One of the biggest milestones in our working lives is retirement. It can be an exciting time because it means you may finally have the freedom to pursue your interests, go travelling, or simply slow down to enjoy life. However, retirement can be challenging for some people. Adjusting to the loss of a regular daily work routine and the associated sense of purpose can be hard. Retirement also brings new relationship issues, and for people who do not find new meaningful activities to replace work, there is the risk of boredom. This can even extend to a sense of purposelessness that can, in turn, be stressful and lead to depression and other health problems.
Who am I after retirement?
For many people, identity revolves around some central roles and skills, including:
- Being a good provider
- Being useful
- Being independent
- Being an achiever.
Successfully adjusting to retirement begins with redefining your sense of who you are. For example, without work (something that has probably been a constant in your life for many decades), you may start to ask, who am I? This could start to eat away at your self-esteem and depression can set in.
In retirement, other roles may evolve, like:
- Being a good carer for your partner
- Being a community elder
- Being a good grandparent.
The greatest challenge in retirement is defining yourself less in terms of your roles and activities — what you do — and more in terms of simply being. So what does that mean? Instead of answering the question ‘Who are you?’ with a doing answer such as, ‘I am a father/mother/ engineer/teacher’ etc., you simply answer, ‘I am me.’ The achievement of self-acceptance is one of the great gifts of later life.
Relationship challenges during retirement
Retirement brings new challenges to a relationship. You and your partner or spouse may have adjusted to a certain amount of time together each day but, with retirement, the time spent in each other’s company greatly increases. This intensive contact can disturb the balance of the relationship and bring unresolved tensions to the surface.
Both men and women may struggle to adjust to the new situation. For example, if prior to retirement one of you stayed at home (or had already retired), they may begin to resent your intrusion on well-established routines.
Tension can also arise out of the increased need for joint decision-making. Whereas, prior to retirement, the routine of work allowed for a relatively clear division of decision-making responsibilities, after retirement, there may be many more decisions that need to be made together. Unless both of you are prepared to listen and be flexible, a shift in decision-making can be a source of conflict.
The key, as with most relationship issues, is communication. Without effective and open communication – including the ability to compromise and negotiate – the challenges of retirement can place a strain on the relationship.
Stay physically and mentally active after retirement
A lot of research shows that the people who cope best with retirement are those who stay active and involved. Keeping active might include:
- Getting back into an old hobby or starting a new one
- Staying physically active, through walking, swimming, going to the gym or taking up a sport. Make sure your exercise routine is appropriate for your physical capacities and limitations
- Volunteering with a charity or community group
- Working part-time
- Studying a course.
Stay in touch
Loneliness and isolation are a risk in old age for the simple reason that as people grow older, more and more of their friends tend to move away, die, or lose the mobility needed to keep in touch. Many people (and men in particular) do not realise the extent of their reliance on work friendships until after retirement. Here are some suggestions for warding off isolation:
- Make an effort to stay in contact with family and friends. If you’re not doing so already, offer to babysit your grandchildren.
- Check out local community centres for upcoming activities you might enjoy. Even if you’re not sure, try something new: you might surprise yourself!
- Community organisations like Men’s Shed and Women’s Shed offer a space to share ideas and skills and participate in practical activities, from woodwork to crafts to restoring antiques.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online social and mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.