Securing emotional wellbeing in retirement
Today's article focuses on a tough subject, one that families are reluctant to face.
The end all and be all purported for every person is a happy retirement. Isn't that what we are all aiming for? Work hard now, relax leisurely later.
Retirement is touted ad infinitum in the media as peace, fulfilment, golden sunsets, harmonious relationships, satisfactory lifestyles, and few worries, if you have saved enough.
But this is not true for all.
The divorce rate for couples at retirement and older has increased exponentially in the last 20 years in our three largest neighbouring countries Britain, the US and Canada. Professional planners, attorneys, and investment advisers report significant increases in clients in these age-group situations.
The much hackneyed old saying that money does not bring happiness appears to be predictably accurate. The headlines are stunning: “After Full Lives Together, More Older Couples Are Divorcing”; She said, “Get a Job, or Get a Divorce” and “The-Worst-Retirement-Move-You-Can-Make.”
So why is this phenomenon occurring now?
Many reasons come to fore. Older individuals are not always divorcing for the obvious reasons: abuse, money incompatibility, sexual infidelity, changing career trajectories, conflict resolution.
Instead, retirement planning professionals observe far more mundane issues:
• Longevity — we all age on a different spectrum emphasising contrasts in health responsibilities. The primary caretaker leaves due to the continued self-destructive behaviour of his/her partner.
• No common interests, differing agendas. One partner is far older than her years: fearful and reclusive, avoiding any activity the tiniest bit reckless. The other partner wants to embrace all that there is to be experienced in the time remaining on this earth. Inevitably, lives drift apart. The active partner leaves for a more involved new partner and new life.
• Loss of respect. Relationships deteriorate quickly when respectful communication is abandoned. A partner held in contempt by the other signals loss of love, caring, and residual anger for past actions. The relationship is no longer one of equals.
• Emotional immaturity. One partner simply never matures into full adulthood re: Erik Erikson, Generativity, vs Self-Absorption and Stagnation. The partner is entirely self-focused and fully dependent upon the other for all needs: emotional, financial, intellectual, and physical so much so that the codependency eventually exhausts the independent partner.
• Yes, money conflict impasses. She spends like she still works. He freaks out at every extra wasted dollar, worrying constantly about running out of resources. Each becomes recalcitrant; each deeply resents the opposite position; neither will compromise.
• Control — tiny issues that were ignored during the hectic years, now loom larger and larger, particularly, when each partner in the relationship had control and made independent decisions in their work environment. When one partner seeks to control the other, in a continuous dominant fashion, walking out time follows.
• Inability to compromise. One fellow stated (in a media column a few years ago), that he got a divorce simply because he was sick and tired of every single decision turning in a negotiating battle. “Now,” he said, “I get up when I want, I go out when and where I want, and I don't have to ask permission of anyone.”
• Lack of private time, and peaceful space. You both once worked full-time, either outside jobs, or at home. The most time you spent together in a day came to less than four hours (not counting sleep-time). In retirement, you have unfettered access to each other 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those private few hours you cherished to read, think, pursue dreams has disappeared.
• Loss of personal identity accompanied by negative feelings of self-worth. We have always defined ourselves by who we are and where we fit in the workplace/community hierarchy. For many, retirement is tough on personal identity. Individuals reported feeling bereft, they no longer matter, they don't even exist anymore, real depression follows.
Divorce is a gut-wrenching personal decision. It does not always need to happen, but to redirect that outcome requires sincere recommitment of each partner. Retirement can be the opportunity for reinvention, and revalidating yourself and your partner in a whole new life role.
Mature relationships work the best in a partnership of equals where both can achieve happiness.
How do you make yourself happy? Isn't it true that if you are content with your life, so will your relationships flourish.
Challenge yourself. You can consider recapturing the flow of life that we achieved when we were young — the joy of complete engagement. Some would describe it as “the almost unbearable lightness of being.”
I highly recommend the book, Finding Flow — The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Finding flow helps us reclaim ownership of our lives. It contends that we often walk through our days unaware and out of touch with our emotional lives. Our inattention makes us constantly bounce between two extremes: during much of the day we live filled with the anxiety and pressures of our work and obligations, while during our leisure moments, we tend to live in passive boredom.
We can always take charge of the direction we want for our lives, our lives are controlled by us. “We cannot expect anyone to help us live: we must discover how to do it by ourselves.”
Take charge of your own happiness.
In the next retirement segment, on the third Saturday in March, we will look at what happens to your finances when you divorce. How it affects your future retirement and what happens to a couple who want to divorce but have inadequate financial resources to support separate lifestyles.
• After full lives together, more older couples are divorcing (New York Times).
• Retirement age baby boomers experience high divorce rate (Retire Wow).
• More couples in their 70s getting divorced: Lawyer Caroline Swain said dating apps, longer life expectancy and a change in social attitudes are all factors fuelling the trend (Manchester Evening News).
• Grey divorce is all about the math (Canadian Lawyer).
• Divorce is destroying retirement. (Bloomberg)
Martha Harris Myron CPA CFP JSM: Masters of Law — international tax and financial services. Pondstraddler Life, financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders with multinational families and international connections on the Great Atlantic Pond. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org