All the books & blogs on retirement agree: active healthy relationships are critical for healthy aging. There are four major relationship areas in a person’s life, and the transition to retirement can stress, change, or eliminate your “relationship profile” overnight. As with all my transitioning, understanding how my relationship profile was changing and then addressing the changes required personal reflection, exploring options, and moving to action.
Professional Relationships – When I retired, I lost almost all my daily “conversational connections”. I knew it would happen. Everyone says they will stay in touch, but it really doesn’t happen with most co-workers. You don’t want to be the living ghost coming back to haunt the halls. But what I failed to realize was what those daily conversations provided: they gave me idea builders, cheerleaders, devil’s advocates, and validation of my actions and thinking. How would I replace not only the mind-stimulating technical debates but even the daily what’s-up conversations? What would I do with all those (now silent) hours of the day?
Social Friends – Most social connections are based on convenience, whether it is school or work or where you live. And since work dominated my life, my work-based connections dominated my social life. Most people I called “friends” were actually work colleagues and really professional relationships. And since our convenience was gone, many of those relationships just didn’t have common ground anymore. Could I salvage any of those relationships into true friendships? Where would I find new friends? How would I use my new free time to reconnect with old friends and strengthen the friendships I did have?
Family – I know many women who enter retirement only to become primary caregiver – to grandkids or aging parents/parents-in-law. Even with no kids and only one parent still living, how would having more time available change family relationships for me?
Spouse – We both retired on the same timing. How would more time with both of us at home change dynamics and house routines? When time apart is no longer structured as we go to our separate work environments, how do we think about time together and time apart?
My solution: an intentional Relationship Action Plan. Part of the relationship plan was identifying where I would re-create the support network that I naturally had at work – who was going to be my cheerleader, my great idea person, my positive critic? Part of the plan was also to identify other relationship needs I had – who could be my accountability buddy, my “partner in crime”, my reality checker? And yes, this is an intentional plan that has weekly/monthly goals that I monitor. Sounds like work? Maybe. But I come back to the statement I started with – active healthy relationships are critical for healthy aging. And I as I transitioned into retirement, I noted that I did not have many active healthy relationships.
1. Creating a coupledom vision. I am quite fortunate that my marriage was one of the healthy relationships I did have. We did need to come to a shared vision on many of the Life Domains like where would we live, relationships besides our own (friends & family connections), pleasure plans (travel, toys), and work or not. But one of the most challenging aspects, and one we are continually working, is the time together/time apart balance. Regular conversation helps. Some of those conversations were about exploring some new things together and re-evaluating household task distribution.
2. Active networking. Let me remind you, I am an introvert, so the concept of active networking is really difficult. But it is necessary for achieving my future life vision. I plan 10 networking meetings a month – everything from coffee, lunch or happy hour with an “old” colleague to going to full-on networking meetings with lots of people. I have a few work-based relationships that I hope can survive the transition and thrive into real friendships. Networking takes scheduling and sometimes thinking through what to talk about, especially as I reach out to colleagues I didn’t know that well but are doing things now that I find intriguing. But it has also been a case of planned serendipity. I’ve gotten ideas for blogs, classes, and travel. And it does keep my mind stimulated as we often talk about the corporate world or I get to do some mentoring and advising on things they are working on.
3. Fun with Friends – old and new. This started out as Food & Friends since being a “foodie” is in my life vision. I love a good meal with friends – new foods to explore and great conversation is my ideal connection. But this turned into too many eating out moments. So I am working to have shared communal actives that are beyond meals – walks in the park, going to events, taking a class. I am not giving up on food & friends, just thinking about finding more shared activities that both rekindle “old” friendships and allow the formation of new relationships that can be nurtured into friendships. Again, this requires active scheduling and watching for opportunities. One area I have struggled with here is reciprocity. I feel like I am always the initiator with so many of the acquaintances. But perseverance is one of my strengths, so I will continue on this path, trying to understand each relationship and cultivate it.
4. Embrace technology – For years I was a “Facebook stalker”, merely reading what’s up with family and friends. Now I try to comment and post – interact and feel more connected. I entered the world of blogging similarly – not just reading but actively commenting. Both of these social media connections are creating a outer-circle of connections for me – people around the world with whom I converse and share ideas. And in the continually learning mode, I am trying Instagram and Twitter, but am a total beginner (i.e. clueless) on both of these formats!
These 4 areas of focus are helping me to create the active, healthy (non-work-related) relationships that are both necessary for healthy aging and just bring joy into my life every day. As you move through your retirement transition, what are your focus areas in the Relationship/Connection Life Domain?
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