Adjusting to retirement
Retirement can and should be an exciting time. For perhaps the first time,
you have the leisure and freedom to pursue travel or other interests freely, to
slow down and 'smell the roses.' However, for many men, retirement can be
challenging. It is not just adjusting to the loss of a stable work routine and
its associated sense of purpose that can be hard. Retirement brings new
relationship issues, and for men who do not find new meaningful activities to
replace work, there is the risk of boredom and a sense of purposelessness that
can lead to depression and other health problems.
Although work practices are becoming increasingly diverse and flexible, with
far fewer people staying in a single job for thirty or forty years, still there
are many men retiring today who have been working in one role for many
years. For these men, who have not experienced much variation in their daily
routine for a long time, such a major change of lifestyle is often very
Who am I now?
For many men in our culture, identity revolves around a number of central
roles and skills:
- being a good provider
- being 'useful'
- being independent
- being an achiever
In order to adjust successfully to retirement, men have to start redefining
the bases of their sense of self. Without the role of breadwinner to rely on,
you may start to ask, who am I? Self-esteem can start to fall and depression can
Other social roles may evolve in retirement, such as:
- being a good carer for one's partner
- being a community elder
- being a good grandparent
However, the greatest challenge post-retirement is coming to define yourself
less in terms of your roles and activities — what you do — and more in
terms of simply 'being'. Instead of answering the question 'Who are you?' with a
'doing' answer such as, 'I am a father/engineer/teacher/handyman' etc., you come
to answer simply, 'I am me.' The achievement of this degree of self-acceptance
is one of the great gifts of later life.
Retirement brings new challenges to a relationship. Both parties may have
adjusted to a certain amount of time together each day. With retirement, the
time spent in each other's company greatly increases. This intensive contact can
disturb the equilibrium of the relationship and bring unresolved tensions to the
Both men and women may struggle to adjust to the new situation. If prior to
retirement, your partner stayed at home while you worked, she may resent your
intrusion on her traditional 'territory', especially if, in an attempt to direct
your urge to 'do something', you attempt to impose yourself on her
Tension can also arise out of the increased need for joint decision-making.
Whereas, prior to retirement, the routine of work allowed for a relatively clear
division of decision-making responsibilities, after retirement, there may be
many more decisions that need to be made together. Unless both of you are
prepared to listen and be flexible, a shift in decision-making can be a source
The key, as with most relationship issues, is communication (see Communication in Relationships). Without
effective, open communication, including the capacity to compromise and
negotiate, the challenges of retirement can place critical strain on a
There is a lot of research to show that the people who cope best with
retirement are those who stay active and involved. This might include:
- Developing an old hobby or starting a new one.
- Staying physically active, through walking, swimming, gym or sport. Make
sure your exercise routine is appropriate for your physical capacities and
- Volunteering with a charity or church group.
- Working part-time.
- Studying a course with The University of the Third Age (U3A). U3As offers
adult learning courses for older people. See the Links page for information about where to find a U3A in your area.
Stay in touch
Loneliness and isolation are a risk in old age for the simple reason that as
people grow older, more and more of their friends tend to die, move away, or
lose the mobility needed to keep in touch. This is particularly an issue for
men, who tend to emphasise self-reliance and put less effort into maintaining
their social networks. Many men do not realise the extent of their reliance on
work friendships until after retirement. Here are some suggestions for warding
off post-retirement isolation:
- Make the effort to stay in contact with family and friends. Offer to babysit
- Check out local community centres for upcoming activities you might enjoy.
Even if you're not sure, try something new: you might surprise yourself!
- Men's Sheds offer a space to share ideas and skills and participate in
practical activities such as woodwork, metalwork and restoring old cars. See www.mensshed.org
© 2007 MensLine Australia.
Author: Pierz Newton-John