Retirement for Two

Retirement for Two

by Maryanne Vandervelde


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553382754
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/29/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Maryanne Vandervelde, Ph.D., is a psychologist, human resources expert, and founder of the Seattle-based Institute for Couples in Retirement. She defined a national trend in her popular book The Changing Life of the Corporate Wife (140,000 copies sold), has contributed to the New York Times, Fortune Magazine, Forbes Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and has appeared on the Today Show, Oprah, CNN, and NPR. She lives with her husband of 40 years, H. Ray Looney, in Mercer Island, Washington. They have an adult son.

Read an Excerpt


The Issues

My Story

When I was thirty-six, I moved across the country because my husband was offered a great new job. I eventually landed on my feet, but I couldn't find any books about what was happening to me-my career, my friendships, my relationship with my child, my house, my life-while I was helping my husband up the corporate ladder. So I did a survey of the Fortune 500 CEOs and their wives, and I wrote The Changing Life of the Corporate Wife. My research showed, for example, that the quality valued most in a corporate wife was her sense of humor. Certainly, humor is a wonderful quality in any human being, but I doubt that this would be first on the list for a CEO. I found that both men and women were hungry for better ways to manage their lives-at a time when our culture was just starting to examine the rigid, traditional expectations that businesses placed on executives and their partners. The questions continue to this day for all kinds of leaders and their partners, and I believe that my book played a small part in the dialogue. That book sold well, and many couples told me how much they were helped by it.

Now I'm sixty-two, and my husband has been retired for five years. We have faced some challenges that seem to be typical of people our age, and we frequently find ourselves in discussions with like-minded friends. At this point, we have sorted through most of our angst about retirement, but our forty-year marriage is still a work in progress.

This Book at This Time

I decided several years ago to gather information about this stage of life because the subject has interested me for a long time-in my clinical practice with couples and families as well as in my observations of friends and family members. This book is, therefore, based on:

* Stories I've jotted down over many years from family and friends as well as from therapy clients

* Issues that came up over the last twenty years in corporate human resources training sessions about people facing retirement

* Interviews conducted, by phone or in person, over the last five years with a network of acquaintances around the world

* Perusal of the professional and popular literature

This is not a book about money or finances. There are hundreds of those to be found in bookstores and libraries. This aspect of retirement should never be minimized because a secure retirement clearly is built on a sufficient financial base-however that is defined by both partners. But the people I've queried say that most of their financial planning took place years back. Decisions they made a long time ago have determined their financial status now. They've come to terms with what they have and don't have in monetary resources.

Money, per se, is rarely what current or about-to-be retirees want to talk about-the emotional implications of money, yes; the decisions that couples must make around money, yes; apportioning assets in a second marriage, yes; but whether one has enough money or how to get more, almost never. Rather, it's the emotional turmoil and the relationship stuff that hits them unexpectedly when they anticipate retirement or when they actually retire.

What do couples in their fifties, sixties, and seventies want to talk about? Relationship issues-psychological and emotional struggles that are causing conflict. Single retirees often mention loneliness, but coupled retirees say things like "I never imagined it would be so hard to be together 24/7" or "I am with this person for better or worse, but not for lunch!"

Freud said that work and love are the two major ingredients of life, and it seems logical that the loss of one will have major effects on the other. Retirees whose identity was found largely through work have a lot of soul-searching to do as they look for identity elsewhere. And people whose close relationships have been neglected will have to do a lot of work in order to establish a basis that will be satisfying for the rest of their lives. This has always been true, but there are three major reasons why we need to pay more attention to retirement now than ever.

One is that the first baby boomers turned fifty-five in 2002 and technically became senior citizens. Fifty-nine million people born before 1946 are already retired or soon will be retiring, but they are being joined over the next few years by seventy-seven million boomers-those who were born between 1946 and 1964. Because the boomers are a huge population cohort, they are already starting to redefine retirement, and this stage is attracting as much focus as all of their other stages have. As they have always done, boomers will look for-indeed, they will expect-answers.

Two, age discrimination is a fact of life, and many people are finding themselves out of work earlier than they had planned. Furthermore, we seem to be living longer and longer-seventy-seven is now the life expectancy for men, eighty-four for women. So, many of us will find ourselves coupled-without our usual routines-for many, many years. We'd better find mechanisms and systems to make it a happy time.

Three, retirement is more complicated now than ever because of the many choices we have. Only a few years ago, gender and age roles were strictly defined. Now the options are wide open. With fewer and fewer prescriptions, we all need to figure it out for ourselves. And better late than never! It becomes very clear to most of us at retirement that life is not a dress rehearsal.

Retiree Differences and Similarities

Not all retiree couples are alike. The following are just a few of the differences:

* Some are age sixty-five or older when they hang it up; others take early retirement in their fifties or even forties.

* Some choose retirement when they are ready; others are forced into it by organizational downsizing, ill health, or other factors.

* Some partners come to retirement simultaneously; others want to retire at different times, in different ways.

* Some are in long-term marriages; others are in long-term but unmarried homosexual or heterosexual relationships; still others are in relatively new unions-married or unmarried, heterosexual or same-gender.

* Some have had high salaries, retiring with lots of money and choices; others have just enough to live comfortably; still others are financially strapped.

* Some couples have been on two-career, fast-track treadmills; others have both held jobs more than careers; many have had more traditional roles, with one person home-based.

* Some have looked forward to retirement; others have dreaded it.

But every couple will have to face certain types of decisions, such as:

* Where they will live

* How they'll spend their time

* How they'll spend and/or save their money

* What kind and quality of sex life they'll have

* What their relationships will be like with children, grandchildren, other relatives, and friends

* Whether they'll have pets and how they will deal with them

* The emotional closeness or distance of their relationship

* What they will do when they want different things

* How they will both deal with aging and the future

* How they will cope with medical issues

* How they will make legal decisions

Most important, if retirement is to be a happy time, there will have to be some resolution of conflicts. Both partners may have to learn some new attitudes and behaviors because they will be facing some new realities:

* They need to fight fairly-perhaps becoming more equal than they have ever been in the past.

* If they can't communicate on a somewhat adult level, there's big trouble ahead. The squabbling adolescent model of communication will not work very well in retirement.

* Some couples will need counseling, and they will have to choose the counselor carefully.

* If divorce is the best solution, it should be done well.

* When one partner dies, the remaining one needs excellent coping skills.

* After divorce or death, new relationships can be extremely challenging.

* Getting clear about hopes and dreams can help. Giving up some of them can bring peace. Finding new hopes and dreams can be a truly exciting adventure.

* Growing whole, individually and together, is the most important task of this stage of life, and it is not easy.

The Bottom Line

These are serious issues, but we also learn at this stage of life that there is no better time to laugh! If we didn't have much sense of humor before, now is a great time to develop one. If we are fortunate enough to have wonderful options, we need to finally figure out who we are and what we want out of life in order to make our choices wise ones. On the other hand, if life has presented us with lemons, now is the time to make lemonade.

For most of us, love and meaningful relationships are more important as we age than ever before, but getting and keeping the love we want is always a challenge. This book lays out the issues that are unique to couples as they retire and proposes principles by which most partners should live.

The vignettes of real people suggest solutions that may be emulated-or, in some cases, avoided. The questions at the end of all the following chapters offer ways to clarify thoughts, personalize the process, and formulate next steps. And the New Yorker cartoons give different perspectives, reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously.


Retirement Is Wonderful


One of the reasons that so many couples have problems in retirement is that they don't anticipate the changes accurately. It is optimistic and rather charming that so many people think retirement will be wonderful. For example, Prudential Securities did a survey of 826 married Americans between the ages of forty and sixty-five, reported in an article called "Happily Ever After? How Baby Boomers Envision Retirement."1 Their findings include the following:

* Eight-nine percent believe that they and their partner will become better friends.

* Seventy-four percent think that their relationship will become more romantic.

* Eighty-five percent say that both will agree on where to travel for vacations.

* Eighty-five percent think that they will agree on where to live.

* Most expect to agree on how much time to spend with family members (76 percent), how to spend leisure time (75 percent), and how to spend their money (71 percent).

But there are also some concerns:

* Fifty-four percent of the husbands who are the sole breadwinner say that it will be hard for them to adjust, and 61 percent of them expect to have a hard time developing new routines.

* Both men and women agree that the men will have a harder time finding new friends.

* Eighty-one percent feel that they need to plan better for what they will do in retirement.

* Seventy-nine percent think they need to prepare better financially.

It would be interesting to see surveys of the same group a year or two after they retire, and perhaps five years later, in order to compare expectations with reality-as well as to understand the effects of time. It is possible that their optimism about relationship issues will be warranted, but it's more likely that the 81 percent who say that they need to plan better, especially for what they will do, will find that this segues into partnership problems.

Maybe the optimists' satisfaction in relationship areas will be very high, but that still leaves room for many couples who will struggle. Indeed, the evidence below suggests that the adjustment process takes time and that anticipations need to be examined.

The Wall Street Journal recently featured a survey of one-year-retired adults done by Joel Savishinsky of Ithaca College, which looked at the rewards and challenges in that first twelve months. Expectations in the relationship areas were generally not very accurate; many psychological hurdles were not anticipated. But the study also found that by the end of the first year, life really starts to get comfortable if couples are working through the problems.

Many of these surveyed couples found happiness especially in "drift time," and this is a lovely, graceful idea. For example, they could start out on a bicycle trip but never make it to their destination because they had the luxury to digress, to slow down, to change directions. They could go to the grocery store at any time of day. If plan A for their time didn't feel right, they could divert to plan B or C or D.

The adjustment may take some time and effort, and retirement will never be perfect, but many of those surveyed after one year said that it was wonderful.

The Fun-and-Games Picture

Most of us keep our noses pretty much to the grindstone as we move through life. For those of us who are achievement-oriented, this pattern probably started when we were very young children. From about age twenty to sixty-a long and, with luck, productive forty years-we jump through a lot of hoops. We build our careers, raise our children, take care of our parents, tend a few friendships, and try to save some money.

This should not imply that life is a straight line to retirement. Most people have some periodic existential crises that propel them into course corrections-a different educational path after becoming bored, a change in career or financial goals after being fired or getting a promotion, a new approach to relationships after a painful breakup, an altered lease on life after becoming a parent.

Some of us have major early-life or midlife crises, during which we drastically alter our directions-getting a divorce, completely changing our lifestyle, dealing with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, sometimes buying the proverbial red Porsche.

But most of us chug along through those forty years like the little engine that could. Our diversions from the straight and narrow are few; our obligations and commitments are many. We know our roles within our primary relationships, and we try to be a good, supportive partner.

If we're smart, we also have some fun along the way, but we usually find ourselves reacting more than acting. We have many opportunities to make choices, but we also have a lot of life simply thrust upon us. In fact, people in business careers say that their lives have become exponentially harder in the last twenty-five years. "There are a lot more demands on the schedule, we're all expected to be quick, and we're all playing on a bigger stage because it's global."

It's no wonder, then, that most people look forward to retirement-or jubilado, as the Spanish so elegantly call it. Those forty years may not have worked out exactly as we wished or in the ways that we expected, but now we will finally be free of most constraints. If the world will not totally be our oyster, there is at least a shiny new shell waiting to be opened.

Table of Contents

Part 1Personal Partnerships-in Retirement1
1The Issues3
2Retirement Is Wonderful9
3It's Also Difficult18
4Variations on the Theme of Relationships39
Part 2The Challenges-Old and New47
5Deciding Where to Live49
6Filling Time: So Many Choices70
7Managing Money Within a Relationship98
8There Are Many Positions for Sex112
9Children, Grandchildren, Other Relatives, and Friends128
10Pets Can Make or Break You as a Couple145
11Wanting Different Things151
12Aging and Facing the Future170
13Medical Matters182
14Legal Decisions197
Part 3Getting It Right-Together213
15Fighting Fairly215
16Communicating Well During This Stage of Life232
17Getting Outside Help When You Can't Do It Alone244
18Handling Divorce, Dissolution, or Death with Dignity257
19New Relationships Are Different Now268
20Growing Whole-Individually and Together275
New Yorker cartoon copyrights295

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