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Planning for Two Retirements: Financial and Emotional

By Elayne Savage, Ph.D.

Dr. Elayne Savage is a communication coachOK. So you carefully planned for your financial retirement, but you're finding yourself totally unprepared for the emotional stresses affecting you and your mate. Something's off balance – you may have too much time or not enough space, and before you know it, misunderstandings and hurt feelings abound. Soon anger and resentment take up so much space there's hardly room for intimacy.

Because retirement is a transition that leaves large holes in your day and your life, it requires you to work out new arrangements with your partner – especially if he or she is still working. And if both you are home, suddenly you 're adjusting to 24/7 of togetherness and probably needing some breathing room.

Maybe you're drifting into each other's personal space, stepping on toes, getting in each other's faces. On the other hand, perhaps you're longing for more company from your mate, you're not getting it, and you're feeling disappointed, maybe even angry.

Struggles about "Personal Space"
Phil and Margaret found themselves struggling with these kinds of "space" issues when Phil decided to take an early retirement. For thirty years he managed the operations of a large company – a demanding job with little free time. Retirement sounded enticing – he surely wouldn't miss the ninety-minute commute. His wife, Margaret, a graphic artist who works from her home office, was eagerly anticipating spending more "couples" time together. They had carefully planned financially for retirement, but they weren't at all prepared for the difficulties that came with it.

For example, there was Phil's sudden loss of identity. At the company he was always a person who got things done, an important part of the team. But once he retired, this part of his identity ceased to exist – he didn't know who he was anymore.

Phil's experience is a common one. This loss of identity leaves a huge space and Phil turned to TV and AOL to fill it. "I know everything about current events these days," he says. "Between CNN and the computer screen I spend hours in the company of the daily news. And it's not helping my marriage one bit." Margaret agrees and laments-"What ever happened to my hopes for more time together?"

Lots of Adjustments to Make
Other problems arise as well. If a couple decides to "downsize" from a larger home to a smaller one it necessitates adjustments and big decisions. Which life mementos to keep? Which to discard? A move to new quarters, coming right on the heels of retiring, results in three simultaneous losses–loss of professional identity, loss of structure, and loss of familiar surroundings.

And yet another unexpected situation can occur. One partner may have been "too busy" all those years to take part in family activities with children or grandchildren. Now with retirement he or she has more time to spend with the family but suddenly feels on the outside looking in. This exclusion occurs when all those years of being "too busy" leads family members to form separate alliances.

A Little Planning is a Big Help
The emotional aspects of retirement can be planned for as carefully as the finances. You can do this by finding productive ways to fill empty time and space, and at the same time stay connected as a couple by balancing needs for closeness and distance. Sitting down with your partner and discussing how to restructure time and space is a good start. One possibility is by exploring community programs that offer opportunities to share your knowledge from work experience or hobbies.

But what if you don't have a hobby? Start now to discover one or get good at one or get better at one.

This is how Horace and Eleanor approached her upcoming retirement from her job as an ad exec. They sat down together and tried as realistically as possible to make a plan. During one of their talks, Horace even told Eleanor how he envied her retirement plans, how he wished he could also retire now instead of in two years. Talking about it together helped sort through their feelings, and he was able to be supportive of her decision.

Eleanor researched retirement issues that might come up. She read books on the subject and she and Horace talked to couples they knew who had gone through this transition. And as soon as she decided to retire, she contacted high schools and senior centers to see how she might share her advertising know-how. The high school was delighted she could volunteer with the yearbook advertising staff, and Eleanor was delighted to feel needed.

Through teamwork and strategizing Horace and Eleanor found ways to restructure their time, activities and personal space. Best of all, they were able to re-balance their relationship.

© Elayne Savage, Ph.D.


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