Happily Ever After
Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight dinner, soft music, and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.
The other day Jim asked me if I would like to go with him to his favorite spot in Ocean City to watch the boats come into the harbor. I said “no”. I had several reasons why I didn’t want to go: 1) I had work to do on a volunteer project, 2) I knew that Jim would want to stay for hours and I would get bored, and 3) I relished the idea of turning up my music while I worked on my project. Jim doesn’t like loud music.
Jim didn’t have a problem with my response because we have talked many times about our different interest, needs, and personalities. It’s not that we don’t share some interests; it’s just that we respect our differences end we compromise whenever we can. As a result of our differences, Jim and I have different expectations of our retirement. Jim loves the ocean and is never happier than when he is sitting in his beach chair enjoying the waves. I, on the other hand, am very fair-skinned and can’t take much of the sun. Much of my time is spent pursuing my mindfulness practice, reading, writing, and volunteering. We take evening walks on the beach and Jim accompanies me occasionally to special events at the library and elsewhere in our community. Our retirement marriage has adapted to issues of time, focus, and communication that we never had to address when we were working.
As I reflect on all the changes we’ve experienced since we retired, I think it has been tougher on Jim than on me. He still has recurrent nightmares involving his job and he can’t seem to decide how best to spend his time. He says that he has PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder – from his lifetime of stressful work.
According to Rob Pascale, PhD, a retired pollster and author of The Retirement Maze, retirement is particularly hard on men who haven’t prepared for the transition. Men tend to define themselves primarily by their career and then other roles, such as father. Women maintain lots of different roles, even when they work outside the home, and are generally more socially integrated than the opposite sex. “Retirement can make men feel lost, lonely, and even over-dependent on their spouse to keep them socially connected, which can add stress to a marriage,” reports Pascale.
What can couples do to survive, even thrive, their retirement? Here are some tips that I’ve learned from experience:
- Talk about your vision of what you want your retirement to be like. I want to travel. So does Jim, but he doesn’t like airplanes. So we’ve taken a couple of cruises and I’m planning to take a trip to Ireland next summer – by myself on a group tour! I like to volunteer and I specifically asked Jim how he felt about my volunteer time, i.e. time spent away from him. As a result, he doesn’t complain when I’m working on the community hospital auxiliary newsletter.
- Talk about how your roles and identities will change. Early in our planning, Jim asked me how I would feel about leaving a job I really enjoyed. He offered to postpone our move if I wanted to work longer. I engaged in a lot of self-reflection and realized that I’d be happy as long as I pursued new friendships and volunteer work.
- Pursue your own interests and maintain some separate friendships. This continues to be a challenge for Jim but I have a complete social calendar! I made friends through my book clubs and volunteer work. Jim and I talk about our feelings and expectations of time together vis-à-vis time apart.
- Negotiate how you will share household responsibilities. In our case, I manage all the food and meal responsibilities. Jim takes care of house and yard maintenance. We share cleaning and taking care of our dogs.
- Manage your financial issues together. Since Jim and I married late in life, we each have our own financial resources. However, we feel it’s important to share our joint expenses and communicate regularly about our expenditures.
By Kahil Gibran
Then Almitra spoke again and said, ‘And what of Marriage, master?’
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.