There is a significant connection between retirement and emotions, and many retirees are unprepared for it. This is why I often work with clients who struggle with the discomfort of being newly retired. This struggle occurs for those who haven’t given enough thought to what their life might look like when they leave their career. The challenges might be associated with identity, relationships, finding new ways to fill time, or maintaining frequent social interaction.
It’s also common for “money emotions” to impact new retirees. There’s the excitement of closing one of life’s chapters and starting another, and of spending more time doing things you enjoy. However, there is also sadness in closing a chapter of your life, especially if you enjoyed your career. There’s the fear of “turning off” your paychecks, and of unexpected illness or expenses that could cause you to run out of money. There are also feelings of great responsibility for filling an unknown amount of time with a finite amount of resources, as you hope you’ve planned well enough for the retirement you want to have.
Below, we’ll discuss how asking yourself tough questions before you retire is the best way to prepare for the emotional challenges many new retirees face.
Consider a Retirement Identity Makeover
Most adults spend much of their life identifying themselves as a professional or as a parent or both. By the time they reach retirement age, their children have flown the coop (hopefully!) and they are about to leave what might be the strongest connection to their personal identity: their job.
In order to cope with this significant adjustment, it’s important that you discover a new retirement identity. Giving yourself an “identity makeover” can be challenging, but it’s also extremely valuable. First, consider things beyond work and your children that bring you a sense of purpose and independence. This could mean playing a more active role as a grandparent or spouse, becoming a mentor, or participating in your community or local government. It could also mean starting a second career or traveling. Taking time to think about your new retirement identity will help you enjoy your newfound time and freedom. (For more, check out the Flourish Financially Challenge Podcast, Episode 33: Your Retirement Identity Makeover.)
Remember that You are NOT Your Hobbies
I hear so many people say, “Oh, I’ll be fine with all the time I’ll have in retirement. I can turn off work. I love to golf. I’ve got plenty to do.” Here’s the rub, though – do you know anyone who golfs seven days a week, twelve hours a day? If you’re relying on a hobby to fill much of your time in retirement, I encourage you to use a calendar to map out how you might actually spend your time. What might your mornings look like? What about your afternoons? What kind of evening routines will you develop? Your goal is to envision how you might spend the bulk of your time so you can see where you might end up with a significant number of hours to fill, despite a few hobbies or passion projects.
Get Specific About Your Living Situation
An important retirement planning question to consider is who you will be living with. Retirement generally means spending more time with your spouse or partner, which can be challenging. The most common factors that contribute to added marital strain are the timing of your retirement, how closely your identity is intertwined with work, each person’s roles within the relationship, and competing retirement goals.
Are you and your spouse in agreement about the lifestyle you expect to live in retirement? Nearly 40 percent of don’t agree on their retirement lifestyle. Have you discussed the vision each of you has for your dream retirement? Research shows that conversations like these can be powerful tools in helping you and your spouse to visualize a retirement lifestyle that feels satisfying and fulfilling for both of you. After all, it’s much easier to establish a plan of action when both individuals share a clear picture of their retirement vision.
I recommend that couples communicate well in advance of the actual retirement date to set ground rules and make plans. We have many clients who are very happy in their marriages after retirement and most, if not all, are very clear about two things. They have agreed on when they will retire, and they have planned for how they will spend time both together and apart. Being proactive about how you’ll spend your time together and what you expect from one another is helpful in easing tensions that can easily arise when one or both of you are preparing for the transition into retirement.
Final Thoughts on Preparing for Challenging Emotions in Retirement
It’s never too early to start building and sharing your vision of retirement, especially if you’ll be shaping your life in retirement with a spouse or partner. Start with clarifying your retirement identity, then map out how you’ll spend your days, being thoughtful about your living situation, too.
When you’ve looked forward to your dream retirement for many years, it can be disconcerting to find it a struggle instead of the relaxing, joyful time you imagined. Guard against this happening by being proactive about potential challenges you’ll face. When you develop a plan for how you want to live in retirement before you actually retire, your chances of feeling empowered, excited, and accomplished in this new chapter of life will be much greater than if you fail to think before you leap.
If you’d like to read more tips about transitioning to retirement, I encourage you to read my book, Flourish Financially: Values, Transitions & Big Conversations.