part of life.”

“Regardless of our current life stage and attitudes toward assuming a caregiver role, when that moment comes for us to provide long-term support to an aging parent or grandparent - many of us are simply unprepared,” said Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Honor’s Head of Care.

“We asked men and women from all age groups and walks of life if they would be able to provide appropriate care if a loved one suddenly needed it, and nearly 57% said they could not. And, nearly 88% surveyed said it would be up to them -- alone or with a sibling -- to shoulder the responsibility. Collectively, these are sobering statistics given that our senior population will nearly double by the year 2030."

Who Is Providing the Care?

40% of survey respondents serve, or have served, as a caregiver for a parent, grandparent or aging loved one. Among these caregivers:

● 10% are 18-29 years
● 25% are 30-44 years
● 31% are 45-59 years
● 34% are 60+ years
● 59% of family caregivers are women
● 41% of family caregivers are men
● 26% believe their career or professional life has suffered as a result of caring for a loved one
● 58% of these caregivers believe their loved one requires more care than they alone can provide

*Click here for survey graphics.

Among respondents who are not currently family caregivers, six out of 10 believe it’s likely they will play this important role in the future. But only 43% of non-caregivers believe they would be prepared to provide the appropriate care if a loved one suddenly needed assistance. Seventy-five percent would not be able to provide more than 20 hours of care per week.

Added Ellis-Lamkins: “We learned a lot from this consumer study about attitudes toward paid and unpaid care. When asked what the biggest consideration was when choosing care for a loved one, concern for a loved one’s happiness ranked the highest at 57% among experienced caregivers -- well over concerns about the expense of care, which ranked at 7.9%. Also, ensuring trust and safety with the caregiver ranked as the single biggest source of worry, among all concerned, when it comes to bringing a new caregiver into the home.”

To help Americans become more informed about the caregiving process, here are  three essential tips for family caregivers:

1) Create a caregiving plan that involves the recipient and other family members. Ninety-one percent surveyed indicated that their loved one would prefer to stay in their own home, if possible. Volunteers and paid professionals alike should always be appropriately vetted with a background check and provided with feedback after each visit to ensure that their care style and protocols are in sync with family member expectations.

2) Establish and maintain a relationship with your loved one’s medical team and share regular notes and communication to help keep them informed about care and wellness routines that take place in the home.

3) Remember that it is important to care for yourself too - prioritizing your own health will help you manage stress and, ultimately, be a more effective care provider.
_______________________________________


To me, the most important finding was the shift in attitude after caregiving of a loved one began. The shift from "burden" to "gift" was encouraging. 

Also quite obvious is the importance of preparing fully before that role becomes reality. I would expect that preparation and getting things in order would help lessen the feeling of care being a negative in one's life.

If you have been, or are a caregiver for another, I would love your feedback. How do the results of the survey match your feelings and experiences? What can you share that would help the rest of us get ready for this situation?




Satisfying Retirement was provided with this information by the company involved. The blog was not compensated for its use, nor can independently verify the results. The material is provided for informational purposes only.

November 15, 2016

Confessions Of a News Junkie



I blame it on the just-past election mayhem. I blame it on the ease of being constantly updated on a smartphone or tablet. I blame it on a personal weakness. Whatever the reason, I have spent way too much time looking at the news, opinion columns, and analysis of what is going on in the world.

With November 8th in the rear view mirror, I thought I'd be able to cut back. After all, the constant drumbeat of political news and non-news is over. But, no, that hasn't happened quite yet.

Obviously, the election of the President didn't bring a conclusion, a satisfactory ending to anything for a large part of the country. It only stoked the political fires that were already at a dangerously high level. After a few days of self-imposed exile, I was back obsessively grabbing for the phone much too often.

After a few years of receiving no morning newspaper I did break down. Waiting in my driveway six mornings a week is the Wall Street Journal. While I rarely agree with their editorial stance, they offer a good overview of economic news and lifestyle information. Whether I renew my subscription next spring is still an open question. Staff cutbacks and a shrinking paper indicate the WSJ may be fighting the losing battle of most print media.

Clicking on news updates and the latest from the stock market is too easy for someone who spends a few hours a day in front of his computer. I may be in the middle of typing a post or answering some log comments, when suddenly I have a strong urge to see what I have been missing. A click here, a click there, and I am gone from what I was doing for a chunk of time.

Interestingly, I don't watch news programs on television. Depending on the channel I pretty much know what they are going to report on or how information will be presented. Usually, they will 20 minutes or more on an individual topic, analyzing it to death. 

I receive no magazines that would be in the political, economic, or news categories. By the time the publication reaches my mailbox, whatever is on the front cover is likely old news. Magazines are fine for ideas for home projects, hobbies and the like. But, for current events, I don't find them timely enough.

But, the smartphone and computer! Instant input whenever my heart craves it. Google searches during slow plot points of a TV movie. Video updates from CNN. The latest breaking story on Huffpost or Politico. What the BBC says, from a British perspective, about something happening in America. The choices are apparently endless.

Even on the just-completed RV trip, one of my first chores was to check on the strength of the WiFi connection. Try as I might to stay away while I was away, it didn't work. A poor Internet feed could ruin my afternoon.

Betty has learned to warn me about excessive news input just before bedtime. She knows that last minute jolt leaves me agitated and keeps me awake. 

So, is there an answer to this compulsion, or is this a phase of my retirement that will eventually burn itself out? Will I accept that my checking news and informational feeds doesn't change what is going to happen anyway, it just tends to aggravate me? A line in an article in the Washington Post a awhile back seems to summarize my problem: "Through media in all its forms, we exhaust and are exhausted by the insignificant."

Wait,  I have been typing this post for 30 minutes...I wonder what I have missed? Probably not much.

November 12, 2016

Retire With Less Than One Million Dollars? Sure

From the archives. First published three years ago, these thoughts continue to be appropriate as 10,000 people a day retire.





According to many retirement advice experts, $1,000,000 is the minimum you need in your investments accounts to have a satisfying retirement. Others say you need something north of $2 million to rest easy.

As regular readers know, I tend to push back against such generalizations. How someone can draw a line in the sand and tell you what you must have or must do without knowing you and your situation is poppycock (I love that word!).  I offer suggestions and advice based on my experiences and feedback from readers, but I hope I am never guilty of telling you "my way or doom."

That being said let me offer some thoughts on how the non-millionaires among us can still retire and enjoy a fulfilling and stimulating life. Again, I will say these are thoughts from me. They may not work for you, or you may have even better ideas which I sincerely hope you will leave as comments below.

In the interest of full disclosure I will state that with all my assets, minus my almost non-existent debt, Betty and I are technically millionaires. But, I have never thought of myself that way, and honestly, I live my life denying that fact. I live my retirement years on a nest egg that I see as several hundred thousand dollars below that figure. Why? To give me a safety net if everything starts to fall apart and to keep me from making the mistakes that I see too many others making: living for wants and instead of a balance of needs and wants.

How to retire without a million dollars is really quite simple: adjust your lifestyle to what you have to work with. That includes any 401(k) or IRA accounts, any other investment accounts, Social Security, the value of your home or other real estate, projected inheritance (if any), and part time or full time income.

Specifically:

1) The vast majority of us can substantially lower our everyday expenses after retirement. My book, Living a Satisfying Retirement, includes a section on this very topic. The average of those surveyed  is much closer to folks living on 50% of their pre-retirement income. Betty and I are closer to 40%, even though we live well and are much happier than when my salary was into six figures. Possessions and things don't motivate us nearly as much.

2) For unexpected emergencies and expenses set aside enough to live for 6 months, or pay for a large emergency. Remember, even if you have insurance for whatever the problem, you will probably have to fight for that money and/or wait months or years to be reimbursed. The worst scenario is to max out credit cards or a home equity loan.

3) Simplicity and retirement can often go together. Most of the retirees I come into contact with, both in real life and through the blog, have downsized both possessions and desires. Less really is more: more time, freedom, and flexibility. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes very unimportant.

4) Adjust your expenses based on two things: changes in your investments and changes in your lifestyle. This is rather obvious. When my investments were earning 8-10% my income and spending options were different than they are with something closer to 3%. And, Betty and I are very happy with simple meals, simple pleasures, and simple living.

5) Accept that the condo on Maui and the world cruise are out. Rejoice in all you can do. With a nest egg of less than $1,000,000 and upwards of 30 years left to live, your ability to live the large life is not likely. So, rejoice with what you do have and what you can do. Even if you live almost solely on Social Security and must count every penny, remember you are still better off than at least 80% of the rest of the people on this planet. We have so many opportunities and blessings we can lose sight of how good we really do have it.

6) Aggressively protect your health. As I age I realize how incredibly crucial this is to the rest of my satisfying retirement. Taking shortcuts now in terms of foods I eat, exercising, and regular health checkups will cost me later, and I don't just mean monetarily. I mean in my mobility and freedom to do what pleases me. I mean in how much of a burden I place on loved ones.


It is hard for me to express, just in words, how much more fulfilling and satisfying my lifestyle is today on 60% less money than I once earned. As soon as I adjusted my mindset to living and not spending a load was lifted and my life took on a whole new depth and sweetness.

How much do you need to achieve this same state? I have no idea and I'm not going to give you a figure. That is for you to determine. But, I will tell you the experts are wrong: you can be happy and productive without achieving whatever is the latest magic number they are promoting.

November 9, 2016

Aging: The Top 9 To-Do List



I am a sucker for lists. To-do lists, productivity lists, how to be happy lists, the best movies in a foreign language list...doesn't matter. I like lists. 

A good friend sent me this list. A Google search identified the source as Assaly & Associates, a banking relationship management company, based in Lebanon. The original list included 21 items. I have shortened it to nine. If you'd like to see all 21 items, the original article is here.


1. It’s time to use the money you saved up. Use and enjoy it. Don’t just keep it for those who may have no notion of the sacrifices you made to get it. Remember there is nothing more dangerous than a son or daughter-in-law with big ideas for your hard earned capital. Warning: This is also a bad time for a [major] investment, even if it seems wonderful or fool-proof. They only bring problems and worries. This is a time for you to enjoy some peace and quiet.

2. Keep a healthy life, without great physical effort. Do moderate exercise (like walking every day), eat well and get your sleep. It’s easy to become sick, and it gets harder to remain healthy. That is why you need to keep yourself in good shape and be aware of your medical and physical needs. Keep in touch with your doctor, do tests even when you’re feeling well. Stay informed.

3. Always buy the best, most beautiful items for your significant other. The key goal is to enjoy your money with your partner. One day one of you will miss the other, and the money will not provide any comfort then, enjoy it together.

4. Don’t stress over the little things. You’ve already overcome so much in your life. You have good memories and bad ones, but the important thing is the present. Don’t let the past drag you down and don’t let the future frighten you. Feel good in the now. Small issues will soon be forgotten.

5. ALWAYS stay up-to-date. Read newspapers, watch the news. Go online and read what people are saying. Make sure you have an active email account and try to use some of those social networks. You’ll be surprised what old friends you’ll meet. Keeping in touch with what is going on and with the people you know is important at any age.

6. Respect the younger generation and their opinions. They may not have the same ideals as you, but they are the future, and will take the world in their direction. Give advice, not criticism, and try to remind them that yesterday’s wisdom still applies today.

7. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to accept invitations. Baptisms, graduations, birthdays, weddings, conferences. Try to go. Get out of the house, meet people you haven’t seen in a while, experience something new (or something old). But don’t get upset when you’re not invited. Some events are limited by resources, and not everyone can be hosted. The important thing is to leave the house from time to time. Go to museums, go walk through a field. Get out there.

8. Be a conversationalist. Talk less and listen more. Some people go on and on about the past, not caring if their listeners are really interested. That’s a great way of reducing their desire to speak with you. Listen first and answer questions, but don’t go off into long stories unless asked to. Speak in courteous tones and try not to complain or criticize too much unless you really need to. Try to accept situations as they are. Everyone is going through the same things, and people have a low tolerance for hearing complaints. Always find some good things to say as well.

9. Take no notice of what others say about you and even less notice of what they might be thinking. They’ll do it anyway, and you should have pride in yourself and what you’ve achieved. Let them talk and don’t worry. They have no idea about your history, your memories and the life you’ve lived so far. There’s still much to be written, so get busy writing and don’t waste time thinking about what others might think. Now is the time to be at rest, at peace and as happy as you can be!


Solid advice.


November 8, 2016

Today's The Day



To my American readers:

If you haven't already voted, then vote. Whatever you do, vote today. 

If you voted early, congratulations. You don't have to worry about long lines and unhappy people.

Watch, or don't watch the results tonight - they will be the same.

Wake up tomorrow with four thoughts:

1. It is over ( we hope!).

2. Tens of millions of your fellow countrymen will be very happy.

3. Tens of millions of your fellow countrymen will be very unhappy.

4. The sun will rise.



See you with a fresh post tomorrow. I have every confidence our world will still be here.


November 5, 2016

If Only I Knew This When I Retired


I  have been retired for 15 years. When I stopped working the world was a different place than it is today. 9/11 was still 3 months in the future. That event would shake up just about everything, including retirement. Financial planning and a certain predictability of how things worked would change almost overnight. Well laid plans would be shaken to the core.  

While still adjusting to a new world, our system suffered yet another huge shock just seven years later, with a recession that came close to an economic meltdown. It's ripples are still being felt today. I could argue that the contentious election cycle we are enduring is part of that ripple. 

Just because I had retired didn't mean I was isolated from the twin shocks of the terrorist attacks and the financial mess we found ourselves. In fact, in looking back I think those events may have had a greater effect on me mentally than if I were still getting a paycheck. I felt I had little control over my investments or economic well being. I didn't have an obvious path back to generating more income. 

If the stock market or banking institutions started to fail I was dependent on the government to make me (partially) whole at some undefined time in the future. My house seemingly lost value with every passing week. I could see years of planning start to slip away. 

Luckily for me, that didn't happen. I lost a bunch, on paper, and then rebounded within 4 years. The stress, worry, and time lost wondering what would happen was very real, but not permanent. I know I was lucky. I learned a very valuable lesson that continues to pay dividends today: There is always a path forward. Even when events conspire against us, there is positive movement possible. The surroundings, the trappings of one's life, the place and type of life one lives may all change, and not necessarily for the better. 

But, the freedom that comes with retirement, the ability to shape a life that is satisfying, regardless of the external circumstances, is a never-ending gift. The ability to not only survive, but thrive on a different path than the one planned for, is something I wish I knew when I first retired. 

My life in 2016 is not the one I envisioned in June of 2001. In fact, what turns me on today and keeps me motivated wasn't even on my radar back then. I could not have predicted how things are evolving. Now I understand what truly is important and makes me happy. If I had only known!


I must add that millions of my fellow retirees weren't as fortunate. Their future was forever altered by the events of the last 16 years. Retirement became a dream for many that was delayed, or unattainable. For them, much of what I write about a satisfying retirement probably rings hollow. And, for that I am truly sorry. The best I  can do is offer encouragement, maybe help you find a different path forward with what I write here, and be a sounding board for your frustration.


November 2, 2016

Five Key Qualities of a Spouse, Partner or Friend


Relationships determine the success of your satisfying retirement. Humans are not built to be completely alone. Interaction with others of our species is essential to our mental , emotional, even physical health. 

Assuming that is true, then there must be some important qualities or traits exhibited by one person toward another that keeps us healthy and happy. There must be some baseline of interpersonal behavior we could look for in others, and follow ourselves. Here is my list of the top five qualities that experience has taught me are crucial to a long lasting relationship, be it marriage, partnership, or even a meaningful friendship:

1. Empathy: The ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, to understand what motivates, disturbs, empowers, scares, and drives him is the only way to truly relate to that person's life. In a healthy relationship, one person should be able to empathize with what is concerning the other. This doesn't mean you must accept that line of reasoning or agree with what it is that is causing distress. But, you must be able to suspend your own thoughts long enough to accept what that person is feeling is valid to him or her.

2. Sympathy: Feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters. It is much more than verbal; sympathy is the ability to put aside judgment, one's own beliefs, and any initial reaction to a situation, to be sensitive and tolerant, kind and sharing another's pain or disappointment. Blame for what may be causing this need for sympathy can have no place in one's reaction.

3. Openness to change: A stagnant relationship is a dying or dead relationship. Life is about constant change. Being able to accept change in yourself and another person is the mark of a mature relationship. Thoughts like "She is not the person I married," or "He doesn't want what I want anymore" should be the mark of growth, not stress. 

Sentences like these indicate the other person is evolving, changing, learning from life while you are not. Would you really want to be married to someone who is exactly the same at 55 as he or she was at 25? Would you really want a meaningful friendship to be still based on the big football win in High School or the days as roommates after landing the first "real" job after college?

4. Listening: I found some fascinating statistics while researching this post. Most of us hear between 20-30,000 words a day. We retain less than 25% of what is said. Studies show men listen with half their brain while women use both lobes (hold the jokes, this is basic biology). 

Listening intently, with full attention, to what your spouse, partner or friend is saying is a mark of respect for that person. You are showing that what is being said is worth your effort to receive. Much like empathy, you don't have to agree with what is being said, but you must grant him or her the right to say it. Most importantly, you don't begin to form your response before the other person has stopped talking. You receive the entire message, then you respond, if appropriate. 

5. Acceptance: When you are in a meaningful relationship you have agreed to a high level of acceptance of the other person. Be it their looks, their world view, their educational level, their food and clothing choices, you are accepting.

As point #3 states, over time that person will change. Maybe not in ways that entirely please you, but in ways that you have committed to embrace. Of course, you are changing, too, so the acceptance works both ways. Never forget that. And, change isn't negative in this regard. Over time, the two of you may find that your shared points of view are more in sync that they once were. Then acceptance is much easier!


To keep this post a reasonable length I decided on five key traits. There are probably a dozen more that should be on this list. So, your turn. What belongs on the list of important qualities in a long term, health relationship?