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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 stressful. 

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 set in.

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.

Relationship challenges

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 surface. 

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 well-established routines.

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 of conflict.

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 marriage.

Keep active

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 limitations. 
  • 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 your grandchildren. 
  • 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

Author: Pierz Newton-John 

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User comments

14-Apr-15 03:32 PM
Join a local lawn bowling club
09-Apr-15 07:55 PM
At 61 I am about to retire from a good, well paid job and upsticks to another state. I am doing this for a variety of reasons. I am fast realising that it takes a lot of courage to retire and, whilst the financial needs are important, the social engagement and mental well being are important. You've got to get yourself into a good headspace, have courage and have a strategy and plan in advance on retiring
MensLine Admin
26-Nov-14 10:29 AM
Hi Scott, Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback. The financial challenges that come with leaving the workforce are definitely an issue and we are sorry to hear you are having such a tough time coming into retirement. Our MensLine Counsellors talk to many men who are adjusting to retirement and all the challenges this brings, so if you feel like you could use some support and referrals you can call them any time of the day on 1300 78 99 78.
Scott Johnston
24-Nov-14 09:44 PM
Just some feedback: I have been forced to retire early due to illness. Cannot access super, and not enough anyway. Fortunate enough to be on a pension, but the financial embarrassment from earning a wage to earning pocket money again is a real problem. After household bills, I am on $25 a week. This would not fund anything, any interest, hobby, travel or even a good meal. It is pathetic and embarrassing. I have to say no to every social event. U get it. It sux. Just another issue is all.
01-Nov-14 02:00 PM
Awesome ideas in the list. Been retired nearly four months but keeping busy attending a course at local TAFE. It has given me a new challenge to replace work for now....
cib salti
15-Sep-14 10:08 AM
thank you for providing this information.
08-Aug-14 06:19 PM
I wasn't all that wrapped in the Men's Shed organization! I found that on my only two visits, the talk was very negative and revolved far too much about "my problems." The hands-on work was OK but I thing this group needs more professionals for each meeting to direct it along the positive and problem solving paths!
Joy Muhereza
11-Jun-14 11:09 PM
how can I enjoy my retirement? and in which areas should I invest in? I am now 60 years and retiring in the next few months.
30-May-14 05:12 PM
The day after I retired my wife went back to full time work (she is 13 years younger than me) and study. The idea only emerged about three months before I retired and after I had committed to leaving. Now my life revolves around her work and study routine and cleaning the house.

I thought retirement would see us travel and pursue activities together but it's not working out that way. My fear is that by the time she is my age (i.e. 57) and ready to retire I will be too old and possibly in poor health to enjoy all the things I had planned to do in retirement like travel.

Sometimes things just don't turn out the way you planned no matter how well you think you prepare.
06-Feb-14 06:31 AM
This also applies to women. I'm looking online for this very problem for myself, a female. There is nothing for us 60s women who have been superwomen all our lives.
Once again we are the forgotten/overlooked ones.
03-Feb-14 01:48 AM
I agree with all the comments here. I was a teacher, I loved my job. I felt needed. Now my day just goes with no direction. I am all over the place -emotionally and physically. It is not fun.
09-May-13 04:46 AM
I, too, retired this year, after more than 35 years of continuous full time work. Much of my planning for retirement had been centered on financial issues. Now, I realize that not a sufficient amount of thought was given to the rhythms and routines of retirement; exactly what you've described in this article. Thank you. This article was helpful, and I realize I am not alone in grappling with these issues.
30-Mar-13 04:09 PM
Thank you. The article was enlightening.
27-Mar-13 01:17 AM
I worked in the mining industry working 12 hr shifts of a 50hr week. That was 12 years back and since then in 2 jobs have brought the hours down to 15hrs /week so when I do retire in 2 years the 'jumping of the cliff" will be just a small step. Call it transition to retirement hours wise.
14-Mar-13 11:02 PM
Hi, this blog is so good to read and feel that I am not alone in getting into some sort of routine since retiring, now been four months which have been wonderful relaxing and catching up with friends etc., now the time has come where it has hit home, I am up early in the morning boot up the PC have breakfast but can't seem to get motivated to tidy the house, I am a keen seemstress but still can't get my act together
23-Feb-13 10:58 AM
Clearly there are people, both men and women, who are experiencing similar reactions to retirement as those mentioned below. Is there some kind of association set up to cater for people like me and others who are trying to adjust to retirement or if not is there a need to set something up? It looks like there is a lot of attention being paid to financial adjustments but not enough being paid to emotional and intellectual issues.
Bill Ray
19-Dec-12 08:20 AM
Keeping active for men in retirement is must do for any retiring male. Joining a men's shed is the best thing I could do.
Alex Wood
10-Dec-12 12:15 AM
I have been retired for about three months, at first it was like being on holiday,but now i dont have any get up & go.There are so many jobs that need doing around the house,which i think about,but its to easy to put it of till tomorrow.I agree with Christine Fletcher there should be more help in Great Britian for retired people.
Alex Wood.
04-Oct-12 06:24 AM
I am in my fourth week of retirement and am realizing what it is. I am lonely and finding it hard to finish tasks around the house. I do go to the gym but when I come back home there is not enough to do to keep me buzy. I was at a job I hated so this was my choice it was time to go. I think if any of you are reading this there must be a mental adjustment period we go through. I used to dress up for work now I wear my jeans and sweatshirts. I think its time to take a vacation with my severance pay Our anniversary is coming up. I was never just a housewife I always worked. I think a part time job is maybe in the picture. I do Photography but its not keeping me buzy enough. Any feedback would be appreciated.
christine fletcher
02-Sep-12 06:57 AM
Retirement having a hobby is paramount learning singing or maths etc
You will enjoy hobbies more than you think. There is a great need in great britian for an advice service impartial on all subjects. Most people are just left flowndering.
christine fletcher
Hugh Kilpatrick
14-Aug-12 11:51 AM
Thankyou very much for this article - I will share it with my clients. :-)