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'ARE YOU OR YOUR LOVED ONE READY TO RETIRE - PSYCHOLOGICALLY?'

By Jill Poser – Kammet, CGCM, CMC, CDCP

JUNE 25, 2024

Bill and Elaine have been married 65 years and relocated to south Florida from the northeast to retire, enjoying the warm weather and an easier way of life. Prior to retirement, Bill built a successful business over many years and the couple, and their children enjoyed many advantages as a result. They retired very comfortably, and Larry imagined all the activities he would take part in now that he had the time. The marriage had its ups and downs over the years but like many couples, they had children together, an active social life, a lifestyle if you will, and if Bill continued to work outside the home they managed.

Bill discovered he could not be fully retired. He took a part time sales position to keep himself active in ways that were more familiar to him when he had his business. Elaine had not worked for many years and adjusted easily to their new lifestyle. She developed a group of women friends, managed the day to day of the house, the couple had dinners out with other couples and Bill continued working part time. This routine seemed to be working nicely and the couple settled into their new norm for approximately 5 years.

More recently, Bill was in a severe car accident that impacted his ability to physically function, and he seemed to be suffering emotionally and psychologically as well. With physical therapy and other treatment modalities, his physical abilities improved but he continued to struggle emotionally. He was no longer able to work and seemed to lose his compass. He became depressed, anxious and easily angered.

Elaine and his primary care physician encouraged him to seek some form of psychotherapy, but he did not ‘believe’ in therapy and refused any type of intervention. The relationship between the two became very strained. It worked if they maintained very specific roles and the couple had time away from each other. Bill was no longer working, had not developed a friend group or any hobbies. Elaine became the target of all his frustrations, and he determined that retirement had become a very big mistake.

In the last five years, Bill has developed other health issues and become more dependent on his wife to oversee his care. His decision-making abilities are compromised, leaving Elaine to take on more and more responsibility. The strain in the marriage is palpable.

For some of our clients, retirement has not been what they imagined or hoped it would be; particularly for a generation of men that didn’t come to terms with the loss of their career identity or finding new and appealing ways to stay active. For certain couples, spending more time together than ever has heightened the disparities in their marriage.

Feeling unhappy or lacking energy and motivation after retiring is amazingly common. The irony is that we emphasize the need to plan financially for retirement but how much emphasis do we place on being prepared emotionally and psychologically to step into this new way of life? We have clients that are established, educated, successful older adults and have planned well for retirement financially but never gave the same attention to what they would actually be doing with their time and what that would truly feel like for them. For certain clients they are too embarrassed to admit they are having a hard time adjusting because society has placed high marks on the expectation that once you are retired you are living the ‘good life.’ How can you complain?

Have no fear, there are tangible steps that can be taken over time to ensure that you, your loved one or perhaps your client can embrace retirement in a way that will bring peace of mind and successfully forge new beginnings. However, we need to figure out ways to maximize our own happiness and have a willingness to recognize that life as we know it is going to change in ways we have not experienced. Most importantly, we must have courage to increase our self-awareness to make decisions that will honor this very different time in our lives.

1. There is clearly no one-size-fits-all answer, but building a structure for your retirement likely ought to start a few years before the planned date.

2. Consider talking openly with your spouse, significant other or other family members about your goals as well as your concerns about retirement.

3. Give thought to talking with a retirement coach specializing in the nonfinancial aspects of retirement.

4. Possibly dedicate time to discovering hobbies on weekends while you are still working.

5. Volunteerism and philanthropy before retirement or during may be a wonderful way to connect to your community and establish new friends and a stronger sense of purpose.

6. You may want to think about moving to a retirement community for the built-in activities and the opportunities for social engagement.

But perhaps you have already retired, and life has changed in ways that are similar or different to Bill and Elaine and you, your loved one or a client is experiencing significant dissatisfaction and frustration; it has all become too much to handle. Consider aligning yourself with a Certified Care Manager who is in the know about all these matters and can guide you toward making the right decisions and help you get on track. It so often takes a village to grow old with dignity and grace.

Let us help you create solutions that address your family’s unique circumstances.

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