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Husband’s Ego Nose Dives After Retirement

Category: Health and Wellness Issues

September 21, 2019 — Our friend and long-time Member Ed Lafreniere was kind enough to send us some of the articles he has written for his new website, RetirementHumor.net. They take the form of a funny, but pertinent question, and an equally amusing but useful answer. We chose this particularly useful one as a great follow-up to our recent article on “How Different Retirement is from Every Other Lifestage”. Meanwhile, you might enjoy Ed’s lighthearted approach to retirement over at his site! Thanks Ed.

Dear Sage:

My husband retired six months ago and is experiencing a huge void in his social life now that he’s no longer working. He misses the lunches, the camaraderie, and, I believe, the respect and status. Over 45 years of work in the auto industry, his ego grew like a balloon – not a massive Macy’s parade-sized balloon, but one that was of reasonable and respectable size. Now it’s been punctured and he’s feeling deflated. We have moved to Florida and he has a lot of time to reflect, since all the distracting tasks involved in a 1,400-mile move have ended. He’s getting more than a little down, as if he’s been abruptly cut off from his known world, and his disappointment is driving me nuts, though I try my best to be understanding and supportive. He calls former co-workers, or emails them, but they often don’t respond. And when they do, the replies seem politely perfunctory, and hubby senses (correctly, I think) that he’s being patronized more than a little bit – they’ll treat the old codger with due dignity given his long tenure, but that’s about it. Short of my sticking a bicycle pump in his ear and blowing his ego back up, how can we get him out of this funk?

                                                                             Frustrated in Florida

Dear Frustrated:

   First of all, The Sage would not recommend a bicycle pump, as you can readily purchase an air pump made for the express purpose of blowing up balloons. But you don’t really want to risk an invasion of your home by OSHA inspectors arriving with sirens blaring after you misuse portable power equipment, do you?

   Your husband’s issue is far from unique. Post-career adjustment difficulties are common, especially for those who have not planned for change in their social lives and who instead have assumed that as soon as they leave their retirement party, they will put that chapter behind them and proceed head-first into retirement as if cliff-diving in Acapulco. Problem is, many people don’t know how to swim in these new waters, let alone land safely.

   Research shows that many enjoy what a Berkeley expert described as a ‘sugar rush’ right after retirement, followed by a major drop in happiness a few years later.

   Some suffer from anxiety, depression and a significant sense of loss.

   “People can go through hell when they retire and they will never say a word about it, often because they are embarrassed. The cultural norm for retirement is that you are living the good life,” the American Psychological Association reported, quoting Robert P. Delamontagne, a psychologist, author and expert on the psychological dynamics of retirement.

   The Gerontologist, a publication of the Gerontological Society of America, says that after we leave work we may experience a number of different losses: social contacts, income, status, daily structure and ‘purposeful activity.’ That’s a lot to swallow (unless you have a Ph.D in gerontology, in which case this stuff is crazy fun).

   In other words, we miss work for different reasons and suddenly face major gaps in our lives that we would do well to bridge with healthy, active lifestyles that stimulate longevity, cognitive health and general psychological wellbeing.

   Your Dear Hubby might want to create a list of dreams for retirement – a bucket list. It might include hobbies, a subject that he might want to study, travel, volunteering – whatever he thinks may enhance his happiness and retirement satisfaction. He should be passionate about these things, believe that they are important, and love to be engaged in them. Grandkids could be right at the top of the list, unless grandparenting for him is baby-sitting, and if oogats of diapers are involved, in which case care becomes not so much a passion as an obligation, beautiful as that child may be.

   Here are a few suggestions: If he’s still a car nut, perhaps he could give lectures on the history of certain automobiles … or start a club focused on particular types of vehicles … help organize cruise nights … work with local schools to tutor kids using books about cars … or take photos of classic automobiles and set up his own website.

   In all these cases, your husband would be broadening his social base, and quite possibly building friendships with people who have similar interests. Therefore, socializing would be much more gratifying than if he was, say, volunteering to shovel horse poop at the local racetrack (which still would be better than shoveling similarly textured material in, say, Congress).

   But he has to take the initiative to create these new social relationships. This is vital at any age, and even more so if his life now lacks certain needs, such as socializing, feeling valued, laughing, learning, supporting others and developing a positive outlook. After all, chances are that he would rather get out and have fun than sit around the house waiting breathlessly to clean toilets and take out the trash.

   What’s not so much fun is living retirement with the shades drawn, a bottle nearby, the TV blaring nonstop, and dreadful feelings of boredom, depression and unhappiness. That happens to thousands of retirees who become isolated, feel hopeless and sit as their golden years pass by.

   There are so many other ways to become social, too: courses at local colleges, exercise classes, library lectures, canoeing and other sports clubs, or, if hubby wants even greater satisfaction, membership in the Egg Beater Collectors’ Society of North America.

   Another benefit of an active lifestyle: If hubby is happy, that will enhance his relationship with you. Yes! Rather than dragging both of you down, you each will have opportunities for self-actualization – defined in psychology terms as reaching full potential through creativity, independence and other fulfilling pursuits. And that will go a long way toward building stronger mental, emotion and physical health, not to mention maintaining an upbeat attitude and avoiding unnecessary conflict between the two of you. Sweet nothings are so much more inviting than grunts, occasional nods and laser eyes, no?

   Kiplinger summarized it well:

   “Some people enter retirement with a full-blown plan. Other new retirees struggle to fill a blank canvas. The key to a meaningful retirement is not just filling your time but crafting a portfolio of pursuits that are based on what’s important to you. Many times, work is what you do and not so much who you are. Retirement is an opportunity to create a life that reflects more closely who you are.”

   The Sage wishes you the best and hopes that you luxuriate in a stellar retirement from here on. Oh, and if Dear Hubby joins an auto club, please encourage him to make it a Corvette association. Better yet, if membership entitles one to a 75% discount, please advise ASAP!

   Humbly Yours,

   The Sage

Comments? How does Frustrated in Florida’s experience jive with yours? Is someone in your family facing a social life challenge in retirement? What are you doing to try to get over that issue? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on September 20th, 2019

5 Comments »

  1. Great article. I first misread the phrase “post-career adjustment difficulties are common” as “post career adjustment FACILITIES are common,” and thought Yay! Where? Could have used one of those as a freshman orientation for retirement. All the recent newbies throwing frisbees on the quad while we make new friends and learn the ropes for the new chapters ahead. Do these exist somewhere? Our local senior center had a much more sedentary crowd than I expected, and the spouse’s retired employees summer picnic consisted of 3 hours of indoor bingo. Thankfully we found some life at the Silver Sneakers circuit classes where we have fun with like-minded souls. Takes a while to find your tribe.

    by Daryl — September 21, 2019

  2. Preparing psychologically and emotionally for retirement is vitally important, in addition to financial budgeting. You are so right, Daryl, that there are few, if any, formal Retirement 101 courses to teach you how to navigate the sea of choices, opportunities and challenges that you may face as you leave the workforce and perhaps create a new identity for yourself. What will your new mission be? What will jazz you enough to make you want to fly out of bed in the morning? Will you and your spouse find retirement a 20- or 30-year relaxing party (as few do)? Or will you – as happens with so many couples – need to make relationship adjustments as you find yourselves within the same four walls together in, um, loving harmony, perhaps for the first extended time period ever? Additional stress may result from a major move to a different part of the country unless you have visited it extensively, lived in it for weeks or months, and found peers, activities, attractions and lifestyles that make you feel right at home.

    Planning and research are crucial, as topretirements.com has demonstrated so often in its blogs and reader comments.

    Here’s to hoping that we are all informed enough to make suitable choices.

    Oh, and don’t forget your sense of humor!

    by Ed LaFreniere — September 22, 2019

  3. Thank you for this article. My husband planned to continue working another 15 years despite being gently told that probably wasn’t feasible A year ago he was forced into retiring with 6 months notice at age 70. His last 6 months at work were filled with fear and anger. He focused on one activity to occupy his retirement with some breaks for an old hobby. It’s been difficult to adjust to having him around all the time, awake at very early hours and napping during the day. He’s acting older than he is and I’m concerned.

    by Marjie — September 25, 2019

  4. Thanks for the humorous – and honest! – article. Have to admit, I’d LOVE it if my hubby found some additional activities outside of the home, giving us both some space and something new to talk about when we’re together! I keep busy with golf, exercise classes, book clubs, gardening, luncheons, movies with girlfriends, etc. while his main activity besides occasional golf is sitting at the computer. No interest in exploring our new locale or in traveling (a big surprise to me!! :-().

    Husbands of the world, take note! Get out and find fun things to do! Stay interested and interesting!

    by Jini — September 26, 2019

  5. You are so right, JINI!!!

    To MARJIE: Are your figures correct — your husband is 70 and wanted to work until 85? Good heavens, is he Superman? If he has an aversion to kryptonite, that could be a sign.
    There is quite a bit of research about workers who have been pushed out of work earlier than their desired retirement time. They may identify so closely with work in terms of their self-worth, self-image, sense of purpose, social life and other factors that they become depressed. Some may require counseling. Retirement itself may raise the odds of depression by as much as 40%, and it could presumably be even higher if workers are forced out after giving their lives to their job. Here is one link to a succinct article about depression in forced-out workers:

    https://www.addiction.com/3872/forced-retirement-increased-risk-depression/

    Good luck in getting Dear Hubby on his feet and enjoying a healthy perspective on the opportunities that retirement offers, rather than seething and focusing on the past and on what he views is unfair, uncalled-for mistreatment that he can do nothing about. He is far from alone, and hopefully he can learn to let go.

    by Ed LaFreniere — September 26, 2019

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