Don’t tarnish golden years: Compromise and listen
The torrential rains wouldn’t let up. Gary Walker looked out the window and knew his golf game would be canceled. He knew Thursday was the day his wife, Marge, had Zumba and bridge, so he was reluctant to ask her to cancel her plans. She’d gotten huffy, almost belligerent, the last time when he had asked her to give up her plans to spend the day with him. She would once again recite how she’d been on her own all the years while he was absorbed in his career or perfecting his golf game. She’d always add how she’d had to develop friendships and acti vities because he was never around, and she wasn’t about to give up what was important to her now, just because it was convenient for him. Since Gary’s retirement two years ago, and their move to South Florida, the two of them had been at odds. Although they’d excitedly anticipated the move for many years, they had never imagined that it would be so stressful to balance their activities and time. At first, they felt like pinching themselves: they were in love with their new home and the country club community they had selected. The other residents were friendly, and the Walkers had more invitations than they could possibly accept. But as the days passed, he had the distinct feeling that Marge was becoming increasingly annoyed that he was underfoot. Clearly, they each had habits that were getting under the other’s skin. He had envisioned relaxed home- cooked dinners. They had a spiffy grill and he looked forward to throwing on some steaks, so it really annoyed him when Marge strolled in after 6, assuming they’d go out for dinner. Frankly, he had never noticed the clutter around the house when he was working. But now, the piles of paper irritated him and he had trouble keeping his mouth shut. Although they’d planned their finances carefully, he was still a worrier. He knew he shouldn’t pore over every credit card receipt, but he couldn’t turn off his inner accountant. Marge indignantly insisted that she only bought items on sale, but it rankled him when she bought a new pair of shoes. She would mutter under her breath that she had managed a company, raised three children and ran a household without much input from Gary and she didn’t need his supervision now. Although retirement provides the opportunity to leave the exertions and stress of employment behind, for some families it can bring unexpected challenges and irritations. Although couples assume they have a shared vision of how to map out their retired lives, and how much time they will share with each other, their differences may turn out to be more pronounced than they anticipated.
Despite active planning, individuals may not have considered the emotional toll of making a major life transition. After the novelty has worn off, they may look at each other and ask “Now what?” People who have spent a lifetime defining themselves by their career identities may become quite distressed to lose the roles they’ve always known. It may be difficult to shake the feeling they’ve lost their importance and prestige and that their “opinions” are no longer of value.
When people have lost a sense of purpose and worth, they may be prone to anger or depression. There may be resentment felt toward a spouse who has adapted with greater ease, and has assimilated more readily into a different routine. There may be worries about one’s health, mortality or financial security that keep them up at night. It will make a huge difference if both parties are sensitive to the stresses and make a concerted effort to support each other.
When couples are immersed in raising a family and earning a living, they often sweep issues of incompatibility under the rug. They may deny or overlook differences, avoid each other or distract themselves from facing unpleasantries. They may never have learned how to respect each other’s point of view or find ways to problem solve and come up with mutually acceptable solutions. They may have lived side by side for decades, sadly, without maintaining a relationship nourished with sufficient affection or admiration. When they finally have the time and opportunity to spend quality time with each other, they may not have a solid basis of friendship and support.
It may still not be too late for them to develop a relationship based on mutual respect. There are steps each person can take to not only meet their own emotional needs, but to value the wishes of their partner. Demonstrating a sincere interest in what the other has to say and listening without judgment can create an atmosphere of mutual respect and camaraderie. Modifying expectations and being open to their partner making choices that they wouldn’t have previously agreed to will go a long way in smoothing conflicts. Letting go of the small things, but not letting the big things fester requires diplomacy and care. Holding back sarcastic remarks and criticism obviously makes a difference.
If retirees view this next chapter in their lives with a spirit of adventure, they may open themselves up to challenging new possibilities. They may have an opportunity to try on new roles and commit to projects that can offer a sense of purpose and esteem. And finally, they may have the time and access to endeavors previously out of their reach. ¦
— Linda Lipshutz, M. S., LCSW, is a psychotherapist serving individuals, couples and families. She holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia and trained at the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy in Manhattan. She can be reached at palmbeachfamilytherapy.com.