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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Emotional Aspects of Retirement
By Elizabeth Holtzman, Counselor
Faculty and Staff Assistance Program[i]
Twice as many Americans were born in 1955 than in 1935.  Millions of people today are entering, passing through, or have completed midlife.  Because of this, there are more American people than ever nearing retirement. Americans are also living longer; therefore, they will have a longer period of retirement. Consequently, the issues of how to retire successfully have never been more pressing as the baby boom generation evolves into the retirement boom generation.
Thoughts of retirement often conjure up concerns about financial planning or images of endless hours of relaxation in the sun. Webster defines retirement as “withdrawal from active engagement in one’s occupation or profession.”  It is in fact much more.  Retirement is an identity shift for many people.  It is a process, not an event.  Retirement, like any transition in a person’s lifecycle, has emotional rewards and emotional hazards.
Preparing for retirement should include more than financial planning.  In our society, work remains a defining feature of our daily lives and our identity.  Work is more than the mental or physical tasks you perform while employed.  Work refers to the idea of being paid and engaged in activities that are productive for yourself and society.  Ending your work life, consequently, may not be an easy task.
There can be a major contrast between the familiar world of work with its hierarchy, tasks, and dependable income and the undefined roles, wide-open goals, and uncertain income of retirement. When you are working, your day is outer-directed.  It is shaped by the requirements of your job, and success is based on how well you perform and are rewarded for your work.  When you retire, your day becomes inner-directed.  You alone must plan your day and week.  Success depends on your ability to find happiness in satisfying personal interests and pursuits, human relationships, and creative mental activities.
A critical step in retirement is adjusting to the changes it brings.  It means not just accepting and adapting to change, but creating a new lifestyle that is productive and emotionally rewarding.
Making the transition from work to retirement involves sharp and abrupt changes in what is expected of you and what you expect of yourself.  Your role as a worker may be over or reduced, but your role as a spouse, partner, parent, or friend doesn’t stop, and neither do other multiple roles you play.  These roles may change, or in some way be affected by your retirement.  People who are unable to let go of the role provided by their work may find it difficult to enjoy their retirement years.
Retirement may create new problems for retirees that are married or in a long-term partnership.  Many relationships have been in existence for 20 or 30 years.  Patterns have developed about who directs the finances and who takes care of family duties, and retirement may disrupt these familiar roles.  Just getting used to being together more regularly may create problems for some couples who do not share common interests.  They may find the time together a strain and miss the privacy they previously enjoyed when their partner was working.
Being single both simplifies and complicates the problems of retirement.  It simplifies them because you have only yourself to look after.  You can make your own choices.  On the other hand, you don’t have a partner to share things with or lean on emotionally or financially.  Most people have a need to nurture and be nurtured.  Being a single retiree may lead to isolation and loneliness.
If you are approaching retirement age, there are a number of things you can do to prepare for an emotionally healthy retirement. 
  • First, begin by talking to someone – spouse, significant other, children, or all of the above about how you feel regarding the impending change in your life.  Look at all the aspects, but particularly the emotional part.
  • Begin now to think about what you are passionate about.  Is it politics, sports, finance, art or music?  Many possibilities are available, but you need to focus on what excites you.
  • Get an emotional checkup.  Many couples consult a marriage therapist before taking the big step.  In a similar perspective, retirees may want to talk to a therapist about their situation and gain insights.
  • Don’t make other big decisions during this transition time.  For example, people who retire and immediately move to another state may wind up suffering two major losses -- the loss of their work-related identity, and the loss of their relationship network.
Achieving a successful retirement is a process that takes planning, time, and experimentation.  Retirees who achieve emotional integration learn to know themselves and what will make the coming years satisfying.  They are confident in their ability to cope, and they can appreciate the possibilities within themselves.  Retirement can then become a passage to new opportunity and self-fulfillment.

[i]  This post is a copy of material I found while surfing the net.  Elizabeth Holtzman has discovered explanations that help me understand my attachments described in the blog  entry right next to this one.

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